Cubs take away 'a lot of positives' from 2021

October 3rd, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- There has never been a season like this one in Cubs history. When considering the backdrop of last year's abbreviated campaign, combined with this summer's franchise-altering Trade Deadline, calling it uncharted waters does not do it justice.

"It's just something you can't prepare for," said Cubs veteran , sitting in Busch Stadium's visitors' dugout prior to Sunday's 3-2, rain-shortened win over the Cardinals in the season finale.

When he first took a seat to reflect on this year and the offseason ahead, Hendricks smiled and quipped that, "we made it." No, Chicago did not make it to the postseason -- just the second October-less campaign in the past seven -- but the club reached the finish line.

This was an exhausting season for a Cubs team that was in first place on June 24 after throwing a combined no-hitter at Dodger Stadium. Then came an 11-game losing streak, the dismantling of its championship core and a second-half spiral that resulted in Chicago securing the No. 7 pick in the 2022 MLB Draft with their 91-loss showing.

"It's been a nice learning process, all the ups and downs," Cubs manager David Ross said. "A lot of emotions, a lot of growth on a lot of fronts. And then there's something to be proud of in a sense of getting to this point -- all the transition and changes we've had. I definitely grew a lot."

This marked the first time since 2014 that the Cubs finished below the breakeven mark, snapping their first six-year run of winning seasons since 1967-72. Chicago lost its most games since 2013 (96), which was also the last time the team had a losing ledger at Wrigley Field.

When rookie catcher Tyler Payne and reliever Joe Biagini appeared in Game 162, it gave the Cubs a Major League-record 69 players used this season. That includes a club-record 44 Cubs debuts, plus 15 MLB debuts.

The blockbuster Deadline moves -- parting ways with stars such as Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, plus veteran closer Craig Kimbrel, among others -- paved the way for the revolving-door roster.

Those decisions, which were based on extension-talk breakdowns and looming free agency for a dozen-plus players, helped the Cubs drastically lower their payroll for 2021 and beyond. It also injected a pile of prospects into a farm system in need of a boost.

With all of that said, no one involved with the Cubs -- not the players, or the fans -- wants to endure a long, stripped-down rebuild like the one prior to the 2015-20 window.

"Clearly, obviously, I want to win," said Hendricks, who is signed through 2023, with an option for '24. "That's it. That's kind of where I've been at my whole life. They know that. But I have full faith and trust in them that that's all they want as well."

Inevitably, there will be change next season.

Ross wants to continue to put his "stamp" on the organization from the ground up, stressing fundamentals with an emphasis on pitching and defense going forward. There are multiple holes and needs on the Major League roster, and president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has said the team plans on being "really active" in free agency.

Hendricks was asked why free agents should consider the Cubs, given the way this season went for the ballclub. The pitcher did his best to put his recruiting cap on in his response.

"It’s obviously a place you want to come," he said. "The fans, the stadium, everything that's given to you. The organization and the support staff around you, what's offered, there's no better place.

"The division we play in, the competition, there's a chance to win the division every year. So yeah, there's a lot of positives."

As far as the in-house positives, the Cubs could not have predicted the second-half production of , and . 's late surge eased some minds, and the team heads into the winter penciling and 's contact-based bats into the lineup.

The rotation needs reinforcements over the winter, and the bullpen has a long list of intriguing internal arms that provide the makings of a solid foundation. And then there is a wave of prospects -- outfielder Brennen Davis atop the list -- generating excitement within the organization.

“The Cubs, as a franchise that wants to win,” said Happ, “has a fan base that's eager and hungry for winning baseball all the time. I'm always excited for the possibility of being able to win baseball games in front of that crowd at Wrigley and continue to push for playoff baseball every year. I think that's the standard that's been set here.”

Even with so much looking different come spring 2022, Ross reiterated that same point. He wants to hold tight to the culture created by the last core.

"The fans, you guys, the media, this organization," Ross said, "still expects to play at a high level and compete for championships. Those guys that were here created that expectation, and I don't want that to go away."