The Cubs have a plan.
We call it "rebuilding" as a simple catch-all word and to many, as Tom wrote the other day, it's long overdue. But "rebuilding" is something of an abstract concept and as such, it can mean different things to different people
To some, rebuilding means losing and empty seats. It means getting unproven players who will fail like Cubs young prospects have failed in the past. Or at best it means having to wait 5 years to have any kind of success as the team waits to field a homegrown lineup.
To others, it means trying to build a top-ranked farm system. While that's a nice little perk and perhaps an indicator of a good rebuilding process, that's not what rebuilding is about either.
Quite simply it's about acquiring and developing assets.
Starting with the hiring of a new front office, everything the Cubs have done, from increasing the scouting staff to creating a development plan; from building a team culture and setting expectations to finding ways to generate new revenue streams -- all of that is designed to accomplish that goal. For all of it to work requires a total commitment from ownership and the top of the organization down to the minor league staff and players.
You cannot have a strong organization without valuable assets and what we are ultimately talking about when we talk about assets are the players themselves.
At the same time, it's imp0rtant to think of this in terms of process and not results. You've probably heard me say many times that you can control process, but you cannot control results. Yet there is a correlation -- good results follow good process. Create good process and you'll have success, but more importantly, success that is sustainable. The reason for this is that the process itself is repeatable.
Looking at the big picture, the Cubs have created a process for evaluating, acquiring, and developing players with the intention of creating waves of talent.
Position isn't as important as you might think except in the sense that starting pitching and up the middle positions are generally more valuable than corner positions and relief pitchers. But what I'm saying here is that you aren't trying to put together a lineup and a rotation with pieces from your organization, because no matter how good the process is, the chances are that you will have pieces missing. What you are trying to do is accumulate the most valuable assets you can, and then use those assets to build what you need. Think of it less like a jigsaw puzzle and more like Settlers of Catan (nerd alert).
You may remember that I disagreed with Keith Law for this reason a while back when he dismissed Dan Vogelbach, essentially because he is a 1B/DH type on an NL team that already has a young 1B. With all due respect, I think he missed this point. Dan Vogelbach is an asset to the organization because he has potential surplus value as a power hitter at relatively low cost. That may be with the Cubs or it may be with another organization, but either way, the Cubs will cash in if he develops as hoped.
For the same reason, I don't worry about who will play where when the Cubs draft Kris Bryant or have three top shortstops that are less than 24 years old. When the Cubs sign Eloy Jimenez, I'm not going to worry about whether he's the Cubs starting RF'er in 5 years. It's too early to start trying to put that together.
In a similar vein, I had a conversation with Professor Parks via twitter on that subject a while back. He's ranking the Cubs as a top 2 or 3 system even though they are heavily balanced toward hitters. Again, it's about having multiple valuable assets -- 4 of those hitters (once Bryant signs) are among the top 30 prospects in the minor leagues. The Cubs have succeeded in acquiring and creating what they consider to be the most valuable assets possible under the circumstances-- they can worry about where they fit and how they will use them later. In other words, the more valuable assets you have, the more options you have for building your team over time. Assets with less value, even if it's better balanced, doesn't afford you the same level of flexibility.
Moving on, we should mention that assets are generally either short or long term. The acquisition of Scott Feldman this past offseason was one that we can consider a short term asset. The idea, then, is to convert that short term asset into a long term asset. Short term success is always welcomed, but remember that we're looking for sustainable success here.
There are two ways to do this. One way is to re-sign Feldman to a long term deal and the other way is to trade him for players who are younger with more cost control. Whether you re-sign Feldman depends in large part whether you think the salary you will pay him gives him enough surplus value relative to the production he provides or whether you can create greater surplus value by dealing him for younger, cheaper, cost-controlled assets who can give you similar production. With Feldman's value at a high point and entering free agency at the end of this year, the Cubs chose the latter route and I believe that is the correct choice. It is essentially a repeat of the trade that brought Travis Wood in for Sean Marshall.
The Cubs also accumulated more long term assets through international free agency signings. Will they turn out? Will they fit? There's really no way of knowing, but for now they are assets to the organization and ones the Cubs are betting will increase in value over the next few years.
Things aren't always going to be that clear. The Cubs had to trade one short term asset for another when they dealt Carlos Marmol for Matt Guerrier. They also traded a long term asset for another long term asset when they dealt 2B prospect Ronald Torreyes for $784,000 worth of international free agent pool money -- basically money that will bring in top prospect OF Eloy Jimenez. That is an example of using one asset -- one from an area of surplus -- in order to obtain an asset that the Cubs valued more highly. It's essentially a trade-off. You are exchanging a player with greater certainty to reach the majors for one the Cubs feel is riskier, but has a better chance to have a significant impact if he does make it. Jimenez is a potential impact player and the same can be said of Jake Arrieta as well. With all due respect, players like Ronald Torreyes and Scott Feldman are not. That's not to say they aren't or won't be good players, but in reality there are guys like them who are readily available on the open market year after year. They can be replaced easily in comparison to the cost of acquiring big impact players.
So impact potential is yet another part of the equation. The Cubs feel that you win with impact players and that those players are harder to obtain than role players. The idea is if you can get a few of those impact players to develop, then it's much easier to build around that young, cost-controlled core of talented players. You can't completely control whether any individual impact talent will reach his potential, but what you can do is acquire as many impact level talents as you can, thereby increasing the odds that at least a few of them will pan out as hoped. It's a simple game of numbers.
So don't think of this as the Cubs trying to piece together a winning team position by position or as having a set destination date when the team will transform into a contender. Think of it in broader terms. Think of it as accumulating long-term, impact level assets, developing them as ballplayers, and then letting the rest play itself out. The Cubs can either use those assets on the field or use them as chips that give them flexibility and options to continue the building process.
Yesterday was another big step in that direction.