Better rebuild strategy: Astros or Cubs?

Better rebuild strategy: Astros or Cubs?

As many of you know, I wasn't happy with the new CBA.  My thought at the time was that rather than level the playing field, it would be more profitable for teams to completely tank rather than try to be competitive.  I wrote about it back in December and archived it again in May.  Call it the demise of MLB's middle class.  The good, wealthy teams will still be able to acquire whoever they want in free agency and the least successful teams will stockpile draft picks and build from within.

Right now the two worst teams in baseball are going head to head and though neither is close to winning, they are taking different approaches to getting there.  The Astros have a thinly veiled plan to create the worst team in baseball, eschewing any opportunity to acquire valuable short term assets, even trading young cost-controlled starters such as Chris Johnson (27) and J.A. Happ (29) for guys who won't help until 2013 at the earliest, and probably later. They've done an excellent job replenishing the depth of their system, especially given the limited assets they've had to trade, but whether they've actually acquired any impact talent remains to be seen. The consensus seems to be that it's more about depth than impact.

The Cubs, meanwhile, have been rebuilding with a combination of strategies.  They have acquired or locked up short and long assets such as Anthony Rizzo, Arodys Vizcaino, and Starlin Castro.  They have called up possible future starters in Welington Castillo and Brett Jackson.  They're taking flyers on young players such as Ian Stewart, Travis Wood, and Chris Volstad while almost exclusively trading players that are 30 and over.  The Cubs also picked up veterans who had the ability to help now such as David DeJesus, Paul Maholm, and Shawn Camp. In the case of Maholm, the Cubs were able to flip one of their short term assets into a player (Vizcaino) who could help as soon as next season and then give the Cubs cost-control for 6 years.

Moreover, the experienced players they acquired may be there to help establish the kind of philosophy and culture they're trying to instill on the system as a whole.  David DeJesus, for example, had a history of playing good defense and grinding out ABs.  Is it important to have the kinds of veterans who play the game you want your young players to play?  It's certainly not something we can measure quantitatively, but the Cubs must have felt it was more beneficial to have someone like DeJesus starting in RF rather than someone like Tyler Colvin, despite the expectation that they weren't going to compete in 2012.

The question then becomes, which route is better?

The Astros roster is stripped to the bone.  They are strictly acquiring players who will have a chance to help them in the long term only. It's possible only Jose Altuve will still be there in 2 years.  They only have one player on their roster over the age of 29 (backup catcher Chris Snyder, who is 31). They are, in effect, planning to start from scratch.  They are unlikely to draw much in the way of free agents, despite playing in the 4th largest city in the U.S.  You certainly can't call them a small market team, but they are building like one.  The Astros will be heavily dependent on the draft and their farm system over the next several years, though they have the advantage of being able to extend the players they'd like to keep long-term.  The effect in the short term is that they are by far the worst team in baseball and have a firm handle on the #1 pick. And they'll likely continue to pick high and acquire top draft picks for the next few years. It's certainly an opportunity to pick up some high level talent if you have the patience.

The Cubs, meanwhile, have acquired and called-up players to help them both now and in the future. They are currently a better team than the Astros and their recent 4 game winning streak has some worried they'll blow a chance at the 2nd or 3rd pick.  The Cubs seem to be taking the stance that putting a combination of more experienced and more talented players on the field now will help some of the younger players on the current team develop faster -- even if it means winning a few extra games.  They may drop a couple of spots in the draft order, but they may also have some ready-made starters that could make the team competitive sooner.  The Cubs may end up having their cake and eating it too if they finish 2nd, but they're also saying that if talents such as Rizzo, Castillo and Jackson start to develop and help them win games now, that may be  important than, say, the difference between the 2nd and 4th pick.

Speaking of which, should we really be that worried about whether the Cubs pick 2nd or 4th?  In 2010 the 2nd pick was Danny Hultzen and the 4th pick was Dylan Bundy.  In 2011, the 2nd pick was Byron Buxton and the 4th pick was Kevin Gausman.  Granted it's a short sample size and way too early to judge, but you could argue in both cases that the 4th pick is the better prospect right now.  While it's improved, the science of evaluating players isn't yet exact enough to worry about dropping a couple of slots.  If there were two elite talents in the draft (as when Josh Hamilton and Josh Beckett went 1-2), that's one thing, but that doesn't seem to be the case this year.  There are about 4-5 players in the mix at the top.  In the end, I'd rather have the 2nd pick, of course, but I'm not going to wring my hands about their draft status every time the Cubs win.

We could just say that the teams are also playing the hands they've been dealt.  The Cubs farm system may not have been highly regarded entering the season, but they at least had some talent in AAA.  The Astros system, meanwhile, was almost barren.  Finding players to upgrade the system was paramount and perhaps next year they'll start taking chances on more MLB ready young talent like the Cubs did with players like Rizzo. We don't know if the Astros or Cubs will change the course of their rebuild in the near future.

But given what we know now, which team has the better plan and the brighter future?


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    In 2004, the #2 pick was Justin Verlander and the #4 pick was Jeff Niemann.

    But this goes beyond draft pick. If it were only about draft pick, it's minor, but it materially affects their ability to sign later round players (and thus who you can take a chance on in the second and third rounds, especially) and the ability to sign international free agents. As I pointed out yesterday, there is very little chance the Cubs get Jorge Soler if he came out next year with the new CBA in place. One of the top 4 teams would make an offer the Cubs literally couldn't match. And both Soler and Paniagua? No chance.

    Which brings us back to the draft. Since you can't get huge talent infusions from the international market, acquiring talent in the draft is that much more important. Thus, being in position to use the tiers to your advantage -- which the Astros did brilliantly -- is critical to funneling talent back into your system.

    The debate over finish order often gets lost in who we take in the first round -- because it's the most obvious -- but the implications for the rebuild go WAY beyond one player.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    The 2nd pick is better. I just don't think it's that big a deal in a weak draft. If there is an obvious #2 pick like Verlander, that's different.

    What you're in effect saying then is it's far better to be the worst team now with a longer way to go, with less MLB ready talent. You're saying the #1 pick and the incremental extra money it could provide is so much large an advantage that you should pass on more established young talent?

    You also make the assumption that you are going to get so much more talent in the 2nd or 3rd round but the history of the draft says you're lucky if you get one impact player, much less 2 or 3. The difference isn't so enormous that the team with the #1 pick is going to clean up on talent while the teams with the 2-5 picks will get left in the dust. It just doesn't happen that way. And it's especially not likely to happen in a weak 2013 draft.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    My recollection on Verlander is that actually wasn't an obvious pick. The Tigers were crticized because his mechanics were weak. They used their position to grab the guy their scouts liked, and were rewarded for it.

    That second is not what I'm saying. First of all, they're not really winning with young talent. Their hot streak has been largely because Alfonso Soriano -- who wouldn't be here if he didn't have a NTC -- is having a special season. In no way does he figure into the team after the rebuild. The rebuild is much better off with him on the Giants, prospects in our minors, and a higher draft slot.

    What I'm saying is that you want to put as much talent as possible into your system because only a few of them are going to make it. If we were counting on Javier Baez -- and only Javier Baez -- to save us, his struggles in Daytona would have been jump off the Sears tower time. But we have more guys, so it's easier to say, "bad month, let's see how develops."

    Let's look at the Astros: they got two picks, Correa and McCullers. What are the odds of both of them making the majors? Pretty low. What are the odds of Albert Almora making the majors? Still pretty low, but probably higher than either Correa or McCullers individually. But, and this is critical for a rebuilding team, the odds of either McCullers OR Correa making the majors is probably higher than the odds of Almora making the majors.

    All minor league guys are essentially lottery tickets. And the way you build a winning team is by getting so many lottery tickets that 25 of them work out to some extent.

    The Astros are taking advantage of their awfulness to flood prospects into the system. If just one of the dozen or so prospects they got at the trade deadline turns into a major league regular on the team they're building, those trades were a win. (My guess is Carlos Perez.) If they get more, huge win.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    A winning team is not built solely by having 25 "minor league guys" "work out". An organization's minor league system is one part of many that hopefully helps the parent club reach the promised land, winning the World Series.

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    This is really neither here nor there for the thrust of the argument, but minor league guys help because you can trade them to get that big starter -- like Zach Greinke or Ryan Dempster. If you're the White Sox, you can't make that trade. A good minor league system is important for winning, whether you use it like the Rays -- to build your team -- or the Yankees -- largely as a means of exchange for veterans. You can not sign 25 guys, so many if not most of them have to come, one way or another, from your minor league system.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    A good minor league system can help a team win, but what that team's front office does at the Major League talent level is at least as, if not more, important.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I really have no idea why it's better to have basically no pieces in place and pick a couple of spots higher and have a bit more pool money. It's always better to have MLB ready talent . The Cubs have better impact talent in the lower minors, better young talent in the majors...yet the Astros are supposed to make up for all of that with more pool money? I think you overstate how valuable that is as compared to what you get if you have a 2-5 pick. It certainly isn't so much more valuable that you would give up current MLB ready talent to pick a slot or two higher and get the extra money.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm not arguing that it is. I'd rather have Anthony Rizzo than not have him. I'm just arguing that, all things equal, having the second worst record is much better than having the fourth worst.

    If we move from second to fourth because Rizzo, Castro, Jackson, Shark are playing well, so be it.

    If we move from second to fourth because of Soriano, that's close to a worst case scenario.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I don't think anyone is arguing that the 2nd worst record (for draft and IFA purposes) is not better than the 4th worst...all things being equal.

    But they're not equal and that's why I think readers here are more optimistic about a Cubs rebuild. The Astros weren't interested in getting MLB ready players. I think there is little question that they want to lose and want to start from scratch. I have to question that. Maybe they think they can duplicate what Tampa did, but that's going to take some tremendous scouting and a whole lotta luck. It's a high risk strategy to say the least and I'm not sure the expected reward is all that much better.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Here we go, contemporaneous Baseball America article supposedly:
    "'Speaking of the top of the draft, Old Dominion righthander Justin Verlander has fallen out of consideration for one of the top spots with his continued struggles. Verlander lost his final start during the Colonial Athletic Association tournament in a 6-4 loss to UNC Wilmington Wednesday. (Old Dominion's season ended Thursday with a loss to George Mason.) Verlander gave up six runs and eight hits in seven innings, but more telling, he lost his composure on the mound, hitting four batters in a game in which he walked just two and had shown good control. "He's got three pitches that would be at least a 70 grade," said one scout who saw his last start, "but the pieces don't come together for him. He's just not mature enough on the mound and off it to put it all together yet." Verlander finished the season 7-6, 3.49 with 151 strikeouts in 106 innings.'"

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    It seems to me that in that case, Detroit probably would have gotten him with the 4th pick anyway.

    The point is the talent level between 2 and 4 isn't that huge and evaluating the difference is far from an exact science.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That's not really the point the previous poster is making at all. He's saying the talent between 2 and 4 may not be huge, but the $$$ associated with being the 2nd worst team (both for international and the US amateur draft) IS huge. It means you might be able to add 2-4 more top talents through the draft and international process, based on the extra $$$. For a team like the Cubs, that could mean 2-4 more big time arms in the stable. To me, that's nothing to blow off.

    At this point, 1st pick is a lock for the Astros. Does it matter that the Cubs beat out the Rockies, Twins and Cleveland for the 2nd spot? It absolutely does. The difference between the 2nd and 5th pick in terms of pick value is $2.7M. Who knows what the added difference is for the international signing pool? That difference is nothing to sneeze at.

  • In reply to TulaneCubs:

    I know what he's saying, but that's not what the article is about.

    The point of the article is not whether it's better to have the 2nd or 4th pick. That part is obvious.

    The point is would you rather be where the Astros are or where the Cubs are? Is that pool money worth being that far behind as far as MLB ready talent? The Astros have made no effort to add any kind of viable MLB talent for the sole purpose of tanking the season for that #1 pick. Is it worth it? Would you gut your team for that top pick? I don't think it would be realistic to think the Astros can make up that gap in talent with that money, particularly in a weak draft.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    This statement was in the article: "Speaking of which, should we really be that worried about whether the Cubs pick 2nd or 4th?" I assumed it was fair to respond to that. Apparently not.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Sure it's fair, but it was there to prove part of a larger point. I meant for the piece to be taken as a whole. Everyone would prefer to have the 2nd pick, but in context of the overall rebuilding plan, I think too much emphasis is putting on the potential impact that it will make. To me, it's not worth gutting and ignoring your MLB team for the sake of moving up a slot or two. It's 3 steps back to take one step forward. That's why I don't like the Houston plan.

    In other words, I understand the value of picking a slot or two higher, but if the price is what the Astros are paying, I think the cost is too high given the inherent risk.

  • Great article, John! As always.

  • Thanks Ray!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    You're welcome. Keep up the great work!

  • im not saying i root for the cubs to lose, because i dont, but i am rooting for the highest pick possible. i want the draft slot money, i want the chance at the better prospect and i want the international money as well. were not getting the number one pick, everyone knows this, but if we get #2 or #3 we have a shot at one of manaea stanek or appel. right now those are the consensus top 3 guys, and i really want a pitcher. i know that a lot will happen between now and the draft, but even if someone does push one of the 3 guys at the top back a little bit then im probably gonna really want that guy too. so while im not rooting for rizzo, castro, barney, castillo and jackson to do bad i really wouldnt mind if the rest of the team slumps for the next 3 weeks.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    I think anybody would like to have the highest pick possible (at least once the season is over).

    But I think the difference between the Astros and he Cubs is this: would you rather have a slightly lower pick and some pieces in place or would you rather have basically nothing at the MLB level?

    In other words, do you think the Astros can more than make up the talent gap on the Cubs based on having a pick that's one or two more slots higher (and the pool money that goes with it)? That's asking a lot of the Astros ability to draft and develop players successfully.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    This seems like kind of a false equivalency. Isn't the real question about the talent level throughout both organizations and how they compare? The MLB level is important, because success there means you've got a real asset, while success in the minors doesn't always translate, so talent at the MLB level is best. But would you rather have the kind of talent the Cubs have at the A levels, plus an equivalent batch of talent at AA, or have what the Cubs have at A plus what they have on the parent team? If the Astros don't even have what the Cubs do in A ball, then I'd say tank like there's no tomorrow, because even if you pick up a young major league asset, they're going to be expensive or gone by the time your minors start truly feeding your big league club (or you're going to end up trading MLB talent to fill your minors anyway).

    The Cubs are in the position of filling the gap between their young major league talent and their low level players. This is looking like a possible exercise, since their top low level prospects are, so far, moving quickly, and the Cubs may have some of the pitching they need in Shark and, fingers crossed, Vizcaino. The Astros talent looks much farther way, so expecting to bridge that gap may not make sense. Thus...tank city.

    Finally, the one thing the Cubs are doing that seems important to me, is putting an institutional approach in place that should serve them well as they get more competitive and don't have top picks down the road. NFL teams like the Patriots, Broncos and Steelers have been successful doing this. It's harder to manage in baseball, where systems have less impact on overall success, but once the Cubs Way is fully in place (even before - they're doing it now), the front office will identify players who have a better chance of succeeding in our organization. I don't know if the Astros are doing anything similar.

  • In reply to Kevin Heckman:

    It's hard to make a true comparison because the teams are at different places and maybe you're right, the Astros may have had no better chance than to just tank and play for 4-5 years down the road. But they did have a choice, they just chose not to help their MLB franchise at all. They could have gotten more near MLB players, the way the Cubs did with Rizzo and Vizcaino, who will be in their prime in about 5 years. That should be enough time to rebuild.

    In the end, part of it may just be that each team is doing what they're doing because of who and where they are as an organization, but I think philosophy played into it too. Astros chose not to be competitive and build their team almost exclusively through the draft, which to me is both a protracted and risky way to build.

    I'd much rather build the way the Cubs are doing it right now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    And yeah, I'd take the Cubs A level and below over the Astros.

  • While I want the Cubs to have the highest draft picks they can get, I do worry it will be detrimental to our future stars if the Cubs create a sustained culture of losing while they load their minor leagues. The Cubs have good young players with leadership potential in Shark, Castro and Rizzo. Castro and Shark have already endured a culture of losing for more than one season now. I'd hate to see our core players go through another hundred losses next year.
    I'm not sure what the best way is to avoid 100 losses while staying true to a smart rebuilding strategy. But I'm hoping there's a way.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    Sustained culture of losing? The Cubs? What universe are you living in, man? That will just flat out never happen.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    Agreed and those are some of those intangible things I alluded to. You have to wonder if that came into play in the Cubs thinking. They came here not just to upgrade the talent, but to change the culture.

    I think we'll see the Cubs make a couple more shrewd veteran signings to fill the gaps. They'll struggle, but having some of these guys like Rizzo, Castillo, etc for the whole year will help. Pitching will be the key for them getting better.

  • I have never been a big fan of the concept of fielding a non-competitive team for the sake of a higher draft pick. The reason is essentially that one should try to build the habit of winning. Losing repetitively is depressing and mentally exhausting, and it is no way to build a positive, competitive culture. To put it another way, success breeds success. Now you can argue that the Cubs are losing repetitively, but I believe they are certainly losing more competitively than the 'Stros, and that, along with the presence of veterans know how to bring it every day - regardless of the record - put the Cubs several legs up with respect to a brighter future.

    I'll take a few more wins over the better draft pick every single time.

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    I agree. I know the new CBA changes that a bit and makes slot more important but I still question the philosophy of putting all your eggs in that basket.

  • I voted for the Cubs in the poll, but the Astros' approach fits the current state of their organization equally well. The Cubs had a better farm system and a better major league roster at the start of the season. The Cubs could have, but shouldn't have, tried the old sign free agents and plug the holes philosphy again. The Astros were just plain pathetic, and didn't really have much choice.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    I think that's an excellent point. They were in different places so it's not a strict comparison.

    I will say the Cubs did make more of an effort to acquire MLB ready young players like Wood, Volstad, Rizzo and Vizcaino. Vizcaino in particular was acquired with a veteran signing the Cubs made in the offseason. The Astros haven't done anything like that. It seems everything they do is looking 5 years down the road. I'm not saying it's wrong, it just a lot riskier to look that far ahead without looking at the short term at all. They may be a full year or two behind the Cubs right now -- and that's saying something.

  • This might be the last year the Cubs will be really bad. In this case
    it is best to get the 2 or 3 draft pick, and more draft money, to
    help get more top talent into the farm system. They can still
    play a good game not win and learn from their mistakes.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    The problem is you can't plan for your team to play well and lose. If they're going to play well, they're going to win sometimes.

    You also can't ask your team to improve in neat increments. Maybe it's best as far as draft status if the Cubs don't show significant improvement until April of next year, but if you start to see progress this September you can't slow it down because it will cost you a slot or two in the draft.

    If the Cubs were winning because of Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena, and Alfonso Soriano, that's one thing, but if your young guys start developing into viable MLB players then that's probably more helpful for your future than the difference of picking 2nd instead of 3rd.

    I think there's far too much value being placed here on whether a team picks 2nd,3rd, or 4th. We'd all rather have the 2nd, but it's not going to kill the Cubs to drop a spot or two.

  • OK John, I think it's time to settle this with one nice, concise metric -- future WAR, or fWAR. Do something like maximum potential * odds of reaching that potential, weighted by probabilities of being average, failing completely, etc. That should nicely sum up and quantify which strategy -- the Astros' or the Cubs' -- is working better.

    Boom! Everyone's problem is solved.

  • In reply to mosconml:

    Haha! When I first read this, I thought you were going to do something like that :)

    Really tough to evaluate Houston since most of their future starters may be in the low minors (or not even drafted yet).

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    This actually isn't too hard to do. You figure the odds of a given player hitting their ceiling. This would go up based on talent, current minor league level, but obviously would not get very high for pretty much anyone. You'd multiply that percent chance by their eventual max WAR and there's your number. Obviously, there'd be a ton of guesswork, but it shouldn't be hard to figure out a percent chance based on past performance of similar players.

    Of course, this wouldn't be an ideal measure of a system, because one with a ton of good bench player prospects could be valued higher than one with a couple of potential superstars. So you'd want to figure out a way to weight it further, giving a lot more emphasis to potential starters, even more to potential all-stars and maybe none to more easily replaced bench players.

  • In reply to Kevin Heckman:

    It's something I'd consider doing but that would involve using the current stock of players only. You could also do more guesswork, I suppose, on the historical value of a #1 pick, #2 pick, and so on for 2013.

    Ultimately so much is going to change in the next couple of years in terms of personnel at all levels, that it seems to me the work would become obsolete pretty quickly.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Yeah. Off the top of my head, I don't see the long-term value of the exercise really. I think there's already a pretty good idea of the relative value of top picks. And as you say, lower picks become so much of a crap shoot, they're practically interchangeable, odds-wise. So it might be interesting as a way to compare systems, but who cares? And we'd have less subjective stuff to argue about, and that would be no fun.

  • In reply to Kevin Heckman:

    Ultimately it would be a comparison of the systems but I still think it would be fun, just incomplete as far as comparing the overall rebuilding plan. Too much to speculate on outside of the team's current systems. It's always going to be at least partially subjective.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Totally subjective, but yes, totally fun for now. (At least for us numbers nerds.). I'd love to help create a system like that, but alas, the day job beckons. Maybe during some down time...

  • I voted for the Cubs' approach because I see it gaining some impetus already. Our recent picks and signings are most promising, as is the new focus (finally) on player development. I see no-choice desperation behind the Astros' philosophy.
    But of course I am biased. Would I rather be a born Chicagoan and a Cubs fan, or a Houstonian/Texan and an Astros fan? Any way I can see to measure such things: tradition, ballpark, mascot, climate, culture, politics, heroes, diversity, architecture, even pizza....It's not even close. Chicago wins.
    Being a passionate observer on this rebirth is cause for much gratitude.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    It seems like we're seeing some progress and by 2014, we may see guys like Baez and Soler. Most of us want to win by 2014 or 2015 at the latest. I think it's tough to get there with the Astros approach

  • Since no one seems to understand my position on draft order
    I will not say anymore on this topic.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    People understand, but they don't necessarily need to agree. Everyone would want a higher draft pick but not everyone would be willing to see their team lose for it.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I agree completely with your draft order position. The Nats had two years in a row with the number one pick, in the previous four or five years they had picks that were only top five type picks. The two number ones are what vaulted the team not the previous years of cub like bad. Not that this is repeatable, but I'd hate to see the cubs slide down the draft order because Soriano is padding his stats in meaningless games on a bad team. I'd rather bench soriano and waive him if you can't trade him.

    I also don't think some slight improvement next year will help the cubs rebuild for the future, and i'm not concerned about the young players struggling or not having success. They are out of the minors and I"m sure they'd rather have another down year than revist desmoines.

    I hope the cubs draft 2'nd this year and have a top five pick next year. Being mediocre doesn't really get you anywhere does it? And there may not be any difference from one pick to another in the top five, just so long as you get a viable prospect, a pitching prospect.

  • In reply to eddie35:

    I don't think anybody is saying that drafting higher isn't better. It's about whether tanking an entire season and ignoring your team is worth the #1 pick over 2,3,4. Using the Nats is basically cherry-picking because those are two exceptional players. The projected #1 picks before and since then have not been anywhere near that good.

    And if the Cubs don't address this team, that means no Rizzo, Vizcaino, etc. No looking for players that might help you now and down the line. It means you set everything back a couple of years to get that first pick rather than starting the process with MLB ready young talent.

    Acquiring MLB ready young talent cuts down risk considerably and speeds up the process. The Astros chose to put all their eggs in the MLB draft package -- and in weaker drafts. Good luck to them. They're going to need it. Maybe all of their overslot signings work out and become actual MLB players, but the odds are stacked against that happening.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Well put, John, as usual. I'd like to add that while drafting higher gives a team extra money to offer players, having money to offer amateur, or established players for that matter, should not be a problem for the Cubs.

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    I'm not sure you understand how the system works. They can have all the money in the world, but can only offer amateurs $X based on their finishing position. X goes up the lower you finish.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    A reader gave me a good idea to look into international free agents. Its seems that most of the penalties are fines, so wealthy teams may feel it's worth the money.

    I'm going to research it further to see if (like the draft) there are punishments beyond fines/luxury taxes, but if not, the Cubs may be willing to pay them if it means getting the guy they want. If you are aware of any other consequences offhand, let me know. I plan on researching and possibly writing an article this weekend.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I had heard differently, but if that's your initial finding, I actually have more faith in your version.

    Where can one find the actual wording of the CBA? I've been waning to look through the rules myself.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Here's what I have on it, FWIW:

    I read it as: if you go over in one year, MLB will not authorize any signings over a lower amount (presumably much lower, but I'm not sure) the next year.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    That's the part I'd have to research (and I actually quickly scanned that same link among others) Have some thoughts which I'll go into later, but I think there may be more wiggle room with IFAs than the draft.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    As I think about it, you could make a binding rule with just fines. Think of this simple rule: you pay a fine equal to whatever percent you are over your slot, and next year's slot is reduced by 50%. (That 50% is cumulative to the number of years over slot.) If you spend over slot every year, in fairly little time you'll find yourself paying a 1,000,000% fine for spending over your slot of $1.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I understand perfectly. My point is that the difference in talent between whoever might be drafted 1 to 5 is not as great as the difference in the suggested slot money for those picks. Value-wise, a team would get more talent for their money picking 5th than 1st. Also, by picking lower, a team could spend less on amateur talent and use that money in other areas.

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    I wasn't even talking about the North American player draft -- I'm talking about money for signing International Free Agents.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    No sure things there either.

  • Thanks Ray. I think a lot of the advantages will come via MLB players whether it's signing FA or extending their own. I want to look into IFAs as well. They certainly can sign any that are 23 and over to however much they want, but want to look deeper into the consequences for exceeding limits on IFAs under 23.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    You're welcome, John.

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    John, good article. I think an additional consideration is the fan base. If you looked at last night's attendance, it's obvious Jose Altuve is not enough of a draw for Astros fans. I think you need some young stars to put butts in seats, and make it look like there is a plan. The Cubs had a head start on Houston, by having Castro, and now Shark and Rizzo.

    Also, spending money on free agents and building for the future don't have to be mutually exclusive; look at the sign-and-flip of Maholm. That worked brilliantly for us.

    But interesting points. Houston was so far in the hole in terms of young talent, both in the minors and at the ML level, that they almost had to go super-bad to build it back up.

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    In reply to Zonk:

    PS: And Jose Altuve, he's a nice player, but not really a star (well, he was an All-Star by default). Houston is so far behind, it's amazing.

    I'm going to miss those guys when they go to the American League!

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Thanks Zonk.

    Good points. And I like that the Cubs are exploring all avenues to acquire talent. The Astros have dealt all their trading chips, they won't sign a FA (and who would sign there unless they overpaid?), so it seems to me now that all there future improvement will come the draft and IFAs. That's a tough road.

  • Baseball ain't the NBA where there's a guaranteed sure thing start sizing your championship rings kind of guy like LeBron James or Tim Duncan sitting there if you tank good enough and don't get screwed by the ping pong balls.

    There are lots and lots of really good ballplayers who don't get picked early. It's a big ol crapshoot. Totally sucking to get a little higher pick doesn't work for me.

    Cubs have money now but wait till their TV contracts expire. There's a dollar sign with ten digits after it at the end of that rainbow. They'll get whatever they need.

  • In reply to eaton53:

    Thanks for bringing that up because I was thinking about that too. Not only are you far more likely to get a good player with the top pick or two in the NBA, the player is also more likely to have an immediate impact.

    Not only can an MLB draft pick be a bust, but he may never get an MLB at-bat or inning.

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    I hope the cubs get the 2nd pick. Just incase the Astros pass on Appel again. I would love it if the cubs got him.

  • In reply to Nathan Mausehund:

    Appel is the surest bet and he should be ready quickly, maybe even by 2014. There are other high ceiling talents, but not as low a floor.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Was that for me John?

  • In reply to WickitCub:

    No, just my opinion. I like high ceilings,but I like them better when they have high floors too. Looking forward to seeing how the top 3 pitchers develop this season.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I like high ceilings too. Always thought the Sistine Chapel's was cool.

  • Can we all agree that Houston will be beat upon in the A.L. West Division for years to come.......

    I want an honest hand count many of you will be watching the White Sox - Tigers game tonight?.......

    I heard the FBI is going around to sports teams telling players how to avoid women who are looking to blackmail players over sex.........don't people call that getting engaged?

    Nice to know that Nancy Faust will be playing the organ again at Kane County in 2013........

    With the teachers strike going on, I think the Cubs should open up the upper decks for all Chicago public school kids...for free......keeps the kids out of the streets.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    I agree that Houston will be beat upon in their new division for years to come. No matter how many early picks they get in the draft.

  • It's hard to see Houston being anything but the worst team in baseball for a few years having to play in the AL against the likes of the Angels and Rangers on a regular basis....

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    As for tonight, go Cubs! Win, Cubs!

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    You know I just don't think this argument is really about draft position at all. We all could find a year in which we look back at the draft and think in hindsight, why o why did they choose that guy when so and so was available to be chosen. The draft is a great way to build up your system with the best available talent you can. Whether or not that talent makes it to play on your ML team is a whole different story.

    This involves your scouts, coaches, consultants, evaluators, front office, etc. I think this article is simply asking, which system may have a better plan for building a winning team. Well, if I'm really honest with myself, I'd have to say I just don't know right now. I am so biased towards all think Cubs, it would be hard for me to judge right now.

    But what this article did do was remember the 1982 draft. We had the #1 pick and took Shawon Dunston. At #5 we saw the Mets take Doc Gooden. But look at the #2 through #4 picks. What were those guys thinking?

    But then look beyond that. The Cubs also had the #17 and the #27 picks over all that year. That's 3 first round picks! We ended up with one guy you can remember. Oh and take a look at who was on the list and still available that the Cubs passed on:

    Round 2:
    David Wells
    Barry Bonds
    Bo Jackson
    Barry Larkin

    My point? Well the draft is sometimes a crap shoot and scouting and development are much more important, imo. And now the CBA ties your hands with it's slotting system. Why else would Mark Appel been passed up but for his huge money demands that would have crippled Houston to add any other talent to their system.

    So we are left to ask the question again. Who has the better plan? Being a Cubs die hard fan, I'd love to just say the Cubbies and close the book. But honestly, I just don't know but I do love the fact tat we have a front office that seems to have a plan and the history of knowing how to build a winner. I'll take our chances over Houston any day.....

  • In reply to bocabobby:


    by the end of the 2016 season, we will not remember how much more/less we had to spend on draft slots &/or IFA's, than any other team. We will only know how well our picks are turning out....

    As for the gist of this article, Who has the better plan?... Like others (including John) have pointed out; they were in different situations to begin with, so it's not a true apples to apples comparison. Time will tell as to whose strategy & execution of their plan works out better. But like Bobby said, I love the fact that we have a front office that has a plan and the history of building a winner. I'll take our chances over Houston any day.....

    Totally unrelated topic, but I love how MIL & PHI were selling off big name pieces and are now back to .500 and only 4 games out of the wildcard race.... Talk about not having conviction in your original plan....... Makes you wonder where they would be if they hadn't sold off those pieces.

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    With the added wild card should the trading deadline be extended another few weeks....August 15th or 30th?

  • In reply to Ken Roucka:

    I think having the whole month of August would change things. Just not sure how much of a difference. This would essentially negate the waivers process as a pre requisite to trading. But then short term rentals, i.e.; "Dempster" would probably fetch even less for a shorter rental. Then again, maybe not. It would have helped the Cubs this year because Garza may have been able to pitch again and could/would have been dealt.

    While it certainly could potentially eliminate some teams from becoming sellers, I don't think it's that big of an impact. Who can you think of other then those two teams that would not have been selling (potentially)? Whereas the list of sellers, remains pretty much the same.

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    I hope Rizzo is OK, that was a pretty nasty collision and he went flying.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    That was pretty scary. Word is he's fine, thankfully.

  • Under Theo and Co. these drafting errors should not happen
    any more. Getting the highest (i.e., 3) pick in the each round
    of the draft will greatly help select better talent. Also the draft
    pool money will be more.

  • Nice article and poll, John.

    Under the new CBA, how does the Appel situation work next year? If he's drafted and doesn't sign again, does he go back into the draft for 2014 or become a completely free agent?

    Thanks and have a good one.

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    In reply to DropThePuck:

    My understanding is that he has to sit out a year, and go back in the draft. Otherwise, what incentive would he ever have to sign?

    The Appel situation was such interesting game theory with the new CBA. By signaling in advance his un-signability, he fell to a spot where the offer was even less than he could have expected. Next year, he won't have the same leverage, because he can't go back to Stanford. That's assuming he doesn't get hurt, which is a huge risk he took, because that could truly hurt his value.

    It's a very interesting situation.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Thanks. I'd imagine he'll try and play in an independent league or perhaps Japan if he can finagle it somehow. I'm sure they'd like to avoid that.

  • excellent article!

  • In reply to Kyle Trompeter:

    Thanks Kyle!

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    John, excellent article! Sorry, but I was busy wheeling and dealing to improve my Fantasy Football team. Otherwise, I would have weighed in sooner.

    Interesting back and forth between you and Mr. Moody. I think you both have valid points. Like MM, I see having the highest possible pick as desirable on a lot of levels. The biggest, of which, is the larger share of the money pool. Under the old rules, I don't think position mattered as much. Of course, I also want a shot to draft one of the top 3 college pitchers, because pitching is what the Cubs need worst of all, but I think having the largest share of the money pool possible is the biggest thing. It simply allows you to do more things further down along the lines of those high risk/high reward types. Also, like MM, I'm not entirely opposed to winning. If we're winning because of our young players, that is a positive, but if we're winning because of veterans who don't fit into the long term plan, then I see those wins as a waste. Like you John, I don't like the system, but I think you have to play the cards you are dealt. I don't think it pays to be just mediocre under this CBA.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Mike M. is a smart guy and I really do agree with much of what he says. There's a part of me, though, that just doesn't see the practicality of completely gutting your team to rely almost exclusively on something as uncertain as the MLB draft. I don't really like the way the Astros have done it. I see the rationale behind it (in fact, I wrote about it way back in December). The Astros coincidentally have taken my somewhat tongue in cheek suggestion to completely tank their season for the #1 pick.

    If you think about it, if the Astros even gave a half-hearted effort to compete, the Cubs may well have been in that running for that #1 pick even though they have some long term pieces already in place. That to me would have been a better way to do it. As it is, the Cubs will likely get the 2nd or 3rd pick, and that combined with having a better core in place is a much better scenario than gutting your team down to nothing and banking completely on the extra money you get from the #1 pick. The Astros' strategy is a high risk one that might work but has a much greater chance of failing given the uncertainty of the draft -- and the potential reward isn't really any greater either.

    The Astros were dealt a bad hand but ultimately they chose to gut their roster and ignore their MLB team. We'll see if that's ultimately worth the #1 pick over 2,3, or 4.

    As for overslots, it's nice being able to pick up these tough signs but they are high risk players with significant flaws. If they weren't, they'd be top 10 picks and nobody would worry about signability. I see the value of getting as much talent in your system as possible, but I think there's a tendency to overvalue them. Is extreme overslot Lance McCullers that much a better prospect than, say, Pierce Johnson or Duane Underwood -- both of whom were slot signings? Is it worth gutting your team to get him over one of those two guys? I'm not so sure. There's too much uncertainty and mixed opinion on all those guys to justify taking such a huge step backward, in my opinion.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I don't disagree with a thing you said, and I didn't think Mike was actually saying we should gut the team like the Astros. Of course, they are in a much worse position than the Cubs, and their FO may have decided that was their only option.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Go Cubs! Win Cubs!

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    They probably did decide that, but I'm not sure I agree with the Astros there. We'll see. It's a risky path. I liken it to a portfolio with only stocks in it, no diversification, no safety nets. It could pay off big, but it could also wind up setting them back awhile.

  • Off topic but on topic...

    I always thought Major League Baseball would be better if it was set up similar to the English Football (soccer) leagues i.e. relegation and promotion system. It wouldn't allow teams like Pittsburgh to have 19 losing seasons, for the 2003 Detroit to lose 119 games, or for the 2012 Astros to blow up their team for the best draft pick. It would force teams to stay competitive or go down to a lower league until you prove you're ready to be promoted again.

    Certainly it would keep things exciting all season instead of my current apathy with current and many previous Cubs teams who were flat out lousy come September. At least the embarrassment of being relegated would give these teams something to play for and fans to cheer for. We can all sit around and mutter the usual "there's always next year" when the Cubs are this low in the standings; however, if the threat of relegation was at hand fans would come to the ballpark in droves to root for them to stay up. Gawd could you imagine if the Cubs were relegated but the White Sox stayed up? I'm fired up thinking about it!! My word, we all be rooting for the Cubs to win! Instead we are sitting around the keyboard debating which prospect might pan out by 2014.

    Anyhow, to answer the question...I suppose I'm bored and frustrated with both the Cubs and Astros long term strategy.

  • In reply to svelocity:

    I agree that there should be some consequence for so blatantly tanking a season. The Astros have paid for it somewhat with attendance and embarrassingly low TV ratings, but I don't think that's dissuaded them enough. The NBA had this in mind too when they instituted the draft lottery.

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    In reply to svelocity:

    I agree, and large revenue teams should be punished harder for tanking a season along w punishing owners who are only concerned w the bottom line.

    I understand that most are in it just to make money, but it shouldn't come at the expense of the most loyal fans in pro sports.

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    My last on this: the Astros are now 6-7 since hiring Kevin Goldstein, so clearly he's the key to the new Astro dynasty. (/sarcasm)

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