Advertisement:

Rebuilding the Cubs

Rebuilding the Cubs

Opinion differs on how the Cubs should rebuild.  You have some that think it's all about obtaining prospects and others who seem to think it's all about signing free agents and/or trading for all the top names that get floated out on the market.

I wouldn't take either of those approaches because that isn't where you start the process.  Early on, it's not necessarily about who you want to get.  It's about who you want to be.

As far as the Cubs are concerned, we have a few ideas as to what kind of team they want to build.

Team Identity/Culture

  1. They want to build a young core of impact players.
  2. They want to control the strike zone better both at the plate and on the mound.
  3. They want to have a strong rotation with pitchers that can stay healthy.
  4. They want talent first and foremost, but they want guys who will grind things out, play smart baseball, and represent the team well on and off the field.  In other words, good mental makeup.
  5. They want a strong defense, particularly up the middle.
  6. They want to be more athletic.

These are hints the Cubs have dropped along the way and none of them should be surprising to you if you've been paying attention.  Now that they have their new front office and they've decided who they want to be, they have to decide how they're going to go about doing it.

There are some things that had to be done first.  They've beefed up the scouting and development staff, and they now have the kind of coaching they want at all levels.   They also had to clear salaries such as Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena, and Carlos Zambrano.  In fact, only Alfonso Soriano, remains as a very highly paid short term asset.  The key is to continue to add long term assets and build a young core of talent.  They've improved in that area already.

Epstein said recently, "If you look longer term, at this time last year I looked at the organization and saw one player that was solidly in our core and that was Castro at 22 years old with everything he had accomplished and the ability he had."

It's obvious  that things have changed,  both by Epstein's implication and by the addition of Anthony Rizzo, the conversion of Jeff Samardzija, and the rejuvenation of a near barren farm system in terms of impact prospects.

It's now year two and the table has been set.  How do the Cubs proceed?  Here are my thoughts on how the Cubs should rebuild ...

First phase (years 1 and 2)

  • Convert short term assets into long term ones.  The Cubs have talked about this repeatedly and it has, in fact, already started, so this is not earth shattering to any of you.  In the case of Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena they turned those two short term assets into draft picks, which turned out to be pitchers Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn.  They used one year of Sean Marshall to get a cost controlled LHP starter in Travis Wood, a young part-time OF'er in Dave Sappelt, and a 2B prospect in Ronald Torreyes.  They've also turned Ryan Dempster into top 10 prospect Christian Villanueva plus RHP Kyle Hendricks, and Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson into top SP prospect Arodys Vizcaino plus bullpen arm Jaye Chapman.  The Cubs transformed Geo Soto, who was already losing his job, into SP prospect Barret Loux. They even turned reserve Jeff Baker into a decent SP prospect in Marcelo Carreno.  None of those veterans figured to be around when the Cubs were ready to win.  The Cubs still have a few shorter term players who they could convert this way, including Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol and possibly Matt Garza.  That's how you build -- not by subtracting from the young core that figures to be here long term, but by parlaying short term assets into long ones.  You add to your young foundation.  You can't do that if you're subtracting from one place to add to another.  This isn't a blanket rule, of course, such as the deal where the Cubs traded one long term asset in Andrew Cashner for another one in Anthony Rizzo, and another recent rumor surfaced regarding Giancarlo Stanton, which would also require the trade of younger MLB players and/or prospects.  Ideally, you make those kinds of deals when you have a clearer picture about what your long term needs are, but those are opportunities that don't come around too often, so you do have to make an occasional exception if possible and within reason.
  • Pick up stop gap players in trades and on short term free agency deals who can serve as a bridge until your prospects are ready.  Instead of rushing the kids, it buys time for those prospects to develop viable MLB skills.  As a bonus, it can buy you an extra year or two of cost control for those prospects on the back end -- this can potentially provide great value at a time when the team is ready to win.  Additionally, if you want to change the culture of the team into something like what I mentioned in the opening, then you want to pick up players like David DeJesus and Paul Maholm to set that example.  The Cubs have recently signed Scott Baker and I've mentioned Coco Crisp as a guy who could be a good short term fix who fits the Cubs philosophy, culture, and current needs to a tee.  If the Cubs can get a 2nd tier FA pitcher for 2-3 years at a reasonable cost ( Brandon McCarthy, Shawn Marcum, Joe Blanton, Carlos Villanueva, etc.) then that's something they should not hesitate to do either.
  • Rummage the bargain bin.  I know this idea is anathema to some but hear me out here.  We've heard Theo say they will not pay for past performance.  This is especially true at the early stages of the rebuild. The non-tender candidates and recently arb eligible players on cost-conscious teams can occasionally be a greater source of long term value than a big name free agent signing.  If you sign BJ Upton (we'll use him as an example since he's still relatively young and at a position of need), the majority of value goes into his first 2 years, when he'll still be in his athletic prime.  Unfortunately, the Cubs will still likely not be contenders.  He can still be a good player in his low 30s but typically performance begins to decline around that time, especially for players for whom speed is a large part of their game.  You've also used up payroll you potentially could have used to add a free agent or re-sign a core player, and also blocked either Brett Jackson or Matt Szczur, and eventually Albert Almora.  You can move Upton to LF or RF, but that diminishes his value even further, since it puts more burden on his bat -- not his strong suit. Now if Upton is willing to sign a 2-3 year deal with a no-trade clause, that's one thing, but he's being pursued by many contenders and likely won't settle for a deal like that from a rebuilding team.  This is his year to cash in and the Cubs will have to outbid, over-commit, and overpay for a player that may give them an extra couple of wins.  Now, this doesn't mean don't sign free agents.  But you have to have a player that can at least sustain value over the length of the contract.  Unless you're talking about a 2-3 year deal, those players are rare in free agency, and so, early on at least, you should put some of your focus on places where you can get players who can add to their value and thus to the overall value of the team. As mundane as it may sound, that includes places like the waiver wire, as well as talent from non-tenders who are getting too expensive relative to their production, and also through a trade for a former young prospect that perhaps a team has soured on a bit.  The A's picked up "failed prospect" Josh Reddick for an oft-injured closer in Andrew Bailey and he turned out to be a better player than Upton this past season.  That's how you add substantial value.  Make a few of those and that's how you go from an also-ran to a contender. We've mentioned Rick Porcello and Lonnie Chisenhall as possible candidates in that last category.
  • Find untapped value within your own organization.  Nobody reflects this better than Jeff Samardzija who in three years went from mop-up AAA pitcher to MLB late inning reliever to top starter.  The Cubs continue to look to find this kind of value. Alberto Cabrera comes immediately to mind.  Not only did the Cubs coaching staff successfully harness that great arm and natural ability, but they will try to add even more value by making him a starter.  Michael Bowden and Lendy Castillo may also get a shot, and while they may only end up being bottom of the rotation guys, they'll be inexpensive and cost-controlled, allowing the Cubs to use payroll space on areas that are more difficult to fill internally.

Second Phase (3rd-4th years)

You still continue doing the things mentioned in the first phase, but you can add the following two to the list...

  • At this point you seriously start considering big money free agents to fix holes but they still have to be long term fits and an area where you get a significant upgrade, especially if it potentially costs you a draft pick.  At this point, you'll trade some diminished value on the back end for some immediate help.  Moreover, when the Cubs have built a better foundation and are beginning to look like a team on the rise, free agents will want to come here for reasons in addition to money and the Cubs won't need to go way overboard to sign players.  The Cubs may not want to sign a Zack Greinke type free agent right now, but that could change as soon as next season if the right guy becomes available, especially if the Cubs determine that they are close to contention.
  • Trading prospects for veterans.  The Cubs should have a strong farm system by this time but as much as we'd like it to happen, not every prospect is going to turn out well.  They are not going to field an all-star team.  A realistic goal is to develop a good young core of position players and pitchers.  Then you surround them with role players who fit your philosophy.  Find out who those core guys are.  If you don't have them at this stage, then you have to acquire the missing pieces either through free agency or maybe trade a couple of your prospects for a young veteran who is a known commodity.  This was the idea behind the Matt Garza acquisition, but the timing for such a deal was off.   Right now, I'd say the Cubs have three core MLB players in Starlin Castro, Jeff Samardzija and Anthony Rizzo. They have other possibilities in the minors, including: Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Jorge Soler, and a few  of their lower level pitchers.  They will either fill out that core or some may be used to acquire such players.

In essense, timing is important when it comes to the kind of moves you make, but opportunity must be considered as well.  You want to stick to the plan, but if you get a chance to get a young, impact veteran now at a reasonable cost, it has to be done.  There are no set rules here, only guidelines, and what I've written above is the guideline that I would use -- and one that I hope is similar to the Cubs plans.

Filed under: Rebuilding

Comments

Leave a comment
  • Do you think trying to hit with buy low-sell high type players is the main reason the Cubs can't approach the rebuild two tiered in the early going? By that I mean what some people's gripe is with the Cubs, even peeps that buy into the rebuild - that they're a big market team and have the money to go after expensive free agents to compete now while still rebuilding at the minor league level. I get the idea that's a recipe for a middle of the road team year in and year out but can't put my finger on why.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Isn't the problem with that approach, however, that expensive players usually have to get not only huge money but also long-term commitments? Do we really need to be adding another Soriano to the mix at this early stage of things, binding our hands before we know exactly what we'll need in the long run, and where best to spend our money?

    I wish baseball had something like a $100 million rule. You can get huge money for a short period of time, or smaller money for the longer term, but not gigantic money six or eight or ten years.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    I think Ken answered the question pretty well. Whenever you sign most free agents, you're almost always doing it based on how they performed in their peak years, so you should expect to pay that money for performance that will be less than that in the future, especially on the back end of those contracts. If you sign one free agent now, it isn't going to make much difference in their win total. If you buy a bunch, then you'll probably increase your chances of winning in the next year or two. But I think how much they help is often overestimated. Then after 2 years or so, you have a bunch of overpaid vets taking up space on your roster and your payroll. It doesn't matter how much money you have, you can't just keep piling money on top of it for more new free agents while also helping pay other teams for the guys you no longer want. It's just inefficient. Why not be patient and wait another year or two when you can sign a guy or two, get a more focused on idea on exact needs (the Cubs have needs almost everywhere right now) and at least get those last 2-3 peak years when you're ready to win? Then you get those best years when your team is actually good. You're ok with sacrificing those last 2-3 years of the contract that you overpay because they actually give you a chance to win now. At that point, it's worth the price and the hassle of trying to get rid of them later when they lose value.

  • fb_avatar

    John, another fantastic evaluation of the Cubs plan! Interesting perspective on the team's long-term plan and sounds just about on target with what we've read about the F.O. and their ideas.
    Going into year 2 in the first phase, I'd like to see a little of phase 2 right now. Your first point being they start to dip into the FA market to plug holes, ideally with long-term players. Why can't this begin now?
    I don't know if Theo has a number given to him from Ricketts for payroll, but the team definitely has more than a little money available, even if you're just comparing to MLB average.
    I'm all-in on the rebuild, but at the same time, the fans deserve a much, much better product on the field for 2013. Handing out a few 2 or 3 year contracts and spending 20-30 million would be a start. The Cubs are not in danger of losing their financial flexibility if they miss on a gamble for a 29-32 yr. old. That player may not be "long-term" but would sure make the short-term hurt a little less!
    No way do they start trading prospects yet...it may be 2 or 3 years before they accumulate the depth to do that, and that means Castro stays put even if they're drooling over Stanton.
    I'd just like to see a more aggressive approach to becoming competitive now while still stock-piling young talent for the future.
    Don't want to feel like I'm watching a small market 6-10 year plan!

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to AdolphoPhillips67:

    Adolpho, when the time is right, Theo's gonna pounce on free agents...I think Kevin Towers made that point about him recently, that when he senses he's close to competing, look out...I agree, the way Dallas Green built the Cubs in the early 80's was more of building both sides simultaneously and he almost got us in the World Series that way but the overall condition of this system and organization when Hendry left, needed an absolute purge from the bottom up and this group is more concerned with higher draft picks and more bonus money to spend on their type of players..This won't be a short term fix, this is gonna be for what Theo called "long term sustained success" so it won't be like 2006, the shithole to the penthouse in 2007-08 and back down the tubes again ever since..There need to be in house options coming up every year from the farm and when you build that core solidly, then you can freely add pieces to help you get the ring..like John says it's still a fvew years away

  • In reply to AdolphoPhillips67:

    I'm talking about waiting to dip in for the big FAs. I'm okay with dipping into FA for 2-3 year contracts, but you're not going to get the best players. Frankly, I don't know if any of these top guys are worth the 5 years or so they will get. Maybe Greinke. Maybe. Pitching is always risky long term. You'll also overpay to get them because everything else equal why would they come to the Cubs?

    You're also not going to be building value as your team gets better, you'll be losing it.

    2 years is okay, but expect to get more guys like DeJesus, Maholm, Baker -- the kinds of additions I alluded in the post. You won't get a star, but you can get a 2nd or 3rd tier guy like Marcum or a Blanton or a McCarthy for that, but maybe not. I wouldn't want Guthrie at the price that KC just paid (3Y/26M or something like that). If those other guys ask for more, then I'd be hesitant to pay that much for guys who are really no better than mid-rotation starters with a bunch of question marks attached.

    The Cubs will be a big market team again when the time is right, but just because you have money, it doesn't mean you should use a lot of it on guys right now who aren't going to be part of your team when it's ready to win. You have to be smart about it.

  • I still believe the Cubs should consider FAs that will be under 30 at the start of next season and fill a need. See if they'd be interested in a multi-year contract, but without a NTC. The Cubs have nothing to lose by making an offer to that type of FA. If they contend with him, it's great. If not, another of his suitors should be more than willing to trade for his contract.

  • fb_avatar

    Only like Maholm and Baker signings without no trade causes so they can be flipped at the deadline if were out of it

  • Andrew Bailey, not Homer. That's who the A's dealt.

    Great article.

  • In reply to MIcubsfan:

    That's what I get for writing at 2 in the morning :) Thanks for the heads up and the kind words!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    If you were writing at 2 a.m. on top of fever and flu, that makes this great analysis more impressive. The Monty Python "I'm getting bettah" attitude musta worked !

  • The most pressing issue to me is starting pitching over the long-term, and Matt Garza is a major key. Up until his injury, I would have supported trading Garza, because he was the Cub most likely to garner a solid return in prospects. He could still be traded, but in my opinion the Cubs have to receive not only a top-of-the-rotation prospect, but also somebody that can go into the rotation this year. I'm not sure that Garza will get that kind of return, with teams wanting to make sure that he is completely healthy going into the season.

    With that in mind, and knowing that in 2-years time, when the Cubs hope to be competing, that the team will still need starting pitching, why not sign Garza to a 4-year extension during the season? He is not a #1 starter, in my opinion, and he does have some flaws in his game (bunting, fielding) that sometimes rear their ugly head, but he is a #2 or #3 (at worst), that would still be a major factor for this team when they are competitive. With the way the market goes, you know that paying for that #2 or #3 guy in 2 years will be more expensive signing the same player today. And if the deal is front-loaded, he may regain some of the value that he had before.

    The weakness of the Cubs' farm system is clearly front-end starting pitching. There are guys in the low-minors that appear to have some promise, but there are a lot of ifs there, too. Garza is still young at 29, and will still most likely be effective when the Cubs are trying to compete. To me, there is nothing wrong with keeping a player like him when he A) fills an area of need, B) does not have current trade value, and C) may come cheaper than a similar player down the road.

  • In reply to TheSinisterUrge:

    It's a valid point and f you think about it, Garza is exactly the kind of pitcher they would like to sign to a 2-3 year deal were he a FA right now, so extending him does make some sense in that light. Whether Garza is up for a 1-2 year extension to his current contract is something I don't know. But if he is, then I think the Cubs should do it.

  • In reply to TheSinisterUrge:

    Good post Urge. If you look at bwenger point maybe the Cubs should up the anti for a healthy Garza.

  • Great article as usual, John. It shows the Cubs are thinking long-term, which is good.

    My only concern is that the way baseball is headed (large TV contracts, limited amateur spending), I feel like FA is going to become thinner and thinner, therefore driving up prices even higher. You see guys like Longoria signing extensions that will basically never allow him to be a FA.

    I doubt Greinke or anyone this offseason will sign a reasonable deal. I just hope the Cubs are at least checking in on players like that. Melky was a great example. There is a ton of risk there, but for 16 million over 2 years, I think he might have been worth a shot. The Cubs have a lot of room to play with, and signing a few guys each year, rather than waiting until 2014 offseason only to find lesser players, may be the way to go.

  • In reply to bwenger:

    I think that's an excellent point. Teams will be able to keep players in house and we may indeed see a thinning market. We already see some of it this year. I think some 30 year old guys like Bourn or high risks like Melky Cabrera, Brandon McCarthy, Shawn Marcum, etc. will still be there, but the availability of younger FA who are still in their peak and baggage-free will become more scarce.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    Free agent IS thinner, because teams increasingly are locking-up good young players. This makes quick rebuilds even harder. Both of you are absolutely right.

    It's also well acknowledged that you have to overpay for Free Agents; it's just a bad investment, but sometimes the only route you have.

  • Wow John must not being feeling so well still to put out such a short piece ; )

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Haha! I do feel better, well, at least my head is more clear. Fever was just a one day thing, but I'm still feeling a bit run down physically.

  • I made some minor edits: One to fix Andrew Bailey's name and the other to clarify further what I meant about dipping into free agency. I'm perfectly okay with 2-3 year deals without NTCs. In fact, I think they need to do that even at this early stage.

  • I just hope that the business people continue to stay out of the way for the baseball people. In the Tribune/Zell era, the amount of empty seats we saw last season would not have been tolerated. The Ricketts seem to be fully invested in "the plan." But Bison dogs and the Wrigley Experience will only draw for so long. Something is going to need to get fans in the seats.

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    Agreed! Cubs business people in the past were more concerned with getting guys who would fill up the stadium. Not that baseball people don't want to fill the stadium, they just want to do it with good baseball instead of marquee players. They'll have to start winning soon, or at least play better baseball than we saw during most stretches last year. Patience runs shorter in bigger markets.

  • John, what is a reasonable number for our core guys? Obviously we'd like to have 25 core players, but that's not realistic. At what point to you think the Cubs brass will say "OK, we have X core players, now let's go fill around them"?

  • In reply to mosconml:

    I remember the Reds in the 70's, and their team were filled with core players and bench players for various situations.....their pitchers were not HOF's, but they won with a great line up and a great manager.

  • John - did my article late last night give you inspiration to write?

    Everyone wants to trade Castro, Soler, Baez, Almora....I mean, I don't want the Cubs to be like the Miami Marlins of getting a bunch of big name players for one year then dump the guys if they failed to win........we need to go from the ground up and build the farm system, build on pitching, build on leadership and build up the young players of how to play this game and win.

    Rome was not built over night....and neither will be a Cubs Championship team.

  • Just saw on MLBTR that the Cubs signed Scott Feldman for one year.
    Just what you were writing about.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Yes, it's exactly what I'm talking about. I actually picked him and Baker as signings back in early Sept.

  • Cubs sign Scott Feldman to a one year deal to flip at the deadline. Could be useful fill in while waiting for Baker to get healthy, but hopefully it's not the end of the signings for the rotation.

  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    I like this deal!

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    As long as they aren't done adding to the rotation, I like it. If Baker and Feldman are the extent of their rotation moves, I will not be happy.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Agreed!

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to North Side Irish:

    Whether we sign another starter probably depends on what we do with Garza. Because at this point, we probably have our 5 starters, absent a trade: Shark, Garza, Wood, Baker, Feldman. Though Feldman has pitched out of the pen, if we thought that was his role we wouldn't have given him $6 mil+ on a 1-year deal.

    I wonder if this finally means the end of the Casey Coleman era, because the Cubs need to clear a 40-man spot for Feldman

  • I think when April comes around, more fans will be eager to run to Kane County to watch the future than watch the present at Wrigley Field.

  • fb_avatar

    Cubs just signed Feldman.

    At what point do we burn John as a witch?

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Bah. North Side Irish didn't appear until after I posted this. Sorry about that.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Although your witch point is well made.

  • In reply to Kevin Heckman:

    :"He's a witch !!! Buuuuuuurrrrrrnnnnnnn him !!!"
    (Monty Python)

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    LOL!

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Haha! That gives me an excuse to post this...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yp_l5ntikaU

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    When John turns Mike into a newt.

  • I think the beet way to get Wrigley 'rocken' again is to follow the plan. Winning could happen sooner than later with this core of young improving guys.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Yep. If you win, fans will come regardless of what the names are.

  • fb_avatar

    John, I think you are right to think about core building blocks, and you correctly identify the 3 we have at the ML level: Shark, Rizzo, and Castro. Everyone else is a nice complementary player (like Barney, Wood), or pure roster filler (like Mather, Baker were last year).

    You need to develop and retain a core of young talent before you can think about signing a bunch of free agents. The young talent is the base you build on. While 3 is 2 more than the Houston Astros have (Jose Altuve is their only keeper), we need more. We need another front-line pitcher, and a power bat.

    We need to have enough young talent to legitimately get to 80 wins; the free agents just get you over the top.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Agreed Zonk on all counts.

  • Great article John!

    At what point do baseball's new economics begin to change this plan? Every team will get at least 25 million additional in shared revenue from the Dodgers new contract, and it looks like it could be more than that because FOX has decided they want to retain their rights and offered 6 BILLION dollars for a 25 year deal. That's nearly a 1/4 billion a year in tv money alone. The Cubs will have a contract of their own soon and can expect insane money as well.

    Since this money is known to be forthcoming, how will it affect not only future plans but plans for the upcoming season?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    One thing's for sure...
    They shouldn't have to go begging for money to renovate Wrigley.
    Looking forward to granite troughs in the Wrigley bathrooms...

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Thanks Toby!

    I think it's less about economics and more about how they want to structure the payroll long term.

    The money is going to be nice and if the Cubs show significant progress, then I can picture them being more aggressive in free agency.

  • I don't understand why 5 years for bj Upton would be so bad. He is the same age as shark and barney yet they are considered "young" building block. In 3 years shark will be making just as much money, and I don't think Upton is going to forget how to play baseball at 30. He can help this team compete this season and 3 seasons from now.

  • In reply to Joshnk24:

    Signing guys based on them helping you win during the back end of a contract doesn't make sense. Why not wait and get a guy in his prime when your team is ready to contend?

    It's not that he's old or he'll forget how to play, but he'll be past his peak, may have to change positions and will likely be overpaid to be enticed to come to the Cubs over teams like the Braves, Nationals and Phillies who also have money to spend and much better teams with a chance to win now.

    What is so special about Upton that that he's worth 5 years and an overpayment on salary? How much difference will he make this year? The Cubs will have much better opportunities with similar or better players in a couple of years if they still need them. Patience.

    As for Barney, I'll be shocked if he'll be with the Cubs as a 30 year old. Shark has low mileage on his and is in great physical shape. His best years are still ahead of him.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I guess us cubs fans are banking on these prospects to pan out which Is far from a guarantee. If they don't, this will really be a long rebuilding process. I just believe it's nice to have a few prove veterans on a team. I'm not looking forward to another 100 loss season but I guess should prepare myself. I'm not going with wait till next year, wait till 2015...maybe

  • In reply to Joshnk24:

    Hmmmmm.... not sure I buy this at all.

    The signings we are making are at reasonable values. Some we will keep. Some we will trade mid-season for prospects. As more questions get positively answered into the future, free agent vets will be more willing to come to Wrigley for reasonable rates.

    Yeah, many of us expect to get value from a decent number of our prospects. Some of that value will be as trade bait. Some will be a value on the 25 Man Roster.

    Theo does things differently then Hendry, MacPhail, or others. As messed up and dysfunctional as the system was, a two-year rebuild seem wholly justified.

  • In reply to Joshnk24:

    I understand about not wanting another 100 loss season, but I don't think that will. A couple of guys in free agency may buy you a few wins but the teams who have taken great leaps forward in recent years: Oakland, D'Backs, Padres, Orioles, didn't need to sign brand name FAs to do it. If anything they avoided it. Free agency can seem like an easy quick fix but it can also be fool's gold, as the Marlins found out last season. Now that team is worse off than it was 2 years ago before they made the signings.

  • Extremely well written analysis. Theo should hire you as a pr man, he could not have presented it better himself. Cubs get a cf like Crisp and some production at 3b, they are a 76 win team right now, with a bullet.

  • Thanks!

    I think your win total of 76 is realistic if they fill in the last few holes.

  • A great Article,but I totally disagree..........Big market teams have an advantage and thats building up there Minors and Getting Big Time Free Agents..........The Cubs Need a Top Notch CF,SP and RF and those needs are out there to egt Long term........The Cubs have the money to afford Grienke,Hamilton and Upton Longterm and they could go get a Top Notch 3rd Baseman in a Trade...........They just got 100 Million in the National MLB TV Deal and they have money to spend of there own.....So when ya put both monies together they could win now and later..........Why is Ricketts trying to wait,I will tell ya......If he lets Theo spend huge money Emanuel will ask him how do you need Taxpayer dollars to rebuild wrigley when you just spent the money you are asking for?........The wrigley rebuild and doing the Bud Selig system or raping the taxpayers is what Ricketts is trying...........Theo has had to do the rebuild way because Ricketts told him he is not going to spend untill he gets his stadium fixed for free

  • In reply to Lance Whyte:

    Thanks, Larry.

    That is basically the same strategy that the Marlins took last year and the Red Sox did the year before. The Red Sox empire declined and then collapsed. They had to deal those guys off and recently the Marlins did the same thing. The Marlins are now probably 5 years away from winning anything.

    Your argument is basically this: They have money, so they should use it willy-nilly to sign the highest profile free agents in the class. Assuming they'll all come to the Cubs in the first place, but I guess I should also assume money is no object so the Cubs should significantly outbid the Dodgers, who reportedly are ready to pay Greinke $150M over 6 years.

    So I wonder, when this doesn't work, do the Cubs do the same thing next year? And the year after? And so on? What happens when the Cubs prospects start coming up and they're blocked by all these big contracts? What do you do with all those contracts as player performance starts to decline?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    "So I wonder, when this doesn't work, do the Cubs do the same thing next year? And the year after? And so on?"

    Well, yes. They should try to use their resources to acquire the best players available every season. Why wouldn't they? Yes, it went badly for the Marlins (though they came out of it with a big pile of prospects, too). It went somewhat better for the Tigers.

    " What happens when the Cubs prospects start coming up and they're blocked by all these big contracts?"

    Unless the Cubs' front office is too dumb to understand the concept of a sunk cost, I don't understand why this is a problem. The best players play. If the last few months have taught us anything, it's that any contract is movable if you are willing to eat the money.

    "What do you do with all those contracts as player performance starts to decline?"

    You make up for it with prospects playing well below their contracts. Every good big-market team should have a perpetual mix of extremely cheap pre-arb players, cheap pre-FA players, expensive but very productive recently signed FAs, and FAs on the end of their contracts. Trying to avoid the latter end of that equation is futile, because you can't do it without giving up on the very important third section (productive, recently signed FAs). And if you do that, you will lose to teams that haven't hamstrung themselves in such a way.

  • lets just sign john lannan when he gets non tendered and maybe mike pelfrey as well. even with injuries we'd still actually have a major leaugue rotation. those are the main pitching options left with this rebuilding method. also i might try and trade barney, soriano, and vitters for randall delgado, dan uggla, and juan fransico. eating most of sori's contract. ugglas salary gone frees them up to get b.j upton, soriano in left, prado slides to third. theyd have a solid outfield and with that pitching wow.

  • o forgot to add that they would also have the best ss/2b combination ever if simmons really is as good as he looked last year. great article btw.

  • Meh. This is a very well-reasoned argument that shows that the front office is doing what they want to do. I've never questioned their ability to execute a plan. I'm simply not convinced that what they want to do is what makes the Cubs the most likely to win the World Series.

    The article starts off with a strawman. Of course it's not either/or. The Cubs don't need to sign all the free agents and they don't need to wait for all the prospects. That doesn't mean that the middle path they've taken is optimal. They are setting their sights in free agency extraordinarily low for scant reasons.

    They didn't have to clear most of those salaries. Those salaries cleared themselves just by virtue of the contracts expiring. The Cubs front office inherited as much as $70 million in payroll room when you consider the expiring contracts and the new CBA redirecting money away from the draft. That was more than enough to lay the foundation for a competitive team, but instead they chose to let themselves captain a 100-loss team and put the team further away from contention with their negligence.

    I see a big list of "long-term assets" that aren't actually assets yet. They are potential assets. I'm certainly not one to downplay the value of prospects, but their value is being severely overplayed in some circles these days. I'm still waiting on my Kelton/Montanez/Hill/Choi infield, or my Prior/Cruz/Zambrano/Brownlie/Hagerty rotation. Maybe we can wait until Pierce Johnson makes it through an A-ball season without his elbow exploding before we confidently label him a long-term asset.

    Untapped value? I guess. Jeff Samardzija was promised a chance at starting by the previous regime the summer before, so it's not as if the new front office was blazing an untold trail. I'm dumbfounded as to why they think trying to convert Cabrera is a good idea. He was terrible as a starter at every opportunity and only ever began to show real promise as a potential big-leaguer when he was converted to the pen. I guess they'll have to see for themselves that he can't start, which is silly.

    The Cubs absolutely should have been in on BJ Upton. He's a good MLB CFer. They do not have a good MLB CFer. I don't think it's reasonable to project either Jackson or Szczur as a MLB starting CFer at this point, so it's silly to leave the position open waiting for them. Almora, meanwhile, is in A-ball. Maybe 30% of the position players of his stature at his level will become MLB players. Given his high-floor makeup, maybe he's 50%. But that's still too risky and too far to be basing MLB decisions on. With the money we saved on not signing BJ Upton, I guess we can go buy ourselves another Ian Stewart and Concepcion each year, but I'd rather just have the actually good player.

    It's hard to win the World Series. It's even harder when you throw away a few years in the meantime. There's simply no evidence that the 2-3 years the Cubs are wasting right now will be made up on the back end. We've got a GM who has never run a playoff team in three tries (going on four this upcoming season), but we're supposed to believe that once his plan is in place we're going to get a run of 5 or 6 in a row to make up for it? The Cardinals, Reds and Pirates may have something to say about that.

    In summary, timing is severely overrated. There is a success cycle that should be a slight modifier to how much you value MLB wins, but that's all it should be. Baseball is too fickle and too variable for a major-market team to decide it has no chance in advance of a season, let alone an offseason. Believing that you can somehow perfectly time your talent acquisition to maximize it is chasing a false efficiency, because it ignores all the costs in time that you've wasted in the meantime.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Kyle:

    And, there goes the neighborhood.

  • In reply to Kyle:

    Won't address the small stuff, but where this entire thing breaks down is assumption that the Cubs are "throwing years away", which is pretty much the backbone behind your argument. Nobody ever said they're throwing the years away. If you've ever read my stuff before, which it appears you haven't, you'd know I am vehemently against doing that.

    The difference is you believe that the only way to build a competitive team in the short term is by investing in the more established but overpriced commodities on the free agent market. That solution lacks imagination. Teams like the A's, Padres, D'Backs, Rays, and Orioles have proven it doesn't have to be that way. The difference for the Cubs is they can use their large market status to retain the players that make them competitive.

    You have your own philosophy and that's fine. It's wonderful that you have enough self-confidence to believe that yours is the one and only solution and that you know how to build a team better than Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, So I'm sure you'll have enough confidence to accept that others, including myself, would disagree with those beliefs.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Ricketts technically has thrown away every season since he owned the team. Theo definitely punted the 2012 season and it look likes 2013 will be no better than 75 wins...

  • In reply to CubFan Paul:

    Did Ricketts really punt? H allowed Hendry to trade prospects for a known, win-now SP in Matt Garza and signed an established FA in Carlos Pena. The year before they thought the missing piece was Marlon Byrd. They called up Starlin Castro early to try and light a spark. And he certainly didn't trade his best players away.

    As for Epstein, he did sign Maholm and DeJesus. Took some flyers and they didn't work out. But who's to say that if the Cubs had pulled a turnaround like the Orioles or A's that they wouldn't have gone for it? I think they would have.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Ricketts cut the payroll immediately from $140Mish to $125Mish. all the moves Hendry made were done in a vacuum to save his job with LESS resources. Last year the Payroll barely touched $110M and $20Mplus went to players who weren't on the roster (pena, zambrano)

    adding Maholm (with the intention to flip him) & Dejesus wasn't going to make an aging team a contender. 2012 was clearly punted for many reasons. every win clearly isn't sacred

  • In reply to CubFan Paul:

    Cutting a bloated payroll isn't the same as punting. The Yankees and Red Sox are doing it. Are they punting too? 2012 wasn't punted until the trade deadline and it was clear the team wasn't going to win. No use hanging on to short term assets at that point, is there?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    the Yankees and Red Sox are cutting payroll BUT they're not shopping in the "bargin bin" like Theo&Co are/did for 2012. the Yankees & Sawx will compete in 2013, the same cannot be said about the Cubs.

    when i say 2012 was punted i mean:

    committing to an unproven LaHair in November
    naming an oft-injured Ian Stewart the starting 3B just as early
    not filling out the bottom of the rotation spots 6-10 despite saying they would do so
    not signing any impact young free agents to add to the core (pitcher, position player)
    taking pieces from the bullpen (shark & marshall) & not replacing them with viable options
    the list goes, I need more coffee. But no way in this reality John can you honestly say Theo&Co planned to compete in 2012. I saw that we weren’t going to in January/February after seeing the assembled roster

  • In reply to CubFan Paul:

    You equated cutting the payroll to punting. That is what I disagreed with.

    I think Theo prefer long term over short term and if they decide between the two, they'll pick long term everytime. But that's not the same as punting to me. In the end it's a semantics dispute and I'm not going to get into it.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    We lost 100+ games. If that wasn't punting, it says very bad things about the front office's ability to evaluate talent. I have more faith in them than that. :)

  • In reply to Kyle:

    exactly. Theo&Co knew exactly what thy were doing last year. trading Dempster, Soto, Maholm, & Johnson wasnt the main reason 100 loses happened. Team construction before the season caused 100plus loses.

  • In reply to Kyle:

    Kyle, that's right. That says it all. Thanks for enlightening us all who don't possess your brand of genius.

    Please move on now and go back to the BN board.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    Hey John, is there any way to get something private to you?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Feel free to email me Mike. My e-mail is in the About section up at the top menu. If you can't find it, let me know and I'll email you.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    "Won't address the small stuff, but where this entire thing breaks down is assumption that the Cubs are "throwing years away", which is pretty much the backbone behind your argument. Nobody ever said they're throwing the years away. If you've ever read my stuff before, which it appears you haven't, you'd know I am vehemently against doing that."

    Nobody has to say it. They are doing it. They did it last year with their refusal to fill 3b, the bullpen or the back of the rotation with credible MLB players. They are doing the same this year with 3b, CF, and the bullpen.

    If you support what they are doing, which the article clearly implies, then you support throwing away seasons. If you voluntarily, as a team, take yourself out of the market where the best players are available for the upcoming seasons, you are throwing away those seasons.

    "The difference is you believe that the only way to build a competitive team in the short term is by investing in the more established but overpriced commodities on the free agent market."

    Overpriced is such a begging the question term. The pieces on the market are expensive, yes, but they are accurately priced for what they are, which is valuable MLB players.

    A smart MLB front office should be able to absorb a few of those "overpriced" assets while simultaneously building the farm system with intelligent scouting and development.

    " That solution lacks imagination. Teams like the A's, Padres, D'Backs, Rays, and Orioles have proven it doesn't have to be that way."

    A's - five consecutive non-winning seasons before last year
    Padres - six consecutive missed playoff seasons and counting
    D-Backs- 2 playoff appearances in the last 10 seasons
    Rays - Needed 10 consecutive terrible seasons to build what they have now, which is 3 playoff seasons out of the last 5
    Orioles - 14 consecutive missed playoffs before last season

    Why exactly do we want to imitate these teams, again?

    "You have your own philosophy and that's fine. It's wonderful that you have enough self-confidence to believe that yours is the one and only solution and that you know how to build a team better than Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, "

    Well, I've built as many playoff teams as Jed Hoyer has, but thank you. I do. Of course, I don't believe that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are building this team to the best of their abilities. This is more about being given permission to try an experiment they always wanted to try.

    "So I'm sure you'll have enough confidence to accept that others, including myself, would disagree with those beliefs."

    Sure. And now we're having a conversation about it. Isn't that a fun way to pass the time in the offseason?

  • In reply to Kyle:

    You imitate those teams because they built winning seasons out of very bad teams. They didn't have the resources to sustain that. The Cubs do. I thought that was obvious.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It also took them many, many years to get those brief blips of success. They didn't just show up one day and say "We're cheap and we're winning!" Some lost for a decade.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Kyle:

    Those assets also come with many years attached to them which gets us into the Soriano situation all over again. And with what the Marlins just pulled, you can pretty much bet the magedeal without a NTC has gone out the window. If you're not convinced by the teams listed then take a look at the Nats, this strategy worked well for them. Yeah they've only made it this year but they have a great core of players now.

  • In reply to Zachary Myers:

    What's so bad about the Soriano situation? He was the pivotal player in two division winners and was still a very productive player last year, and may yet be trade bait to yield an interesting player if we want to go that route?

    If we're following the Nats' model, we need 4-6 more years of losing and hope we happen to have the No. 1 pick the same year as a generational offensive talent appears. All so we can get (so far) one playoff appearance and the hope of a few more. Ick, pass.

  • fb_avatar

    He wasn't the pivotal player in two division titles, he was a player but we got there because of our starting pitching. And now we're stuck with player who's skills are diminishing (yeah I know he had a good year last year) and is costing the team $18 mil for the next two years in which they probably aren't going anywhere.

    I'm not sure where the 4-6 more years of losing is coming from. The Nats had two back to back solid drafts and those players went through their system extremely quick and they figure to be perennial contenders. The Cubs already had some pieces in place so you can figure our young core will be at the big league level in 2 more years. And you're not going to find the big name established players signing 2 year contracts while we wait.

    There's nothing wrong with giving some guys with some past success a shot to try and get back on the right track while our prospects develop.

    Your theory is solid but executing it is impossible.

  • i equated cutting the payroll to punting because when you cash strap your team with less resources every year, asking management to succeed with less, that's punting in my opinion.

  • In reply to CubFan Paul:

    Right, so we have a different view of what that means. That's cool and I do see your point of view on this. I understand where you're coming from, but I don't see it as that clear cut. We can agree to disagree here.

  • agreeing to disagree doesn't get either point across. but whatever. i feel that most people who support losing on purpose are living in a bubble on purpose for whatever agenda, so what's the point of trying to reach them

  • In reply to CubFan Paul:

    When it comes to "punting", I just think it's a semantics argument which is even more pointless.

    You also believe they're losing on purpose, I do not. And unless you missed that long, respectful debate between Mike Moody and me, then you should know that I am firmly against it. But if you want to make your argument by saying I support losing on purpose, then I think there is no point continuing a debate that has a false assumption at it's core.

    As far as the Cubs go, I think they'd much prefer to win but given the odds with the current roster, they'll sacrifice short term for long term if it doesn't look like it's going to happen. I don't believe they go into any season trying to be terrible. You have an unyielding belief that the opposite is true. But telling me the Cubs are punting because they are going with flyers and lower priced free agents is unconvincing. Not because I have a "whatever agenda", but because it's an unsupported, subjective argument. Teams have won that way in the past, and some of them very recently, as has been pointed out numerous times. The Cubs are taking an approach that has worked with other teams. There's nothing to suggest it can't work for them either.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    “When it comes to "punting", I just think it's a semantics argument”

    Actions speak louder than words

    “You also believe they're losing on purpose, I do not”

    Yes because the benefits of losing for Theo&Co greatly outweigh trying to win with Hendry’s contracts. The plan since Ricketts has taken over has obviously been to let the big contracts & start over after 2012. Perfect for Theo.

    “And unless you missed that long, respectful debate between Mike Moody and me, then you should know that I am firmly against it”

    Actually I did miss that, im not sure where that is, but I do read you, everyday John, so i’ve had a good sense on where you stand rebuilding wise (you’re fine with losing now if it results in wins later. –paraphasing)

    “But if you want to make your argument by saying I support losing on purpose”

    In your own words you say that you support sacrificing the short term for the longterm. That’s losing on purpose in my book. 100plus loses didn’t just happen out of the blue last year, nor did trading vets cause it. The team was flawed in April by the front office on purpose. Meaning, by purposely fielding a non-competitive team (Stewart, LaHair, young bullpen after 3 loses (shark, cashner, marshal), cheap no power right fielder, below average players on the bench) you reduce your chances of winning before you begin.

    “I think they'd much prefer to win but given the odds with the current roster, they'll sacrifice short term for long term if it doesn't look like it's going to happen”

    We all want to win. The current roster is what it is now because of the payroll cuts every year since ’09 and the refusal to sign any “young impact players” that can help now and 2 plus years from now (lastest case: Upton and Greinke, last year: Fielder, Cj Wilson)

    “I don't believe they go into any season trying to be terrible. You have an unyielding belief that the opposite is true”

    Yes I do think Theo&Co went into 2012 trying not to win the division let all the Series. Asking for quality baseball from Volstad, Wells, LaHair, Stewart, Dolis, Barney, Mather, DeWitt and the other below average (or inexperienced) players they bought in last year is not a recipe for success. It look like and turned out to be a perfect recipe to acquire talent at the deadline by selling off expiring contracts. Oh, and there’s the #2 pick in the Draft next June.

    “But telling me the Cubs are punting because they are going with flyers and lower priced free agents is unconvincing”

    They lost 100plus games. The proof is in the pudding.

    “The Cubs are taking an approach that has worked with other teams”

    I can’t think of any team, new executive or incumbent that has done what they’re doing (slashed payroll, only bargin bin shopped multiple offseasons, & sacrificed wins on the major league team so that the farm is strong for a future of sustained success) and are now magically winning Consistently.

  • In reply to CubFan Paul:

    Despite your new cut and paste style format, it doesn't say anything new. It's a re-stating of your same subjective arguments. Repeating the same stuff over again doesn't make it anymore convincing than it was the first time.

  • fb_avatar

    Great post John! Also to those who want to go back to handing out huge contracts to every star player on the market. We have tried that method and it hasn't gotten us a championship. Why not hear these guys out and try something new. If it doesn't pan out fine you can personally fire and execute Jed and theo which It seems like ur so willing to do, but a couple years of experimenting with a strategy is a small blip when compared to the length of our championship drought. I guess we differ on our feelings for the Cubs because I would sit through a lifetime of losing seasons if it offered a chance to see them win a world series.

  • In reply to Chris Hart:

    Thank you Chris! I've have seen the Cubs lose more often than not since I started watching them back in the mid 70s. And I was as excited as anyone when they actually won. I think the 1984 and 2003 Cubs had the right idea but just failed to build on what they had. I think these new FO guys will keep the Cubs on the right track even after they win.

  • I thought some of you would like to see what Erik Peterson of Bleed Cubbie Blue said about this very article in "Cub Tracks":
    "When I teach, I assign readings. Here at BCB... I'd like to assign this John Arguello article about how a rebuild works and how the Cubs are likely to work through the process. I know there are still plenty of people who won't agree with the process / choice to rebuild. But I will hold out the slightest hope that this article might limit some of the many misrepresentations running around. Naive, I know... but I must maintain hope."
    Well done, John.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Saw that this morning. This article is -- deservedly -- starting to get more attention.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Thanks for that find. I'm very flattered. Will have to thank Erik too.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Remarkable coincidence: guess who started on posting on Bleed Cubbie Blue for the first time ever an hour after this post.

  • fb_avatar

    I wonder if an attempt to over pay a free agent for a one-year deal would be smart. Let's say, 16-20 million to Bourn for one year. Yes, this isn't a fiscally smart move, but if he comes in, gives BJax time to develop and can become a trade chip in July for more prospects, it would be worth it. Even if the team stuck with him for one year, he would probably turn down a qualifying offer and give the team a pick (to make up for the 2nd rounder we lose in June?).

  • In reply to Ray A:

    I'd do that if they were willing.

  • fb_avatar

    "It's not gonna happen." And when it doesn't, you're going to hear excuses from Theo, Inc., including, "We came close" (btw, anything less than 4 outs from a trip to the Series doesn't count); "We need more time"; "We've got a better farm system"; "the rules have changed"; and my personal favorite: "We didn't think things were this bad until we got here."

    Mark my words: by the end of 2016, the Cubs will still be without a trip to the World Series since '45.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Jorge Johnson:

    Quite possibly the case. But making the World Series within 6 years is an incredibly difficult standard to be measured against. If they have a good young core and have made the playoffs twice in that stretch, that's an impressive performance by any standard.

  • In reply to Jorge Johnson:

    Here's the thing and what I feel many of the dissenters on this opinion miss: It's about process. That is the part that you can control. What I see here from those that disagree is a results-oriented view. They don't care about process they just want to see a WS. That's all well and good, but starting at the results end is just plain backward.

    Results have too many variables, so you don't have 100% control over that. It's Theo's job to put the Cubs organization in a position where they are good enough to win year after year.

Leave a comment