Haugh: Pandemic or not, don't Cubs fans deserve more than what they're getting this winter?

While Cubs try to thread the needle with an eye on the future, the Cardinals are building a playoff roster.

(670 The Score) For generations, the unspoken pact between the Cubs and their fans represented the most team-friendly contract in sports.

The team supplied the baseball, beer and sunshine. The so-called lovable losers happily soaked in everything but a championship. Wrigley Field sold it. Cubs fans gleefully bought it. No real pressure existed. Nobody really complained.

Then came the Ricketts family in 2009. They bought the team and vowed to change all that, shed the labels and alter the mindset. And they did, relatively quickly. They hired lead executive Theo Epstein two years after the sale closed. Epstein, who one day will enter the Baseball Hall of Fame as the game’s most successful curse-breaker, developed a plan. Lose big, win bigger. Draft smart, sign smarter. Hire the right manager and make a couple shrewd moves along the way to the World Series.

Ahead of the 2015 season, the Cubs started that part of the process after manager Joe Maddon and free-agent pitcher Jon Lester arrived. In 2016, the Cubs forever changed the organization by winning it all one special night in Cleveland. A metamorphosis took place the instant Anthony Rizzo squeezed the last out from Kris Bryant and the Cubs started celebrating by throwing their gloves and hats into the air like Little Leaguers. Back in Chicago, the bars overflowed and the streets grew overcrowded, revelers rejoicing in perhaps the greatest team championship in sports history.

There’s no going back from that now. Nobody should want to either.

Yet the Cubs seem to be trying, not that anybody ever would acknowledge that. The Cubs have operated this winter as if they expect the fans to react the same way they did before the Cubs were a first-class, winning organization -- except it’s different now. The World Series title changed everything.

You can’t raise expectations and lower the bar in the same decade the way the Cubs are trying this offseason. You can’t change the rules that fast. You can’t just go from being one of baseball’s top spenders to slashing payroll like the Tampa Bay Cubs without expecting blowback. You just can’t.

Besides building a winning baseball team, the Cubs turned Wrigleyville into Rickettsville and an $800-million investment into an organization worth $3.2 billion, according to Forbes. In reality and perception, it’s not the same place anymore. It’s not your father’s or grandfather’s Cubs anymore, not Jack’s or Harry’s Cubs, not the quaint old team that plays in the cute-but-crumbling ballpark.

The franchise grew up fast under Ricketts and Epstein and Maddon. They upgraded everything to state-of-the-art levels, including their budget. The Cubs even have their own TV network now, Marquee, the venture that a team executive once bragged would bring in “wheelbarrows of cash.’’ The only thing that hasn’t gone according to the Ricketts plan is the pandemic. It caused what chairman Tom Ricketts famously called “biblical losses” in baseball, but only he knows.

Other owners backed up their fellow billionaire. Yet the Cardinals just invested $150 million in future payroll by acquiring Nolan Arenado, the best third baseman in baseball. The Mets and Blue Jays have aggressively spent to put their teams over the top. Whatever team that signs Trevor Bauer will find a way to justify spending a small fortune for the National League Cy Young award winner. The Yankees have done what the Yankees do, pandemic or not. Even the White Sox have dug deeper than expected into Jerry Reinsdorf’s pockets. The Cubs? Ricketts told us there was no teardown coming but, in essence, he left the impression that he called the baseball contractors to start preparing the construction site. Clues were everywhere.

The Cubs dumped salary in trading ace Yu Darvish to the Padres, saving $59 million. They couldn’t afford Kyle Schwarber, the left fielder who became a Cubs legend, or Lester, the left-hander who changed the Cubs' culture. They lost both players for a few million dollars combined that not so long ago would've been a non-issue. The Cubs shopped on the clearance rack for starting pitchers who either were past their primes or have yet to reach them. Then they wonder why nobody understands the plan, whatever it is.

The Cubs have behaved like a struggling family that moved into a nice neighborhood, worked hard to fix up the yard so it was the envy of the street, put in a new pool and patio that screamed success and then suddenly stopped paying for landscaping services.

The Cubs apparently no longer can have nice things – in Chicago, where they enjoy their status as the No. 1 team in baseball’s No. 3 market.

Some followers conditioned to consider the Cubs a public trust feel understandably betrayed. Even some objective baseball observers seem bewildered at the direction of the defending NL Central champions. What happened? What are the Cubs actually doing this winter?

Newly promoted president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer called it threading the needle. But while the Cubs try threading the needle, the Cardinals are building a playoff team. Threading the needle means settling for cheaper players whom the Cubs hope catch lightning in a bottle in 2021.

I know the Cubs' failure to draft and develop young pitching led them down this path. I suppose the Cubs’ overall economic approach is defensible in a day and age in which most people feel fortunate if they have their health and employment. It’s understandable given the state of professional sports without fans in the stands. It’s even feasible that a big-market team like the Cubs sees the need to act like their mid-market peers due to unforeseen financial realities.

But nobody has to like it. And the Cubs should admit it. Own it. Explain it more clearly than anybody has to this point.

Stop being disingenuous with a fan base that’s smarter than the Cubs are treating it. Stop denying the team is closer to starting over than sustaining success. Stop watching so many familiar names walk out the door and expecting everyone to think things are the same.

Things aren’t the same at Clark and Addison. Winning changed the terms of the relationship between the Cubs and their fans. It will be healthier when the Cubs start holding up their end again.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show from 5-9 a.m. weekdays on 670 The Score. Click here to listen. Follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images