The Chicago Cubs recovered from a five-point deficit on Sunday to take the St. Louis Cardinals 6-5 in 10 innings to win the series and end a 17-games-in-17-day period with a 5-12 record.
In the clubhouse after the game, one of the TVs was on the Philadelphia Phillies game, in which former Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber hit a home run, resulting in Kyle Hendricks to turn his head and watch his former teammate around the bases.
There is life after the Cubs, and if… the sale in July 2021 has proved everything that no one is untouchable.
As satisfying as Sunday’s comeback win over first-place Cardinals was for the Cubs as they near the end of a disastrous June, the players all know what’s to come – non-stop speculation about where they might end up for the trading deadline of August 2.
It happens to every team that is out of battle, and the Cubs have been in free fall for weeks, making another sell-off inevitable.
Manager David Ross said handling the trade talks is “business as usual”, especially after last year’s obsessive media coverage of the status of the “Big Three” – Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez and Kris Bryant.
“Last year was a good learning experience for me,” said Ross. “If they have questions, they come into my office and I try to fill them in as best I can about what I hear and pass that on to (President Jed Hoyer) as needed.”
Willson Contreras is the most likely trade candidate as a pending free agent and the best available catcher on the market. Contreras, who drove in three runs on Sunday as the designated batter – including the game-winning RBI single in the 10th – said he won’t be distracted by anything.
“That has nothing to do with the person I want to be in the clubhouse,” said Contreras. “I know things like that exist, but I don’t let them bother me. … I don’t think about the trade deadline. I don’t think about that, but about doing a good job on the field and beyond.
“Even when I’m not playing, I do my best to keep these guys on track and help them in any way I can.”
Contreras was 2-for-23 on the trip before tied the game with a two-run single in the five-run fourth and Nelson Velázquez driving in with the go-ahead run with a single from the opposite field in the 10th.
“It’s baseball, it’s just called baseball,” Contreras said. “I’m human. I get bad stretches. All I have control over is how well I can get the at bats every time I go to home plate.”
Ross said Contreras was in a “really good place” mentally and was the same person every day.
“I think he’s more relaxed this year than I’ve seen him,” Ross said. “Willson (Rizzo, Bryant and Báez) has seen and experienced all those things.
“If you have that experience and know that there’s really nothing you can control when you come in to do your job, (so) there’s not much I need to say or say that to (to him).”
Rafael Ortega also drove in a few runs in the Cubs’ five-run inning and could be another player of interest. Ross said Jason Heyward is dealing with “knee problems”, so Ortega could have more opportunities in the coming days. The journeyman outfielder is more realistic than most about his status. Seiya Suzuki will eventually come back and Heyward is not going anywhere. Ortega also knows that dealing with trade speculation is an occupational hazard for any player, and was brutally honest when discussing it with reporters.
“I saw it from a distance, I saw what happened,” Ortega said through an interpreter. “I don’t just play for my team. I also play for the other (29) teams here who are looking. They may have scouts, people (me) observing. I only control what I can. I’ve had it before seen with other players. If another team were interested in me, that would be an honor for me and something I would be excited about.”
Closer David Robertson, who took the win with 1⅓ inning goalless relief, is another excellent trade contender for teams looking for relief in the late inning. That means every team is still in the race at the end of July. Asked recently if he hoped to stay, Robertson replied, “I love it here in Chicago. This is my second stint here (after playing for the White Sox). I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t like it.”
Contreras also enjoys being in Chicago and has been in the organization longer than any other Cub after being signed as an international free agent in 2009. He said he would be “proud” to wear a Cubs jersey in the upcoming All-Star game in Los Angeles and is the likely starter as the leading vote-catcher as a National League catcher. His brother, William, who plays for the Atlanta Braves, may also make the NL team if DH now that Phillies star Bryce Harper is out with a broken left thumb.
“This is my house, and it’s been my house for 14 years,” said Willson Contreras. “Not many players can say that. The first time I came here was in 2009 and there was nobody there. I’ve seen everyone come to this club over the years. It’s going to mean a lot to me and my family. They gave me the chance to become a professional baseball player.
“Hopefully we can share it with my brother. We are definitely going to have a great party.”