These 3 Cubs 'have proven who they are'

September 25th, 2021

CHICAGO -- The baseball that sent soaring over center field on Friday night dropped jaws around Wrigley Field. It carried over the camera well, took a wild bounce and created a collective gasp from the crowd.

For a moment, it was easy to get caught up in the majestic nature of the blast. The Cardinals swiftly brought the audience back to reality by launching five home runs of their own and dealing the Cubs a 12-4 loss to sweep the day's twin bill, extending St. Louis' winning streak to 14 games.

The Cardinals, who have tied their club-record win streak (set in 1935), are trying to ride their momentum into October. The Cubs are planning for '22, which they hope includes fielding a club with similar, and familiar, aspirations.

"The fans have come to expect a contending team for the last seven years," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said early Friday. "In a good way, we've raised those expectations. And I understand that that's what fans want to see. Obviously, that's my goal this offseason."

Part of that process will be trying to figure out how Chicago's feel-good stories of the second half fit into the roster puzzle.

• There is Wisdom, who has set the Cubs' rookie record for homers in a season with 28 as a third baseman and part-time corner outfielder. His latest was a two-run blast off Jack Flaherty in the first inning of Game 2 that traveled a Statcast-projected 453 feet.

• There is , who took over at first base after Anthony Rizzo was traded on July 29 to the Yankees. Schwindel had two more hits in Game 2, giving him a .366 average and 1.085 OPS through 48 games for the Cubs.

• There is also center fielder , who has found a home in center field, served as a leadoff hitter and thrived against right-handed pitching (131 wRC+ entering Friday). He roped a double in the nightcap against St. Louis.

"I really respect the effort these guys have given," Hoyer said. "They had an amazing opportunity to come in and play every day for two months and, to their credit, a bunch of these guys have really grabbed that opportunity and run with it.

"Watching that passion every day -- they come to the ballpark to prove something. They're proving something to the Cubs. They're proving something to the league."

And they are giving Hoyer and his front-office team something to think about as they map out the offseason blueprint.

Working in the Cubs' favor is the fact that all three players are under club control at pre-arbitration costs. That will help Chicago prioritize other areas on the roster -- most notably, the rotation -- for spending on the open market.

"We plan to be really active in free agency," Hoyer said. "We plan to spend money intelligently -- I think that's probably the easiest way I can say it. Obviously, we're scouting that market heavily. We're going to analyze that market heavily."

The Cubs will also have to factor in the reality that Wisdom, Schwindel and Ortega are all in the 29-30-year-old age range. That, coupled with the smaller-sample nature of their seasons with the North Siders, makes projecting full-season production more complicated.

That said, Schwindel has more than 200 plate appearances this season, while Ortega and Wisdom have even larger totals to study with '22 in mind. The way manager David Ross sees it, the Cubs have a strong sense of who they are as players by now.

"If we don't have a good idea what they've got," Ross said, "then I'm not watching the games the way I need to. We've only got [eight] games left. So yeah, I think we're in a space where we feel like these guys have proven who they are."

The versatility of Wisdom (first and third base, plus the corner-outfield spots) and Ortega (all three outfield spots) helps. The Cubs will also remain open-minded about Nico Hoerner, who can play all over the field.

That positional flexibility could help the Cubs explore multiple ways to upgrade the offense, including platoon scenarios at different spots.

"I don't know what direction we're going to go," Hoyer said. "But it certainly opens up things that we haven't really looked at that carefully in the past, because it might've been like one or two positions, but we had everyday players at the other spots."

The only certainty right now is the fact that players like Wisdom, Schwindel and Ortega have played their way into the conversation for '22.

"We'll sit down as a front office," Hoyer said, "and talk about our club and what's available and how we mold it the right way. But have those guys absolutely put themselves in that conversation? Yes."