Rebuilding is an ugly process at times. Ugly, but at some point unavoidable. Sometimes it pays to look at the past to remind you what has truly been necessary all along.
A casual fan asked me the other day to explain to them what the Cubs brass was trying to accomplish. The easiest analogy for me was a gut rehab. You can keep replacing drywall, etc. but eventually you have to strip things down, do some hard rewiring.
Going back to 1980 (when I started watching this Cubs team) there were some other attempts at a rehab. They were all aborted on some level due to fear and finances. We may wonder just how much finances have played into the pairing down of the current payroll, but either way the wiring needed to be redone.
It would have been nice to see the right thing done years ago, but here we are and I think it is safe to say the worst is in our rearview mirror.
Speaking of rearview mirrors, let’s take a look back at some of the other times since 1980 this painful process could have been undertaken.
In 1980 GM Bob Kennedy went about a rebuild of sorts by taking flyers on guys like Mike Tyson and Lenny Randle (who had failed to live up to their potential elsewhere). That was followed by the Bruce Sutter trade. Sutter was arguably the best relief pitcher in the game but was just awarded a huge arbitration win (big no-no for the Wrigley's).
Kennedy wanted to use Sutter to acquire a young cost controlled prospect. That player ended up being Leon Durham, who was one of the top prospects in the game. Durham was a natural first basemen who was blocked in St. Louis by Keith Hernandez. Funny thing was he wasn’t able to play first in Chicago either due to Bill Buckner. This was, however, the kind of deal that made sense at the time, if only there was a vision other than dumping salary.
Later Kennedy traded Dave Kingman to the Mets for Steve Henderson. After Kennedy was abruptly fired, interim GM Herman Franks unloaded Rick Reuschel to the Yankees for Jay Howell, Doug Bird, Mike Griffin, Pat Tabler, and wait for it…cash.
This really wasn’t a true rebuild as much as just a tear down. Unlike 2007, the Cubs were trying to thin out the bottom line to make a sale more attractive. It was strictly about saving money.
In 1982 Dallas Green would follow with a different kind of rebuild. Green tried to retool the farm system while still trying to win on the big league level at the same time. It was a bold plan that almost worked, if it weren’t for Steve Garvey and Green’s power lust. The system later produced big time (later 80’s) but was busted apart mostly by GM Jim Frey.
In 1992 new GM Larry Himes actually tried to convince the Tribsters of a full scale rebuild. He had some previous success with the White Sox by building through the draft. You may not be aware that Himes was an early advocate of statistical analysis as well. Himes had the gutsiest of moves in mind. He wanted to trade the face of the franchise in Ryne Sandberg for a nice package of prospects. It was a bold move that may have changed the franchise. Sandberg was 32 and showing signs of decline. Sandberg was looking to get his last big contract and there wasn't enough around him at the time to win with.
Cubs honcho at the time Stanton Cook put the kibosh on it. Letting it be known the Cubs needed Sandberg and Mark Grace to be the matinee idols for WGN and sell tickets. They could just fill out the rest of the roster and it wouldn’t matter. The right thing be damned. The Cubs were just another TV show. Later, Himes did manage to trade George Bell for another young player he wanted to acquire in Sammy Sosa.
1995 would bring in Andy MacPhail and Ed Lynch. Once again, there was a rebuilding plan. This time MacPhail had convinced the Tribune they were going to build with youth. Then a funny thing happened. The Cubs were competitive in a strike-shortened season with the new Wild Card within their grasp. The Cubs again shifted gears and even brought back the aging Sandberg the following year, despite Houston’s young star Craig Biggio flirting with the Cubs as an upcoming free agent.
Last but not least there was 2003. New GM Jim Hendry and his mega hire Manager Dusty Baker had a not so well known disconnect in short order. Hendry and MacPhail had decided to retool during that summer when Baker instead asked for more help to win then. Baker won out, as he was promised by the Cubs (when they pitched him) they would add talent and payroll.
That one we could chew on for a while with all that followed. Instead Hendry added Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton and the rest was almost history.
So Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer weren’t exactly trying to break new ground here, but they happen to be the guys that were able to get the building permit.
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