PHOENIX — The more things change, the more they stay the same.
After a roller-coaster first half that saw the Cubs go from the bottom of the National League Central to leading the division, only to fall eight games back, they are exactly where many expected them to be.
The Cubs are in a precarious position two weeks from the trade deadline. Their chances of getting into the postseason took a massive plunge after an 11-game losing streak shortly before the All-Star break, and they now sit fully on the sellers’ side of the trade market.
The first domino fell Thursday, when they traded outfielder Joc Pederson to the Braves for minor-league first baseman Bryce Ball.
‘‘We were certainly fully on the buy side of this transaction [before the losing streak], and everyone was calling about that,’’ president Jed Hoyer said last week. ‘‘And, obviously, people are now calling to see which players are available, so it’s a very different scenario than we expected. Life comes at you fast.’’
The trade of Pederson is a warning that it’s very likely the Cubs will begin parting with at least some of their biggest stars, a group that includes third baseman Kris Bryant, shortstop Javy Baez and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
While it’s unlikely the Cubs will embark on the same kind of teardown they did in the early part of the last decade, the reality that this chapter of Cubs baseball might be in its final days is a tough pill for many to swallow.
Hoyer has spoken recently about looking at the big picture in terms of where the Cubs are as an organization and where they hope to be. The next two weeks not only will have a massive effect on what the Cubs look like for the rest of this season, but it also will offer a guide into the direction the team will be heading in the next few years.
The trade of Pederson shows the Cubs clearly have picked their lane.
‘‘When you’re in this moment and your playoff odds get into single digits at this time of the year, you have to keep one eye on the future and think about what moves you could potentially make that could help build the next great Cubs team,’’ Hoyer said.
The first thing Hoyer must do is decide what to do with Bryant, Baez and Rizzo. All three will be eligible for free agency at the end of the season, and after the Cubs were unable to sign any of them to extensions last offseason or during the spring, contenders likely are calling about their services. Closer Craig Kimbrel and less high-profile players also are candidates to be moved.
The Cubs have been in the middle of trade speculation surrounding their biggest stars before, but those rumors never came to fruition. This season, however, feels different because of the Cubs’ position in the standings and because their core players are so close to free agency.
An atmosphere of finality has hovered over the Cubs for the last few weeks, and that feeling will continue until there’s a resolution — whether that means making some more trades or riding into the sunset one final time with the team as currently assembled.
This second half is going to look different from what fans have seen since 2015. No one could have predicted that what once was considered to be one of the best cores in the majors would be on the verge of being broken up. In baseball, however, change is inevitable. And that time has come for the Cubs.