Reckoning ball: Javy Baez, Kris Bryant among Cubs in play as roster shakeup looms

“It’s really hard to accomplish improvement and change in certain areas unless you’re extremely open-minded,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said of the imminent effort to “build the next Cubs championship.”

SHARE Reckoning ball: Javy Baez, Kris Bryant among Cubs in play as roster shakeup looms
Chicago Cubs v St Louis Cardinals

Baez mimics Bryant on a throw to first during a game in St. Louis in July. Which one will have the ball in 2020?

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Think firing star manager Joe Maddon was a big move?

Buckle up.

The biggest names on the Cubs roster are in play as team president Theo Epstein and his front office head into what promises to be its most active winter in at least four years after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Kris Bryant or Javy Baez? Take your pick. You might not be able to have both.

It’s not exactly as simple as that, but that question was put to Epstein as he described an outlook for an offseason of change with so many moving parts that it’s impossible to predict which playoff heroes and fan favorites will be left standing when spring training starts.

“I look at them both the same. They’re fantastic players,” Epstein said during his post-mortem address with the media, “and I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive. I think they’re both hugely important, and it’d be hard to see them out of a Cubs uniform, but we’re at a transition point, and we have to do whatever is best for the Cubs. I hope it includes both of those guys.”

This is where the Cubs are as Epstein walks a not-so-fine-line between taking a shot at October in 2020 and focusing far more on creating the team’s next championship window.

“Next year is a priority,” Epstein said. “We have to balance it with the future. And probably that’s more important now than it was even a year ago, because we’re now just two years away from a lot of our best players reaching the end of their period of control with the Cubs.”

Certainly center field and second base — 2019 sore spots for the team — will be key areas addressed over the winter, Epstein said. That puts Albert Almora Jr., Addison Russell, David Bote and possibly Ian Happ in flux.

The leadoff spot is an area of concern, which may be addressed through one player if the right guy falls out of their dreams and into a trade scenario, but otherwise through a broader attempt to diversify the group of hitters.

Beyond that, anything and everything on the roster could be in play for trade talks, with the possible exceptions of catcher Willson Contreras, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and pitcher Kyle Hendricks.

“We’re open to change,” Epstein emphasized Monday, the day after the Cubs fired Maddon and finished an 84-78 season. “We’re open-minded about this roster. I expect to have a lot of trade discussions this winter.

“I think a lot of players on this year’s team are going to be part of the next Cubs championship, so we want to be mindful of that. But it’s also really hard to accomplish improvement and change in certain areas unless you’re extremely open-minded.”

Looking forward instead of looking back — especially at the magic of 2016 and the promise of that team’s emerging core — was the theme throughout Epstein’s 81-minute Q-and-A session Monday.

And nothing more compelling than the possibility that the cost of Epstein’s 2019 reckoning might include shopping Bryant, the 2016 MVP, or Baez, the 2018 runner-up.

“I grew up here,” Baez said Sunday. “Hopefully, I stay here my whole career.”

Both Baez and Bryant — who has said for years he’s comfortable going year-to-year but will listen to extension offers — are eligible for free agency after 2021.

“I look at both of those guys as incredible players who are huge parts of what we have going on here,” Epstein said. “They’re both guys we’ve had some level of discussion with in the past about trying to find the range where we can keep them Cubs longer. We’ll probably get around to doing that again this winter at some point.”

It comes down to staying open-minded, Epstein reiterated.

“Trying to keep them for the long term? Or do you just keep them for two years? Or do you contemplate listening to trades for them?” he said. 

What’s clear is that the reckoning is well underway.

“There’s more than one way to take advantage of a player’s value,” Epstein said. “I’m just going to balance those concerns going forward.”

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