Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are slowly building the Cubs franchise into a future monster. The average fan may not see it. The average fan may only look at wins and losses, few All-stars, and not a ton of talent at the Major League level, and come to the conclusion that these guys are doing a lousy job. I couldn’t disagree more.
Before we take a look at what these guys are building, let’s discuss what rebuilding even is. Cubs fans are used to their front office trying to buy a championship. Most recently, Jim Hendry was a GM who would spend a ton of money on free agents, while doing an extremely poor job through the draft and development. With a high payroll, this system occasionally worked for a season or two. However, it’s not a sustainable formula for success. Making the playoffs in: 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007, 2008, and nothing since is not exactly something Cubs fans should be content with. Sure, some of those years were a blast as the Cubs brought in big-name free agents to try and end the curse. But those teams had a very short window to win when you factor in their age and contracts.
When Theo Epstein came to Chicago, he knew he had a very tall task ahead. He vowed from day one to do this thing the right way: A FULL rebuild. Have the Cubs ever done a FULL rebuild? Not in my lifetime they haven’t. A full rebuild includes: caring very little about wins/losses for a few seasons; not signing very many long-term contracts; spending more money in other areas than the MLB level; trading any assets you have to build the system; and not taking any short-cuts. It also requires a ton of patience, which is no easy thing for Cubs fans after a century of losing.
Let’s take a look at some of the key moves Epstein and Hoyer have made to start building this franchise up the right way:
1. Trading Cashner for Rizzo. To me, this was always considered an amazing trade for the Cubs. Regardless of how good Cashner ends up, Rizzo is exactly the type of guy the Cubs wanted. Cashner has battled lots of injuries, and Rizzo is an everyday player. Fans were WAY too impatient with Rizzo, but look at him now: Has there been a better first-baseman in the National League this year? If so, Rizzo has at least been in the top 3. And oh by the way, he’s 24 years old.
2. Trading Sean Marshall for Travis Wood. Marshall was loved by yours truly, and just about every other fan in Chicago. Admittedly, I was unsure of the trade when it first went down before checking out Wood’s numbers away from The Great American Ballpark in Cincy. Wood has had ups and downs this season, but was an All-Star last year, and clearly a mainstay in the Cubs rotation for years to come.
3. Trading Feldman for Arrieta and Strop: Let’s be honest here. Theo worked the Orioles on this one. Arrieta and Strop were both struggling in Baltimore, but Theo saw something in both. As of June 18th, Arrieta has a sparkling 1.98 ERA and continues to look dominate in most of his starts. Pedro Strop is no slouch either, adding to the impressive young Cubs bullpen that Theo has been building.
4. Turning Jeff Samardzija into a starter. Samardzija is most likely to be traded, but turning him into a starter was obviously the right call. There are about 7 teams scouting him right now, and Theo will most likely get a huge package of talent in return.
5. Trading Dempster for Hendricks/Villanueva. Hendricks is one of the top pitching prospects in the Cubs system and should get a shot in 2014. Villanueva has some promise as a 22 year old third baseman with a great glove.
6. Trading Matt Garza for the entire Rangers system. Ok, maybe not the whole system, but you know what I mean. Top pitching prospect C.J. Edwards, great looking bullpen arms Ramirez and Grimm, and Mike Olt, who still has a chance to be a good player with power. If Theo got this package for Garza, imagine what could be coming for Samardzija.
Several other moves come to mind as well: Trading Maholm for Vizcaino, bringing in Luis Valbuena, taking Kris Bryant in the draft instead of a pitcher, bringing in pitching coach Chris Bosio who has been excellent, claiming current closer Hector Rondon in the Rule 5 draft, among other moves.
Here’s even more perspective for you: Out of the top 20 prospects in the Cubs system, 16 of them were brought in by the current front office. Not even halfway through year 3 of the rebuild, that is quite impressive. The system will take another big jump after the trade deadline this year when guys like Samardzija and Hammel are traded for more young talent.
Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus put it like this: “Thanks to a strong draft, clever trades, an aggressive acquisition plan in the international market, and developmental progress from some of the big names in the system, the Cubs became one of the strongest systems in the game.”
Rizzo and Castro are both extremely young, and developing into very good players. How do their club-friendly contracts look now? Bryant and Baez lead an impressive crop of talent that should be hitting Chicago within the next year. The Cubs have already stated they will begin spending more money this coming offseason. In other words, it’s almost go-time.
This doesn’t mean every move the Cubs have made has worked out. The Edwin Jackson contract hasn’t gone as planned, as an example. But every front office makes several bad decisions. It’s the nature of the game. Very few front offices, however, could do what Theo has done in this amount of time.
There’s no guarantee the Cubs will be title contenders soon. It’s hard to even guess when the team will make a run. But one this is for sure: It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. And unlike Cubs teams of the past, Theo wants to build a team that will contend every year once it reaches that level. Can Cubs fans even imagine going into EVERY spring training knowing their team has a real chance? That’s when a World Series will come.
We haven’t even addressed the money situation. Money will be coming eventually. That doesn’t mean spending money on 10 new players. That means, spending money on 3-5 players who will compliment the young core that is already in place. When you have a young core in place, big contracts don’t hurt as much. From Theo himself: “If you have great young players, and tremendous financial resources, you’re likely to put a good team out there for years to come.”
When this team gets good, it will stay good. Preaching patience to Cubs fans is not an easy thing to do. But look at the big picture here: Epstein and Hoyer are slowly but surely building an NL Central monster. It’s only a matter of time.
Follow Tyler on Twitter: @sports_tys_20. Tyler also writes for IndySportsLegends.com