The Cubs offseason started with a bang, with the firing of long time General Manager Jim Hendry and the hiring of Theo Epstein (President of baseball operations), Jed Hoyer (Executive Vice President, General Manager), and Jason McLeod (Senior Vice President, Scouting and Player Development) the three guys who are largely given credit for turning the Boston Red Sox organization around from perennial losers to perennial contenders in the hardest division in baseball. There was definitely a sense of “the band is getting back together” when the holy trinity of baseball minds was brought together on Chicago’s North side.
But with the hiring of the new regime came a staunch realization that the Cubs way of doing baseball business was completely and utterly broken. Epstein, Hoyer, and McLeod could have decided to keep doing business as usual and follow the path of the old front office, which was to just keep throwing money at problems on the major league roster by adding expensive free agents and signing guys whose contract’s would keep them on the roster for the majority of the years in which the players would be exiting their prime and hitting the decline. They could have just thrown big money at C.J. Wilson, Prince Fielder, and other free agents to do patch work on a broke ass team. For too long the Cubs were doing business backwards and relying on free agency to build their team rather than develop players from within and add a few strategic free agents when there were holes.
The times have now changed as Epstein and the gang realize that they have a major league roster of mostly older players making too much money who don’t produce a whole hell of a lot and a minor league system that has a lot of intrigue at the lower A levels (most systems do) but lacks any big time prospects. They are finally going to take the logical, but likely longer, route, and are going to fundamentally change the way the Cubs go about building their teams. Rome was burning under the old front office and all they worried about was changing the color of the paint on the walls in the kingdom, Theo and the boys are going to bring in the wrecking crew and let the f***er burn down and rebuild a metropolis.
The process is likely going to take a few years, but I think Cubs fans have spare time after a century plus of mostly shitty baseball. The Cubs finally have a front office that seems to have a real plan and are willing to see it through. The Cubs likely won’t have anything that resembles a competitive team on the major league level anytime soon, but that’s part of the plan to trade any aging assets the team has to free up money and bring in prospects that can help be part of developing a team that will consistently be a contender starting in a few years.
Most logical, sensible, and pragmatic fans can see that a long-term plan is shaping up and being put into place. The Cubs have acquired Anthony Rizzo, Ian Stewart, Travis Wood, David Dejesus, Dave Sappelt, Chris Volstad, and Andy Sonnastine and traded away/let leave via free agency Aramis Ramirez, Sean Marshall, Andrew Cashner, Carlos Zambrano, Tyler Colvin, and D.J. Lemahieu. Let’s start with the recent acquisition of 1B Anthony Rizzo for Andrew Cashner. Rizzo was originally drafted by Boston when Theo and company was in charge and traded last year when the Red Sox and Padres swapped Gonzalez for Rizzo + when Hoyer was the Padres GM. There has to be something about this guy that the new front office loves. The 22-year-old Rizzo hit .331 with 34 doubles, 26 home runs and a 1.056 OPS in 93 triple A games last year. The Cubs appear to have acquired their 1B of the future and they had to give up Cashner who was a former first round pick but has had injury issues and it looks like he will end up as a relief pitcher in the majors rather than a starter.
Next there was the acquisition of Ian Stewart from Colorado for Tyler Colvin, who sucks, and D.J. Lemahieu (who’s ceiling is likely a utility player). Stewart was once a big time prospect and has had success in major league baseball before, he hit 25 HR in 2009, but he has had some injury issues and fell out of favor in Colorado. He’s only 27 and is a good acquisition for a team who has an opening at 3B and if he pans out could become the Cubs 3B for the next few years. This is the type of trade the old management doesn’t make, Hendry wouldn’t have looked to trade for a former top prospect who has had ML success to fill the void at 3B that really only has upside, instead he would have signed someone like the Miguel Tejada’s and Placido Polanco’s of the world, aging players who cost too much and produce too little that provide no benefit building for the long term.
The trade of Sean Marshall to the Reds for Travis Wood and Dave Sappelt was another excellent trade. Sean Marshall was quietly one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball over the last two years, but he was entering the last year of his contract and would have been become expensive to keep going forward. Spending big money on relief pitchers is usually a really stupid move. So for Marshall the Cubs got Travis Wood, a young, team controlled starting pitcher who if things go right could become a #3 starting pitcher and at worst is a back of the rotation 4/5 starter. These are the type of moves a team trying to rebuild makes, save money, trade assets, and bring in young and low cost players who can be productive major league players for multiple years.
The final trade made so far was Carlos Zambrano to the Marlins for Chris Volstad. Zambrano’s antics had stayed past their welcome in Chicago, he’s still a pitcher who can produce but is overpaid and the Cubs will save some money with the trade. Volstad is another ok starting pitcher who can at least be penciled in towards the back end of the rotation right now, who could improve some.
David Dejesus was a nice, low cost signing of a veteran to play a position that you don’t need to worry about filling for another year or two, RF. He gets on base well and can play all three outfield spots and the Cubs should be able to trade him during this season or next and at least get a semi decent prospect for him.
Non of these moves are ones that make the team better for 2012, but help to start the rebuilding process by adding a potential impact bat (Rizzo) and low cost, young players who can contribute at the major league level now that still possess upside (Stewart, Volstad, Wood). These moves also save the Cubs money in the long run and over the next two offseason the Cubs have major money coming off the books and in two to four years when they are ready to contend after going through the rebuild process they will be able to spend on a key free agent or two that will likely fill a position of need and be an impact. For the meantime the new guys are going to focus strongly on building up the minor league system by continuing to trade for minor leaguers, sign international free agents this offseason, I expect the Cubs to make a strong push for 19 year old Cuban OF Jorge Solar, and finally pump a lot of money into the minor league system through drafts and player development.
So Cubs fans, we all need to be a little more patient and respect the process that Theo, Jed, and Jason are going to follow the next few seasons as they tear everything down and rebuild it up. These guys are the best in the business at building the team and organization the right way and have to be trusted in their journey to do so. The next few seasons will be tough to watch, but there are things Cubs fans can focus on during those years to stay engaged in the team. Keep an eye on the minor league system as players develop, enjoy watching Starlin Castro turn into one of the best SS in baseball at the age of 22, and follow the re-development and renovations of Wrigley Field and the surrounding areas.