Paul Sullivan: Predicting where some of the big names from the 2016 Chicago Cubs will wind up next year — including a return to the city by Kyle Schwarber

By Paul Sullivan

During a discussion with Anthony Rizzo in June in San Francisco, the 2016 Chicago Cubs’ 10-year reunion came up.

Sure, it’s more than five years away, but it’s never too early to start planning, and as the center of the Cubs clubhouse during that championship season, Rizzo seemed like a perfect candidate for the planning committee.

He laughed off the idea, saying he hoped to still be playing in Chicago when the reunion comes around in 2026.

Three months later, Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez are gone, and many other active players from the championship team are scattered around the majors. Only Kyle Hendricks, Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras still call Wrigley Field home, along with manager David Ross — a player in 2016 — and coach Mike Borzello.

President Theo Epstein resigned in November, one year after letting manager Joe Maddon go, and Epstein still lives in Chicago while working part-time as a one-man think tank for Major League Baseball.

The dynasty that never happened led to the reckoning Epstein once threatened, and now the homecoming of former Cubs stars from 2016 has become a ritual we all know by heart.

Boston Red Sox left fielder Kyle Schwarber, who had his homecoming in May with the Washington Nationals along with Jon Lester, enjoyed watching Bryant get his moment in the sun this weekend with the San Francisco Giants.

“The Cubs didn’t need to do anything for me,” Schwarber said Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Field, where the Red Sox played the Chicago White Sox this weekend. “But some of those guys that were really big parts of the organization, it’s really nice to see what they’re doing for them.”

Schwarber also was a big part of the organization, though President Jed Hoyer unceremoniously non-tendered him in December in a salary dump after he hit .188 in 59 games during the shortened 2020 season.

Schwarber has responded with a combined 29 home runs and a .918 OPS in 97 games with the Nationals and Red Sox entering Sunday, and he should be one of the more coveted free-agent hitters if he and the Red Sox don’t agree on a mutual $11.5 million option for 2022.

“I’m not thinking about that,” he said. “You know me. I think it one day at a time, and right now I’m thinking about playing the White Sox and getting to the playoffs. Whatever comes, comes.

“Jon always said, ‘If you care about winning and you get the job done on the field, winning-wise, everything will take care of itself.’ That’s all I focus on, trying to help the team win.”

Schwarber’s home-run ball from the 2015 postseason is encased in plexiglass on top of the right-field video board, so he’ll always be a part of Wrigley Field, assuming the Cubs leave it up there in perpetuity.

“If not, tell them I’ll take it back,” he said with a laugh.

It’s impossible to know where Schwarber or the others will wind up in 2022, but here’s an early guess.

Anthony Rizzo

The New York Yankees are a great fit for Rizzo, whose family is from New Jersey. He hasn’t hit with the power most expected of a left-handed hitter at Yankee Stadium, but a strong postseason could erase doubts about his age (he turns 33 next year) or his back issues. Boston, where he began his career as one of Epstein’s draft picks, is also a perfect destination. Best bet: Red Sox.

Kris Bryant

Playing for the best team in baseball has made things easy for Bryant, and the Giants will have money to spend this offseason. “It’s a good fit for me and I’m having a great time so far,” Bryant said Friday. “We’re winning, and that makes everything better too. But at the same time, I’m here and there are a lot of memories here and like I keep saying, I’m not closing the door on here or anywhere for that matter. That would be pretty stupid for me.” A reunion with the Cubs seems unlikely unless the Rickettses open the checkbook. If the Los Angeles Dodgers are interested, Bryant would look good in their classic uniform. Best bet: Dodgers.

Javier Báez

Though he seemingly ruined any chance of returning to the New York Mets with his “thumbs down” gesture to Mets fans, Báez has played well since the controversy and has 30 home runs with three weeks remaining. Going across town to the Yankees might be a possibility, and a return to the Cubs isn’t out of the question. The sides were talking about an extension in 2020 before the pandemic, and he left with no hard feelings. But the Los Angeles Angels have a need at shortstop, and owner Arte Moreno has money to spend. And their manager is Maddon, who gave Báez the freedom to “just be Javy.” Best bet: Angels.

Kyle Schwarber

He looks good in left field in front of the Green Monster at Fenway Park, but Schwarber deserves a multiyear extension after his productive season. He grew up a Cincinnati Reds fan in Ohio, and the enticement of playing near home at hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark could make a homecoming possible. He’s already a legend in Chicago, and though White Sox fans booed him all weekend, they would love him if he was cranking home runs on the South Side. Best bet: White Sox.

Theo Epstein

There’s speculation he might take over the New York Mets in 2022, though friends of Epstein suggest it’s unlikely. His kids are Chicago-born and he loves the small-town vibe with all the big-city perks that go with living here. Would he really want to move his family to New York and take on the never-ending headaches with the Mets?

San Diego, where Epstein began his career as a media relations intern, seems a more likely spot. The Padres are on the cusp, and ownership might be impatient with the team’s modest improvement in 2021 after an offseason spending spree. The Padres never have won a World Series, so they meet the requirement of ending a long drought, as Epstein did in Boston and Chicago. But Epstein is in no hurry. Best bet: Another year of biding his time and waiting for the perfect opening — perhaps as MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s successor.

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