I understand the concept of flipping players. You have a short term guy and you exchange him for a long term asset. When you're rebuilding, it's part of the process. If you don't think you can win now -- that is, if the probability of winning for this year becomes so low that you decide it's better to obtain value to give you a better chance in future seasons, then you flip players who won't be around in the next year or two.
But I think the idea of flipping players sometimes gets out of hand. It seems that as soon as a Cubs player does well, the first question asked is, "What prospects can we get for him?" Even if this is a player who is signed for the next few years and is already a productive player. This isn't Montreal or Tampa. Yes, you want value. And no, you don't want to max out your credit card the way the Angels and Dodgers have either.
But shouldn't there be a happy medium? Shouldn't there come a point where wins become more important than surplus financial value?
The two things go hand-in-hand, of course. You have to be reasonable about what you pay for players. You decide who is easily replaceable and who isn't. Whenever possible, you try to extract surplus value for those players who are more easily replaced.
But what do you do with surplus value then? Well, if you're Tampa, you celebrate another year of not going under or moving to another city. You take pride in being able to compete with the big boys with less resources. But when you operate that way, you are operating at a disadvantage. You need to constantly sell off and replace resources while you're competitors can not only retain assets, but they can build on them. The small market team re-shuffles the deck while big market teams can discard what they don't need and just get more cards to play with.
So if you're a big market then surplus value should mean something different. It means you have more money to spend in other areas of need -- and yes, sometimes spending means overspending.
We used the example of Travis Wood recently. If the Cubs were Tampa, they'd have to start to think about trading him and then finding someone to replace him. While Wood is not on the same level, we've seen Tampa do this with Matt Garza (and they have yet to reap the on-the-field benefits from that deal) and most recently James Shields.
But the Cubs are not Tampa. They can afford to keep guys like Garza and Wood. Neither are so valuable that you'd pay him what they'd make on the open market -- there's no point there. But if you can keep either player at a deal that provides value -- even if it's not max value, you do it. Why? Because you can.
And because you want to win. You want to continue to build at some point rather than constantly tearing down and rebuilding. You can trade Matt Garza as a rental and probably get something similar to what the Cubs got for Ryan Dempster or Paul Maholm. You can trade Wood and get yourself another potential Travis Wood. And if that ends up happening, some will still claim victory because you get the same player, only younger and cheaper. If all goes according to plan, you get surplus value.
But things don't always go according to plan and even if they do, surplus value doesn't help you win games. Not by itself. Surplus value should be a resource or tool you can use to keep improving your team -- even when it means that improvement cuts into that surplus. Operating a team with surplus value is not the end goal, it is a means to an end. You may win a lot of respect by winning 90 games and just missing the playoffs or bowing out of the first round with an uber-efficient $100M payroll. But wouldn't you rather have those extra 5-6 wins -- even if those extra wins costs you something well above market value?
Let's say you keep Garza and Wood. You then go into next season with a complete rotation of Garza, Wood, Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, and whomever wins the 5th starting job -- maybe another pitcher to re-sign in Scott Baker if he'll sign an incentive laden deal. Or perhaps you'll have Mark Appel or Jonathan Gray ready to step in midseason. You then have a competitive staff for 2014 and something to build your team around for 2015
The Cubs will still have some trade bait. There's Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva. David DeJesus is another possibility. The focus should be to get players who can help as soon as next year. Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol are also trade chips, though neither are expected to bring back much in return. In the case of Soriano, it may not be worth it to deal him.
You can then turn your attention to improving the position player situation. You have Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo as mainstays with Darwin Barney and Welington Castillo also likely to retain their starting jobs.
Some of you may ask why make these changes now? Why not wait? The reason is you just don't know when you'll get that opportunity to win. There is no such thing as waiting for exactly the right moment and flipping the switch. There is a lot of information out there -- but nothing quite that precise. So the answer is this: You get talent when you can. You get it when the opportunity presents itself because it may not be as easily available to you later.
So how and where do the Cubs get that talent?
When it comes to trade and free agency, the Cubs can focus specifically on the the OF, 3B, and the bullpen.
The dream trade scenario is Giancarlo Stanton but that is likely out of reach. The OF free agent crop has a couple of players who may fit in Sin-Shoo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury.
A veteran like Chase Headley would fit if the price were right. If not, maybe you take a chance and try to buy low on a struggling Mike Olt or Lonnie Chisenhall. If the latter is the case, then you use that saved money and invest it somewhere else -- perhaps in a second outfielder instead of just one.
When it comes to the bullpen, you don't want to spend to much but perhaps you can get some bargains in free agency. It's also possible you can get these kind of arms at the trade deadline. Perhaps a prospect like Arodys Vizcaino can fill the void. We've seen how the Rangers have used top pitching prospects in the bullpen because of their strong rotation, the Cubs could do the same. That is yet another reason to have that starting rotation set.
Not that the Cubs should go on a wild spending spree, but the Cubs may have to overpay to get a much needed player or two, but it may be necessary to take that next step. Patrick Mooney of CSN wrote a while back that the Cubs will soon need to "sign their Jayson Werth", referring to the Nationals big signing that helped add a veteran piece to their budding young core.
Was that value? Maybe not in the strict economic sense. But if it helps you get those extra wins to get the Cubs in a better position to win a title, then I think most of us would say that it's worth it.
Filed under: Rebuilding