I'm a pretty patient guy.
I understand the rebuilding process the Cubs are undergoing. I more than just understand it. I trust it. You have to trust process because it is the only thing you can control. Results are slippery. There are too many variables. No matter how much we try to minimize it, luck is always a factor when it comes to the end result.
Once the foundation is in place, you can splurge on big - but expensive, inefficient investments in the trade and free agent markets. You do that because, at that point, you don't mind overpaying for an extra 2-3 extra wins because that could be the difference between the playoffs and staying home in October. In other words, those few extra wins themselves become that much more valuable once you are a contender. It minimizes that overpay whether it comes in terms of dollars or prospects.
Which brings me to the reported trade between the Blue Jays and the Mets. Like most people, I was shocked at how much the Jays gave up. The trade will include their "untradeable" player, catching prospect Travis D'Arnaud, and the pitcher whom I consider to be their best pitching prospect, RHP Noah Syndegaard, for Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. There are other players involved, but that is the essential, impact player/prospect portion of the deal.
If the Cubs were to make that kind of trade today, I'd be thrilled.
If they had to make it next year, I'd be lukewarm about it at best.
And if they had to make it after the 2014 season, I'd be downright disappointed. At that point, I'd rather be on the Jays end of the deal.
Don't get me wrong, in terms of getting long term surplus value, it was a steal for the Mets. I'm just saying it's just too bad the Mets organization is still at a place where they badly needed to make such a trade.
Timing is everything. And the two teams are a prime example of what I mean when I say that you can't control results, only process. On the surface, this looks like a deal between a 90 win team and a 60 win team, but if you look strictly at results, the Mets were the better team last year. They won 74 games and the Jays won 73.
The Jays, however, are miles ahead in terms of where the teams are in their rebuilding processes. All the luck in the world probably wouldn't have saved the Mets, but the Jays had enough talent to have parlayed better luck into a playoff run.
Looking at the situation here, the Mets are one year ahead of the Cubs in their rebuilding process in terms of when they decided to stop throwing money at players and hire a new front office that puts an emphasis on value. The Mets are led by Sandy Alderson, and their aim, like the Cubs, is to build the kind of organization I spoke of at the beginning of this piece. Yet, after just over 2 full years of rebuilding, the Mets don't seem any closer to making the playoffs. In fact, until the deal they didn't seem much further along in building their foundation. Before the trade with the Jays, their farm system was still relatively weak, even when compared with the Cubs, much less the Jays.
The Mets re-signed David Wright, giving them one MLB core player, albeit slightly older than you'd like given where the Mets are now. Perhaps if Ike Davis can stay healthy, he's a second core piece. The Mets also have two young, promising pitchers in Matt Harvey and Tim Wheeler. After that they had some talent, but it was highly speculative at best. They needed to add a couple more potential core pieces for the future and this deal accomplished exactly that.
The Jays, meanwhile, are on an accelerated path. They are just one year ahead of the Mets (and 2 ahead of the Cubs) in terms of when they hired their current GM, Alex Anthropoulos. While they won just 73 games, they exemplify what Theo Epstein meant when they said that "progress is not linear". In three consecutive seasons since Anthropolous took over the Jays have won 85 in 2010, then 81 in 2011, and down to 73 in 2012. They are now the favorites in the Al East going into 2013.
Granted, the Jays were ahead of both the Cubs and Mets in terms of talent when Anthropoulos was hired as GM, though he did have a hand in that progress too, rising through the ranks as a scouting director and then Asst. GM before getting hired as the GM after the 2009 season.
In some ways, though, the Cubs rebuilding process, at least the farm system portion, started with the 2011 draft when the Cubs selected many of their current top prospects, including Javier Baez, Dan Vogelbach, and Dillon Maples. They've now added about a full year of rebuilding with the new front office when you consider the time it took to get everything cleared.
I would hope that by this time next year, the Cubs don't find themselves in the position of essentially having no choice but to trade a top starter who figures to have at least 2-3 good years left, as many feel about R.A. Dickey. The goal is that the Cubs make enough progress in 2013 in terms of what they do on and off the field that they don't feel like they need to trade good starters who still have a few years left. While the Cubs don't have a Cy Young winner, they do have talented guys like Matt Garza and Scott Baker. Should they bounce back and have great years, I'd like the Cubs to be close enough to where keeping them is at least a legitimate option. I don't mean this to say that they shouldn't trade them at all if they think they can improve the team going forward, but I hope they aren't in the position the Mets were with Dickey. I hope they aren't still an organization that is in such need of young, core potential impact talent that they have no choice but to set the clock back another two years, as the Mets have seemingly done.
That is why I say that while I think the Mets pulled off a great trade under the circumstances, I'd be lukewarm about it if the Cubs had to do the same thing this time next year and flat out disappointed if they had to do it two years from now.
I understand that as far as the rebuilding process goes, patience is still required. The Cubs are much closer to the Mets than the Jays. If the Cubs had a chance to make the same trade today from the Mets side, they'd have to make it. It'd be a no-brainer.
I just hope that need isn't that clear cut a year from now and that in two years, the Cubs will be in a position similar to where the Jays are now. By then, the goal should be that the process is far enough along to at least consider the option of not just making a run -- but perhaps even going full speed ahead, with the pedal pressed firmly against the floorboard. Like the Jays, you want to be in the position where 3 extra short term wins could result in all the difference in the world.
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