What one potential free agent says about state of Cubs


Xander Bogaerts figures he watched almost all of the Cubs’ games for at least a few seasons as a kid in Aruba because he was a “baseball freak” looking for as many games as he could consume, and it was either the Cubs on WGN or Atlanta on TBS.

He rattles off the names of Cubs on those teams: Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior.

“And obviously Sammy Sosa,” the Red Sox star said Friday on his first day actually going to Wrigley Field.

“I was definitely looking forward to coming here,” he said, looking across the field at the left-field bleachers. “I watched a lot of homers hit on the street over there. … It’s pretty amazing, just being here.”

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Imagine the thrill he might experience some day wearing the same uniform as Wood and Sosa, roaming the same infield as Lee and Ramirez, after signing as a free agent once he opts out of his Red Sox contract at the end of the season.

“I remember the trees, or the ivy, or whatever they call that thing.”

Or maybe not necessarily.

As the Cubs look for the next step in a rebuild that’s not a rebuild, in a plan without a timeline, the thrill of a Bogaerts signing might belong mostly with the Cubs, if not the fan base.

The three-time All-Star shortstop with the opt-out clause has the look, the smile, the charisma, the championship pedigree and the prolific hitting profile that could make him a fan favorite for Jed Hoyer’s “next great Cubs team” before the ink on a new deal dries.

Multiple reports suggest his decision to opt out halfway through his six-year, $120 million deal is imminent, especially after brief talks with the Sox before the season went nowhere fast.

How much he would cost at that point a big question. Bigger yet might be how he fits as an average defensive shortstop in a Cubs infield with Nico Hoerner, who has impressed in his first extended big-league run at the position.

But the biggest question might involve how Bogaerts — or any potential free agent target — views the Cubs and their willingness as a big-market team to undergo multiple, significant roster overhauls and multi-year rebuilds in the span of a decade.

In fact, the savvy Bogaerts was asked about his perception of the Cubs in that context when he launched into his childhood memories of the Cubs on TV and the romance of the ballpark.

So about that question?

“I’ve been through some rough years with the Red Sox also,” said during Friday’s conversation with NBC Sports Chicago. “It’s not been as much years. For the most part we’ve done a lot of winning here. But I’ve been in some rebuilding years, but it hasn’t taken as long.

“We’ll see how it is with this team this year, man. They [Cubs] have a lot of good young players.”

One of them, rookie Chris Morel, delivered a two-run homer during the Cubs’ decisive three-run sixth in a 6-5 comeback win over the playoff-minded Red Sox.

On the other hand, one of the Cubs’ All-Star veterans, Willson Contreras — who scored the go-ahead run in that inning — is likely to get traded for younger players by the Aug. 2 trade deadline.

Player such as Bogaerts — and the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, who spoke with NBC Sports Chicago on the same subject three weeks ago — are at least likely to demand the kind of specifics out of Hoyer and ownership that they’ve so far been unwilling or unable to provide publicly.

“I would think everyone would want to,” Bogaerts said, “to have an idea, have a vision, something like that.

“I think winning is always important.”

He and Judge know more than most.

Bogaerts, 29, is in the midst of what would be a seventh winning season during a career that began with a 2013 World Series championship as a rookie and included four more playoff appearances and another championship (2018).

That run included a 2016 playoff appearance that might have led to a matchup with the Cubs if Cleveland hadn’t eliminated the Red Sox, or a 2018 matchup with the Cubs if the Cubs hadn’t been eliminated by Rockies.

“They have a winning culture,” Bogaerts said of the Cubs. “These last couple of years might not have been the way they wanted it to go.

“But, listen, they had a good run. Báez, Bryant, Rizzo,” he added. “Contreras is still here. … But they had a nice run with those guys.

"Every good thing comes to an end I guess.”

Especially when ownership slashes payroll, forces salary-dump trades and hastens the end of the longest stretch of consecutive winning seasons for a franchise starved for sustained success.

Now what? How long will this rebuild take? What will the Cubs offer the next free agent as answers to those questions?

“I know winning is what they always expect here,” Bogaerts offered.

So does that mean he was surprised when the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez and Kris Bryant all were traded in a 20-hour span last summer?

“I don’t know, bro,” he said. “Maybe they just wanted to change, wanted to switch it up. I don’t know.

“But they had a nice run.”

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