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Cubs Mailbag: Will fans return to Wrigley Field in 2021?

Cubs beat reporter Russell Dorsey answers fans Cubs and MLB questions. Send all questions for the mailbag to rdorsey@suntimes.com along with your name, city and state.

AP Photo/Jeff Haynes

1. What have you heard in terms of fans returning to Wrigley in person this season? Margaret C. — Lake Forest

The Cubs would like nothing more than to have fans back at Wrigley Field this season. After having no game-day revenue in 2020, having fans this season would be a welcomed sight. The reality is that it’s far too early for any of those discussions to take place. The coronavirus pandemic is still in control, and it’s difficult to see that changing in the near future.

Multiple sources tell the Sun-Times that discussions with the city of Chicago are on hold. The best-case scenario likely would be for fans to return at some point over the summer in a limited capacity. But there is a lot that would need to happen between the city and state governments and Major League Baseball to make that possible, including a significant drop in Chicago’s COVID numbers.

2. The Cubs said they don’t want to go full rebuild, so do you see them taking the year off and then going big again next offseason? Alex I. — Rogers, Arkansas

President Jed Hoyer has talked about keeping one eye on the present and one on the future often this offseason. I wouldn’t call it taking the year off by any stretch, but the Cubs are starting a new chapter.

What might benefit the Cubs while they’re in this chapter is that the division isn’t very good, and they still might contend for a National League Central title if they don’t make any other moves.

But it isn’t naive to think the Cubs are keeping some powder dry to make a move beyond the 2021 season.

3. Which current Cubs players, if any, still will be on the team on Opening Day 2025? Byron K. — Chicago

Because of the unpredictable nature of this business, any player can be dealt at any point. With that being said, I’ll go with Nico Hoerner.

Hoerner has a lot of fans around the organization. While his rookie season didn’t jump off the page statistically, his advanced bat-to-ball skills and speed make his offensive upside tantalizing. Combine those things with his maturity, defensive prowess and surprising versatility, and Hoerner is a prime candidate to be on the North Side for a while.

4. The Cubs’ offseason will be successful if . . . Joe C. — Chicago

The Cubs’ offseason will be a success if they can fill the holes on their roster. Going into the offseason, the Cubs had several areas they were going to have to address. Trading right-hander Yu Darvish and non-tendering outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. have opened more holes that need to be filled before spring training.

For Hoyer and the Cubs’ front office, a successful offseason likely would mean finding some long-term solutions on a team that’s beginning to start a new chapter. Deciding which impending free agents to sign to an extension would be a step in that direction.

5. I am thoroughly disappointed with the return the Cubs received in the Yu Darvish trade. Are my feelings and concerns on the trade justified, or is it as good a package as the Cubs were going to get elsewhere?

Anthony G. — Chicago

The answer is a combination of the two. Yes, trading a bonafide ace who finished second in NL Cy Young Award voting is a tough pill to swallow for a fan base that has gotten used to winning in the last six years. And knowing the move was a salary dump to get the Cubs below the luxury tax isn’t going to make too many people happy, either.

The truth is that the Cubs were going to have to make a bold decision this offseason. They had been above the luxury tax for two seasons and had to pay a 12% repeater tax in 2020. It was no secret they needed salary

relief, and they found a team in the Padres that would eat the rest of Darvish’s money.

The days of teams getting another team’s top two or three prospects in a deal are likely over, unless you’re trading a star in his prime. And as the penny-pinching in MLB continues, the cheap contracts prospects are on are becoming more valuable.

Could the Cubs have found a better deal elsewhere? Maybe, maybe not. But being able to get out from under the remaining $59 million on Darvish’s contract and below the luxury tax had to have made it worth their while.

6. Do you think the Cubs are going to extend both Javy and Rizzo? Michael V. — Augusta, Georgia

I’ll answer your question like this: Could they both sign extensions? Yes. Will they? It’s highly unlikely. That doesn’t mean it’s off the table. No one could have foreseen a global pandemic that affected the game as much as the coronavirus has, and there are several free agents and impending free agents who probably wish they had taken an extension sooner. But because of the pandemic and its effects on MLB revenues, it’s hard to imagine any team committing to a long-term deal — unless you’re the Dodgers.

Three of the top five shortstops (Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager and Trevor Story) in the majors will be free agents at the end of the 2021 season. So with the uncertainty of the market now and (likely) in a year, it gives Baez and the Cubs incentive to get something done sooner than later.

After the winter meetings, Hoyer said the Cubs’ discussions with their players about extensions had stopped, but he indicated they could start again soon. According to a source, while it’s unlikely anyone will sign an extension before spring training, the Cubs — despite their financial losses because of the pandemic — would be able to sign a player to a long-term deal if the right situation presented itself.

7. It seems like the Cubs need another starter. Any ideas on likely candidates, and is there a rising prospect that might help the offense? Jim B. — Carmel, Indiana

The Cubs won’t be swimming in the deep side of the free-agent pool with someone such as right-hander Trevor Bauer, but their trade of Darvish allows them the opportunity to be more active in the free-agent market than in recent years.

A mid-tier free agent such as right-hander Jake Odorizzi would make a lot of sense for the Cubs. I also would expect them to take a low-risk flier on someone such as right-hander Chris Archer or right-hander Taijuan Walker. Either could be a reclamation project who might benefit from working with the Cubs’ vaunted research-and-development staff.

None of the Cubs’ impact prospects are close to being major-league-ready and, after no minor-league season in 2020, will need time to get back into the rhythm of playing games again. While he might not be ready for another year or so, 2021 could be a big season for outfielder Brennen Davis.

8. If the NBA is considering expansion teams to help financial recovery from COVID-19, shouldn’t MLB also consider it? Where would you like to see expansion teams? Joey Huberts — Indianapolis

MLB has many issues that have nothing to do with finances that it must fix before considering adding new teams. MLB and the MLB Players Association had a tough enough time figuring out prorated pay last season, so I have a hard time believing MLB simply can create a new franchise to generate revenue.

While I don’t think expansion is the right move, relocation might be on the table for franchises struggling to draw fans. Las Vegas now has an NFL and an NHL franchise, so adding an MLB team might make a lot of sense. I know many people talk about MLB returning to Montreal, but I’m not convinced fans would support a team there, even after a long absence.