Where Ben Zobrist, 2016 Cubs World Series heroes are now originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
On a cold, rainy, star-crossed night in Cleveland — of all places — the Cubs pulled off the baseball equivalent of Charlie Brown actually kicking Lucy’s football.
Six years ago this month.
That’s also how long it took to completely dismantle what was one of the youngest hitting cores in World Series history.
With this week’s release of Jason Heyward before the final year of his eight-year, mega-contract and Tuesday’s decision by Willson Contreras to decline the Cubs’ qualifying offer and become a free agent, Kyle Hendricks is the last man standing from the Cubs’ 2016 championship roster.
And Hendricks’ health is anything but a certainty going forward after being shut down for the year midseason because of a capsular tear in his pitching shoulder. He’s expected to start playing catch sometime next month after multiple delays of that throwing program, and the Cubs maintain optimism that he’ll be healthy for the start of next season (the final guaranteed year of his contract).
So what happened? And where are they now?
The departures started almost immediately with some retirements and free agency after Game 7. But the Cubs didn’t break up most of the core in earnest until a dizzying flurry of cost-cutting trades and non-tenders that started after their 2020 pandemic-season division title.
Where everybody went from the Cubs’ 2016 World Series roster and where they are now:
OF Albert Almora Jr. — Theo Epstein’s first draft pick as Cubs boss (sixth overall in 2012) had the heads-up base-running play that led to the go-ahead run in the 10th inning of Game 7. He was non-tendered in the post-2020 roster purge. Almora played 64 games for the Reds this season before he was released by Cincinnati on Sept. 12.
RHP Jake Arrieta — The 2015 National League Cy Young winner and big-game 2016 performer left as a free agent after 2017, signed a three-year deal with Philadelphia, returned to the Cubs for a brief, rocky reunion and retired in April 2022. He’s now a podcast host with Barstool Sports.
SS Javy Báez — The 2016 NLCS co-MVP, Gold Glove, All-Star shortstop and 2018 NL MVP runner-up said he was five days away from getting a long-term extension done when the pandemic shut down spring training in 2020. He was traded to the Mets for Pete Crow-Armstrong at the deadline last year and then signed a six-year, $140-million free agent deal with the Tigers.
3B Kris Bryant — The 2016 National League MVP engaged in extension talks after the World Series that went nowhere, eventually lost a grievance against the Cubs over service-time manipulation and was traded to the Giants minutes before the 2021 deadline. He signed an eight-year, $182 million deal with the Rockies before this season.
RHP Aroldis Chapman — The 103-MPH closer the Cubs acquired from the Yankees in the 2016 deadline trade for a package that included Gleyber Torres became a free agent after the World Series and re-signed with the Yankees — who left him off this year’s postseason roster after he skipped a mandatory team workout.
C Willson Contreras — He started five games in the World Series after debuting in June, including Game 7, then went on to earn three starting All-Star selections — including this year before enduring weeks of failed trade talks and an emotional roller coaster in his final season as a Cub. That included an agreed-to deal with the Astros the day before the deadline that unraveled when Astros ownership (with input from manager Dusty Baker) nixed the deal. Contreras said he held out hope even at that point that keeping him after the deadline might lead to extension talks. Instead, he’s the most motivated free agent on the market..
OF Chris Coghlan — Traded to the A’s during spring training 2016, the veteran outfielder was reacquired from the A’s in another trade in June, performed well in 48 games for the Cubs that season, played in nine games during the 2016 postseason run and then became a free agent after the season. He played briefly for Toronto in 2017, retired and was last seen giving an inspiring, 20-minute speech to Ole Miss players ahead of his alma mater’s College World Series championship run. Take a wild guess at the key example he used to fire up the players.
RHP Carl Edwards Jr. — The lanky reliever who got the first two outs of the 10th inning of Game 7 as a rookie was traded to the Padres at the deadline in 2019 (for Brad Wieck). He has pitched for six organizations since leaving the Cubs, including 57 games with the Nationals this year (2.76 ERA).
CF Dexter Fowler — The “You go, we go” leadoff man started Game 7 in Cleveland with the biggest home run of his career on the game’s first pitch. He signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Cardinals after the World Series, was traded to manager Joe Maddon’s Angels before the 2021 season, suffered a season ending injury in April that year and was able to play only three games in the Blue Jays’ system as he continued to battle the injury this year after signing with Toronto. He requested and was granted his release May 3.
RHP Justin Grimm — Released by the Cubs in spring training 2018, the reliever has pitched for four big-league teams since, including 15 games for the A’s this year (4.11 ERA) before being released May 31.
RHP Kyle Hendricks — The man who beat Clayton Kershaw to clinch the Cubs’ first pennant since 1945 and started Game 7 in Cleveland has made three Opening Day starts since — but struggled the past two seasons, eventually making his last start July 5 before getting shut down. He’s heading into the final year of a four-year, $55.5 million extension (with a $16 million club option for 2024).
RF Jason Heyward — The Gold Glove outfielder underperformed after signing the largest contract in franchise history (eight years, $184 million) and team president Jed Hoyer informed the long-respected veteran over the summer he’d be released this offseason before the final year of his contract and announced it to the media. He will forever be remembered for the rain-delay speech his manager, front office and teammates credit with lifting a dispirited group to a 10th-inning, Game 7-winning rally.
RHP John Lackey — The edgy starter made three postseason starts in 2016, “didn’t come here for a haircut,” earned his third championship ring and played out his two-year deal in 2017, then retired.
LHP Jon Lester — The big-game free agent the Cubs signed to the six-year, $155 million deal ahead of the 2015 competitive turnaround shared NLCS MVP honors with Báez in 2016 before making two starts and a three-inning Game 7 relief appearance in the Series for his third ring. He performed up to his contract before becoming a free agent after 2020 when the Cubs declined his option — as well as his offer to return on a $2 million, one-year deal. He eventually signed with the Nationals and finished last season with the Cardinals after a deadline trade and retired before the 2022 season.
C Miguel Montero — The man who came off the bench in Game 1 of the NLCS to hit an eighth-inning grand slam to break a 3-3 tie also delivered the second run-scoring hit of the decisive 10th inning Game 7 in the World Series — which proved to be the game winner when Cleveland scored in the bottom of the inning. During a rough stretch for the team in 2017, he was scapegoated and released after critical postgame comments about Arrieta’s failure to hold runners on a night Trea Turner and Michael A. Taylor stole bases at will. He retired after the 2018 season and is now a player agent.
LHP Mike Montgomery — The lefty swingman acquired from the Mariners in the July 20 deal for Dan Vogelbach in 2016 got the final out of Game 7 for the championship. He played a significant role between the bullpen and rotation the next two seasons (including 33 starts) before the Cubs traded him to the Royals for Martin Maldonado in July 2019. He last pitched in the big leagues for the Royals in 2020, then spent 2021 split between Korean baseball and the Yankees system and this season in the Mets system.
1B Anthony Rizzo — The Platinum Glove, All-Star, face-of-the-franchise first baseman, who spent Game 7 in “a glass case of emotions,” was traded to the Yankees the day before the 2021 trade deadline just a few months after shutting down extension talks. After a playoff run in the Bronx, he re-signed for a two-year, $32 million deal — with an opt-out clause many expect him to exercise this month.
RHP Hector Rondon — The Rule 5 pick from Cleveland, who became a playoff closer for the Cubs, surrendered the ninth-inning role to Chapman after the deadline trade in 2016. A late-season injury limited his postseason role (two World Series appearances), and he finished a five-year stretch with the Cubs in 2017, going on to pitch for Houston on a two-year deal 2018-19 and then the Diamondbacks on a one-year deal in 2020, his final year in the big leagues. After brief efforts to make the Phillies and Red Sox rosters last year, he retired in April 2021.
C David Ross — In the final at-bat of his career, the clubhouse leader, personal catcher to Lester and Bryzzo mentor homered off Andrew Miller in the sixth inning oif Game 7 for a 6-3 lead. He retired after the season and three years later was hired to replace Joe Maddon as Cubs manager.
SS Addison Russell — The 2016 All-Star starter bounced back from an October slump with a huge performance in a must-win Game 6 in the World Series, delivering a two-run double in the first inning and a grand slam in the third for a 7-0 lead. A 40-game suspension under the league’s domestic violence policy from the end of 2018 into 2019 was the beginning of the end of his Cubs career. His last game with the Cubs was his last game for a big-league organization. He’s played in the Mexican League the last two seasons and is currently playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
LF/DH Kyle Schwarber — A World Series hero for his shocking, productive return from a “season-ending” knee injury just in time for Game 1 in Cleveland, the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft was non-tendered after the 2020 season to cut payroll and help recoup “biblical” pandemic losses for Ricketts ownership. He’s now a World Series hero for the Phillies in the first year of a four-year, $79 million deal.
OF Jorge Soler — One of the first big international free agents signed by Epstein’s regime (nine years, $30 million), the injury-bugged Soler broke out in the 2015 Division Series by reaching base in nine consecutive plate appearances. After the 2016 Series he was traded to the Royals for closer Wade Davis, won an AL home run title in 2019, won another World Series after getting traded by KC to the Braves at last year’s deadline and then signed a three-year, $36 million deal with the Marlins before this season.
RHP Pedro Strop — A late-season injury limited the key setup man’s role in the postseason in 2016, but he made three scoreless appearances in the Series. The popular reliever pitched with the Cubs through 2019, then returned for a cameo in 2021 after an injury-hampered year with the Reds in between. He produced a 2.88 ERA in eight seasons with the Cubs and technically remains a free agent despite not pitching since last year. He was seen visiting in the Cubs clubhouse late this season and Hoyer has talked about a future role for the pitcher in the organization.
OF Matt Szczur’s bat, underwear — The “lucky” gear borrowed by Rizzo and Russell retired with Szczur after the 2021 season.
LHP Travis Wood — The versatile Wood went from All-Star starter in 2013 to impact reliever in 77 appearances in 2016 (plus nine postseason appearances) and a 2-for-11 performance as an occasional pitcher-left-field-pitcher toggle player — making a catch banging against the wall in left at Wrigley in the seventh inning of a 2016 game against Seattle that the Cubs came back to win in 12 innings. He became a free agent after the World Series and pitched in 2017 for the Royals and Padres before spending part of spring training with the Tigers in 2018 and eventually retiring.
IF Ben Zobrist — The World Series MVP delivered the go-ahead double in the 10th inning of Game 7, the Eureka native capping off a first year with the Cubs that also included a starting All-Star selection at second base. He finished his four-year contract in 2019, which included a lengthy leave of absence for family reasons, and eventually retired. More recently, he has done work with the front office in a limited role, and Hoyer said this summer that he has talked with Zobrist about an increased role.
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