Column: As trade talk swirls, Chicago Cubs players say they’re able to shut out the ‘outside narratives’

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The Chicago Cubs may be in selling mode, but that doesn’t mean players spend all their time in the clubhouse wondering what will happen next.

The trade of Joc Pederson on Thursday presumably was the first domino to fall. But with 10 days until the July 30 trade deadline, Cubs President Jed Hoyer has not signaled whether he’ll make significant moves or just listen to offers on everyone and deal one or more players who would bring the most back in return.

Until he makes those moves, it’s all speculation.

So what is the mood in the clubhouse these days as the deadline nears?

“We’re really not sure in there,” starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks said, referring to the direction of the club.

In an interview in the visitors’ dugout before Monday’s game with the St. Louis Cardinals, Hendricks addressed the trade talk, Willson Contreras’ comments and the overall feeling that the season is not lost.

“Everybody is still just focused on winning ballgames,” he said. “We’re not where we want to be in the standings, but we’ve had just one bad stretch. And we figure every team has their bad stretch for the year.

“So we’ve been playing really good baseball overall, and that’s where we’re at. We’re getting back to playing game the right way. … Our focus is all out here. That’s kind of what (manager David Ross) has been saying to us too. The nature of baseball is guys come and guys go.

“Whether guys come into the clubhouse and you’re welcoming them, or guys take off and go on to their next chapter, you just enjoy the time you have with guys. So that’s where we’re at. Enjoying each day that we have, and whatever happens happens.”

The Cubs are not in a unique position. Teams that underachieve near the trade deadline are always part of trade speculation. The only difference is this core group of Cubs players has been on the other side of the fence since 2015, watching the front office add players at the deadline in an attempt to improve the team’s postseason chances.

But now many of them — including the Big 3 of Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo plus closer Craig Kimbrel — are the ones being talked about as trade bait.

For the remnants of the 2016 World Series champions, is it a weird feeling knowing someone is likely to go?

“Somewhat because you’ve had so many good years playing with this core, this group,” Hendricks said. “But playing with guys that long is weird because coming up, you’re playing with new guys every single year. The luxury of playing with that many good players, that good of a group, for that long of a time, that was the weird part I think and the part we didn’t really expect or know how to react to.

“We take it day by day, year by year. We all know some guys are going to come and go, even out of this main core. One day me and Jason (Heyward), too, will be in those talks. It’s the nature of the game, and you have to have a limited focus.”

Hendricks is signed through 2024, so he doesn’t have to worry about being part of a sell-off. He talks with Hoyer on occasion but not about the possibility of being dealt.

“He has so much on his plate, man, that’s the last thing I’m going to bother him with,” Hendricks said. “He knows I’m not worried about it. There is a mutual understanding there, absolutely. If something were to happen, obviously it happens. It has happened before to me.”

Ross said “outside narratives” won’t affect the team if it can focus on the task at hand. And not having media in the clubhouse might help, as the players affected by the rumors don’t have to answer questions about them if they avoid going on Zoom.

“I’ve got to deal with you guys every day,” Ross said with a laugh. “I don’t know whether that’s easier or harder (for players). You just try to compete to the best of your ability on a daily basis. Whether that’s having to answer (to the media) or just trying to not get frustrated in the moments in the season, those (feelings) don’t go away.”

Hendricks is optimistic the Cubs can get back in contention, despite trailing the Milwaukee Brewers by nine games entering the Cardinals series. He based his belief on the fact the Cubs are close to the Cincinnati Reds for second place in the National League Central and still have seven games remaining against the Brewers.

“When you don’t have a lot of teams in front of you, it’s a lot more encouraging,” Hendricks said. “We went through our bad stretch and we know every team is going to have that. This is the time you want to get hot.”

The Cubs entered the series having won two of three against the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks, their first series win since sweeping the Cardinals on June 11-13 at Wrigley Field. They lost 19 of their next 25 heading into the All-Star break, and Contreras called out his teammates’ effort July 10, saying they seemed “distracted.”

Hendricks said it was “easy” for the team to get past that criticism, knowing Contreras’ passion to compete.

“We’re so close as a group,” Hendricks said. “I talk to Willson every day. He’s like a brother to me. The same with J-Hey and all these guys that have been around forever. We’re all a family. We’re all brothers. We just get in the clubhouse and we talk it out, and it’s all good.

“Willson knows. He’s so fiery, and the competitor he is, that’s what we love about him. We don’t want him to lose any of that.”

A lot of players wouldn’t have said what Contreras said, at least not out loud.

“That’s Willy,” Hendricks said. “He’s going to say what’s on his mind. We just sat down and hashed it out as a group, as a family. You move on quickly from those things because we know each other so well and we’re together all day. So it was pretty easy.”

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