September 23, 2023

Cubs fans said goodbye to Willson Contreras, who went nowhere.

Cubs fans said goodbye to Willson Contreras, who went nowhere.
Picture: Getty Images

The MLB trade deadline has passed, and for the most part, it’s been business as usual. It’s not really Haves and Have-nots anymore, because any team can and should be a Have, considering the sheer wealth each MLB team has, even before opening the gates. It’s more Will and Will-Not. So the Wants, like the Padres, Yankees, Astros, and a few others who choose the Want-nots’ products for pieces the Want-nots will sell to their fans as a staple whenever they feel like wanting again.

Except, when is that? Is it a firm date yet? A nebula? Less and less these days it feels like any team settles on a fixed date.

Take the Orioles, who flogged their one recognizable player in recent years in Trey Mancini to the Astros before the deadline. The arc of this was, and is still supposed to be, that a group eats shit for years but then starts to move towards the light. It’s not necessarily always linear, but it’s supposed to be progress. The romantic side of it is that players like Mancini, who had to eat all that shit, but ingratiated himself with the fans and the city because he enjoyed the fruits of it all, maybe more than anyone else in the team because of who he is. has passed.

Fans have accepted the fact, or more likely been beaten into it, that any player approaching 30, even within two years of that number and/or free agency, will be jettisoned for something controllable, new and cheap that promises a better day. But this is supposed to crescendo.

Mike Elias’ comments after the Mancini deal they were really cynical. Sure, maybe the wild card doesn’t mean much, and the O’s certainly don’t need to trade for pieces just for a chance in three more games on the road. But not trading anyone certainly wouldn’t hurt them. And there is some benefit to playing exciting games in August and September. It would cost a team nothing and maybe make them a little more with increased attendance. At some point you get off the floor. A season like this is when the end point and the path to it is supposed to appear.

The calculation should have been if we’re going to move Mancini, it should be for something more valuable in the immediate future, because that’s when the Orioles are supposed to step up. Mancini costs almost nothing next year, with a mutual option for $10 million. Instead, the O’s have two prospects who aren’t above High-A and are at least two years, and possibly three years away from being serious contributors to a prospect. The same goes for the return for closer Pablo Lopez. How is that more valuable next year than Mancini, in a season where the O’s are supposed to build on it?

When exactly do things stop being pushed into the future by teams like the Orioles? When do they step on the gas? What if the O’s just hang around in a wild card spot again next year (definitely a possibility considering where they are and where the Jays and Yankees could be)? Well, considering where Baltimore is now, there’s nothing else to throw overboard. Is this the standard?

The Orioles had a chance to at least be interesting for the final two months of the season. They traded it away for a chance to be better next season. When does the promise of a distant future become hollow?

If you want an example of a team that can’t even make that calculation, we bring you the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs ended up with perhaps the second biggest chip available to Willson Contreras after Juan Soto shockingly ended up on the market. They have nothing on him. They will get nothing for him. They sat on their hands as the deadline passed and Contreras remained a Cub (as did Ian Happ, another certainty to be moved, or so we thought).

Again, the calculation should be what is more valuable to the Cubs over the next few years, what they could get from keeping Contreras or what they could get for him in a trade. But by not even thinking about the former and then dismissing the latter, they will come to no conclusion. They’re going to let Contreras go in free agency for a late first-round draft pick, which won’t do them any good for four or five seasons. And nothing else.

There is a value for assigning a value to a player in a transaction that must be fulfilled even if it is not fulfilledyou don’t trade the player because otherwise, teams will short you for any deal you want to make from then on. But that calculation only works if you’re willing to keep the player and squeeze his production over the next few years. Otherwise, you’re just rejecting trades for the sake of not making a trade and maintaining a reputation in addition to trying to make your team better. The Cubs had two of the biggest hitters available the last two seasons in Contreras and Craig Kimbrel and ended up with an infielder who is basically the Mighty Mac in Punch-Out without the star (Nick Madrigal) and a reliever without an arm (Codi Heuer). and a hand full of themselves.

So when is Cubs tomorrow? If it is a reconstruction, they did not proceed with it at all. If they’re trying to win, they cheated because they didn’t sign Contreras long term. This is nothing. The Cubs are nothing. And they seem quite content in the land of nowhere.

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