Other than the Cubs, there were two teams I was curious to watch this season. One was the Miami Marlins and the other was the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Granted, the Marlins promised to be entertaining with both Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano in the fold, but that's not what interested me. It was about taking a 90 loss team and building it with free agents and veteran acquisitions such as Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle.
The other team, the Angels, was more about looking a couple of years down the road. The Angels had already experienced success, winning 86 games in 2011. They added CJ Wilson, Albert Pujols, and later, Zach Greinke to the mix and everyone, including myself, considered them one of the favorites going into the season.
Neither team appears as if it will be playing in the postseason this year.
It's not as if Reyes and Buehrle have been busts for the Marlins. Bell has been a bust, but Buehrle has been Buehrle with 11 wins and a 3.69 ERA so far and Jose Reyes has been their best position player (3.3 WAR) other than homegrown talent Giancarlo Stanton (4.4 WAR). Two out of three doesn't seem bad, yet Miami finds itself exactly where it was last year -- in last place in the NL East.
Most of our readers didn't want to build that way anyway, but there were many Cubs fans who did, despite the recent failure of the Cubs 2006-2008 shopping frenzy, an enormous investment that didn't buy them a single playoff win.
Even more curious have been the Angels, who have acquired two front line pitchers and arguably the best hitter of our generation in Albert Pujols. They added these pieces to an 86 win team, yet the team is actually worse this season in terms of winning percentage so far this season. This test case was more curious to me because it's widely assumed that the Cubs will spend big once they get close, much as the Angels were close last season. It has backfired and the Angels suddenly find themselves with some highly paid veterans and a .500 team. Again, Wilson (2.4 WAR) and Pujols (3.1 WAR) haven't been terrible, both have been productive, though not nearly as much as last season -- but that shouldn't have mattered too much because the Angels didn't lose anything except money by acquiring them. One wonders where they would have been without the emergence of homegrown talents Mike Trout (7.5 WAR) and Mark Trumbo (2.9 WAR), who have added more than 10 wins between them.
The Cubs, thankfully, didn't take the Marlins path to rebuilding and perhaps should think twice about the way the Angels tried to spend to add those "final pieces". I'm not saying they shouldn't spend, just that they should do it carefully, with pieces that fit the organization rather than going all out for the biggest names on the market, especially those already past their peak performance years.
So, for those losing patience with the rebuilding process, take heart. The teams who made the biggest splashes in the offseason are now struggling to stay above water. Perhaps the team the Cubs should look to is the team that has passed the Angels in the standings -- the Oakland A's. The A's traded two good starting pitchers, replenished their farm system with talent. Some of that talent, including young starting pitchers, Jarrod Parker and Tom Milone, are making nice contributions already. The A's made one free agent signing that didn't cripple them financially in Yoenis Cespedes. The mega-hyped Cuban free agent hasn't been a star, but he's been productive in his very first season and figures to improve. The A's also traded a relief pitcher (Andrew Bailey) for a talented, but underperforming and oft-injured OF in Josh Reddick, who has hit 25 HRs, leads Oakland in every major offensive category, and has played superb defense in RF. Smaller value signings such as OFs Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes have also helped.
Again, not saying that the Cubs should build completely on the cheap, but until they build a solid foundation as Oakland has, there's no sense breaking out Tom Ricketts' credit card and painting the town red. When the time comes, hopefully the Cubs will be more sober about their spending than the Angels and Marlins were this past offseason, and perhaps a good fraction of that money should be used to either retain or acquire young talent that isn't past it's prime.