Szymborski: The Chicago Cubs are in gentle decline

From Dan Szymborski at FanGraphs on November 15, 2019:

Every successful thing has a peak. The Romans had the Pax Romana. Napoleon had the Battle of Austerlitz. The Simpsons had the Who Shot Mr. Burns? cliffhanger. For the early 21st-century Cubs, it was Michael Martinez grounding out on a mild November evening, giving the team its first World Series championship since 1908. Moistened by celebratory alcohol, this was almost certainly the peak for these Cubs, and even a second championship probably wouldn’t touch the magic of this moment.

Since 2016, the Cubs finished each season a bit less successfully than the previous one. The 2017 team dropped four of five to the Dodgers in the NLCS, and the 2018 team’s end came in a wild card game against the Colorado Rockies. The 2019 team didn’t even make it into October.

The club’s dynasty was built on developing players from within and using their big-market financial heft to play in free agency. These two ingredients have faded into the background in recent years as the team’s farm system has been weakened from trades and graduations while ownership has increasingly embraced a more frugal financial strategy. The Cubs are a team in decline, to the point at which they’re just any old NL Central contender, not a behemoth pushing around the Cardinals or Brewers or Reds.


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Originally published: November 15, 2019. Last Updated: November 15, 2019.