I think "gutted" is the word. Sure, you can apply that to the active roster of the Chicago Cubs after a flurry of deals that sent out All-Stars and franchise icons, but I'm talking about the internal feeling that Cubs fans have right now.
These were three of the most integral players that contributed to me getting to write about my lifelong favorite team winning the World Series.
Now, to be clear, in terms of baseball moves, it's entirely possible this all makes sense for the future of the franchise. Something was clearly broken with this group and it seemed obvious extensions likely weren't going to happen with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant or Javier Bàez. An argument could be made that fixing the team meant extending all three and building around them, but there just wasn't mutual interest for whatever reason. That being the case with a team certainly not in playoff contention and those three players about two months from hitting free agency, of course shoring up the farm system was the way to go at the trade deadline.
And still, the emotional attachment fans feel to players doesn't have anything to do with logic. We're gutted. This is the end of the best era in Cubs franchise history.
Now, fans of some other teams would scoff at that because so many other teams have had much higher highs, but it's the reality for this team. Our team. We never strayed. We waited a long time for that one huge, emotional payoff and it happened, with a lot of heavy lifting being done by these three immensely lovable players.
Bàez was drafted in the first round in 2011, the last draft conducted before the Theo Epstein regime took over. In a weird twist, it seems impossible that Epstein would've taken a high-strikeout, low-contact guy in the first round, so it was a perfect storm that landed Bàez as a Cubs legend. He came up in 2014 and homered in his first game. He hit a huge home run in the clinching game of the 2015 NLDS, another big one the next NLDS and then won 2016 NLCS MVP. He homered in Game 7 of the World Series. He finished second in NL MVP voting in 2018. And yet none of that matched the love the Wrigley faithful have for him for so many reasons. The youthful exuberance. The funky tags. The swim-move slides. The light-tower power with the most violent swing possible from a player his size.
Rizzo was the first big acquisition by Epstein. He came up in 2012 and had to spend his first three seasons on bad teams -- though things started to turn around late in 2014, right around the time he challenged the entire Reds' dugout to a fight and emerged as the team leader. So many big hits, so much excellent defense at first base, including his tightrope act on the tarp and so much playfulness combined with his extensive work with children's charities around the city all meant he'd be beloved for life. And of course, he caught the final out of the 2016 World Series.
Bryant was the big hit by Epstein in the draft, going second overall. It looked like the Cubs already had a bunch of hitting prospects and needed pitching help, but Epstein decided against drafting Jon Gray and went with Bryant. He was instantly a darling in the organization and the prospect savior of the franchise. He lived up to the promise immediately. He won 2015 Rookie of the Year and 2016 MVP, hitting two huge home runs in the World Series. He made the play on the final out, letting loose with a subtle smile as he was making the throw. Being genuinely one of the nicest players in the game along with his love for pranks made him amazingly lovable as well.
As noted, it wasn't just their on-field performance. Remember the "lovable losers" moniker? They were lovable guys and were certainly not losers.
The trio was the heart and soul of a team that would play in three straight NLCS, made the playoffs five out of six years, won the NL Central division three out of five years and, of course, won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. If you could go back to 2014 and tell any Cubs fan that this would all happen in the next six years, we'd have passed out. This group was the backbone of the team that went from the butt of historical jokes to the top of the league and then remained one of the most relevant teams up until just over a month ago.
Maybe the latter part is what made this even more gut-wrenching. On June 24, the Cubs beat the Dodgers to move to 42-33 on the season. They were tied for first place and were likely going to be buyers in front of the trade deadline. Club president Jed Hoyer even said they could add money. One last run with our guys before they hit free agency? Bring it! Instead, they would then lose 11 in a row.
In less than two weeks, the Cubs went from buyers to sellers and now fans had to try and come to grips with the possibility of a few players being traded. It seemed like maybe Rizzo and Bàez might end up sticking around. But in less than 24 hours, the foundation of our favorite team, the group we'd grown to love for all these years, was being shipped out.
These three weren't the only ones from that team that'll be beloved forever. There's been a steady drip in the ensuing years. Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber hitting free agency and signing with the Nationals was one of the bigger movements. Dexter Fowler signing with the Cardinals coming right off his leadoff Game 7 homer hurt. Ben Zobrist was the World Series MVP but his age and off-field proceedings had caught up with him by the end of 2019. Willson Contreras, Jason Heyward and Kyle Hendricks remain, but it's safe to say the core is gone. The era is over. Perhaps Contreras signs an extension and carries the torch with Hendricks to the next era, but this one is absolutely over.
It was the best era in Cubs history. We'll always look back fondly on all the amazing memories they gave us. That's why it was so gutting to see the possibility turn into reality.
Thank you so much for the memories, Javy, KB and Rizz. You are legends in Wrigleyville for the rest of your lives and nothing will ever change that.