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Would Cubs have been better off as an expansion team?

Would Cubs have been better off as an expansion team?

At slower times in the Cubs news cycle such as this weekend, those who cover the team understandably have to reach a bit for an angle.

I’ve said it again and again. I appreciate the work Gordon Wittenmyer does in challenging what the Cubs are doing (pretty much on daily basis). However, I had to pause when he drew an unfavorable comparison with this rebuild to an expansion effort.

Was it that far off base?

On one had, we should be so lucky as to suffer the fate of recent expansion teams like the Diamondbacks or Marlins. Wittenmyer spoke to Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and Jed Hoyer about the potential parallels. Rizzo himself was involved in both the Arizona upstart, and now the tear down job he did with the Expos/Nationals projects.

“When I came over here [to Washington], we had to do more to get ourselves to an expansion level than we did as an expansion team,” said the guy who used several key acquisitions and back-to-back No. 1 overall picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper to turn around the Nationals quicker than ­expected.

“There’s no other way to do it the right way,” Rizzo said of the farm-system overhaul designed to lead to a competitive homegrown core for sustained success. “It does take time to build a foundation through scouting and player development. When I came in we moved away from veteran players to young players.

This rebuild is going to take longer than expected is essentially what Wittenmyer is getting at. The Cubs are a big market team, and it has been widely expected at some point they will be able to infuse some free agents into the rebuild (something I suggested they explore next season) to speed things up.

The real challenge is every team seems to have figured out (in this somewhat post PED and amphetamine era) that youth rules. Hoyer and Theo Epstein have tried to downplay how bad of a situation they inherited, but they have also let you know how much harder the sledding will be with the new climate surrounding the game.

“It’s very hard to acquire players through free agency, and players are back to peaking early, and older player are not as good a demographic to go after,” Hoyer said. “So with that in mind, “we’re ­attempting to really build from the ground up and through young players, and that takes time. “But it’s not unique to Theo or me. I think everyone in baseball’s trying to do some form of that right now.

Would this front office have actually favored an expansion effort rather than the undertaking they had to endure? They were handed a barren system, long-term bad deals, player who didn’t fit their mold, no trade clauses, etc.

“Calling it an expansion effort minimizes the impact of a lot of people we inherited,” Hoyer said. “Expansion is truly starting from ground zero. And we inherited some good players and some good people.” “I think ‘expansion’ is an extreme way to talk about it. Saying that is saying that you’re asset-free, and we weren’t. So I don’t see it as that extreme.”

Hoyer speaks about assets they inherited, but lets face it, when the Cubs start to win again how many of the last regime’s pieces will still be around?

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    "Hoyer speaks about assets they inherited, but lets face it, when the Cubs start to win again how many of the last regime’s pieces will still be around?"

    I think a decent number. We'll except Lightning Rod Castro for now. But even doing that, Shark, Baez, Lake, James Russell (if Dale hasn't destroyed him), and Alcantara were all inherited. Tim Wilken and (I'm assuming) some of his people have survived the purge. So there is talent both on the field and in the front office that was in place when Theo and Jed came to town.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Depends on how long it takes the Cubs to win again. Even consistently good teams have considerable turnover. Look at the Cardinals. They seem to basically revamp their lineup every 4 years or so. Look at their WS rosters - its nearly completely different - except for a few key pieces.

  • In reply to Roscoe Village:

    Molina, Wainwright, Holliday, Pujols, Chris Carpenter. All at drastically undervalued contracts except for Holliday. Elite, 5 war or better players. That is why they won games.
    Although, if they gag again this year and blow the division, that will be one division won in seven years. That's some elite dynasty team?

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    If they win the WS this year. That will be 3 titles in 8 years. That's about as close to a dynasty as most franchises get these days.

  • I have to agree with Jed here. They did have some talent when they arrived -- and we're not just talking about Castro, Samardzija, and Welly but A-Ram and Pena were assets that were converted into first round picks, Garza was converted into 4 legit MLB prospects, Cashner into Rizzo, Marshall into Travis Wood. You don't start with those kinds of marketable assets as an expansion team and acquisition of talent comes primarily through the draft early on -- and some use IFAs as well, though that's difficult as an expansion team until a team develops a reputation and builds a relationship.

    So, no. I don't see this is similar other than the multiple high draft picks.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    very much agree here.

    I was going to mention it, but you beat me to the puch with the Cashner bit. The ink may still have been wet on Theo's contract when that trade was made, and without it, we'd all be waiting for Vogy to drop 25 lbs and get to the show.

    Castro will be fine. Alcantara could be very good. Baez is Baez. Shark is a very good pitcher, even if some don't think of him as a #1.

    Anybody that thinks there was no assets is simply a whiner.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    Umm ... that would be Wittenmeyer.

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Not true actually he thought they tore down too much if anything.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    Not sure that I concur that Castro will be fine. I have watched enough of his play to believe that he is lost and looking for his roadmap.

    He may recover, but it is an open question at this time.

  • What assets? The FO has succeeded in paring a few of the liabilities, and is developing an internal cache of prospects, but only the delusional believe that this will lead to championship contention. The FA marketplace is a dwindling affordable source of talent. It consists mostly of over-valued and declining competence. I'm not a maven in baseball management philosophy, and can hardly imagine a path that will result in success under current realities in MLB. After approaching 7 decades of futility as a fan, I would be gratified if our kids could reach credibility as a contender, but probably won't last long enough.

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    In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    If you genuinely believe this: "The FA marketplace is a dwindling affordable source of talent. It consists mostly of over-valued and declining competence" what option is there OTHER than to draft and develop talent internally? Teams don't trade good young players for salary relief any more. (In the old days, Hendry would have acquired Andrew McCutchen years ago.)

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    Lighten up, Bloomie.

    I don't believe the Cubs - or any other team - are doomed to failure under the current realities in MLB.

    In 5 years, even the best teams now will have largely turned their roster over. Opportunites will exist. Whether the Cubs will grasp one and run with it, will require a lot of hard work, and a lot of luck.

    70 years ago there were indeed teams who were doomed to failure under the-then structure of player acquisition - the Athletics and Senators come to mind (and the Cubs, too, to no small degree). Times change and so do the circumstances.

  • Believe Cubs will purchase at least 2 free agents to help the offense, or else trade for some bats. When and if prospects are ready to play at mlb level then FAs could be traded for more prospects. They fixed SP this way last winter.

  • John,
    I agree that the cupboard was not bare, but I am simply not persuaded that the system is going to produce a competitive organization with the draft picks and prospects that have been acquired.

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    Good teams that contend year after year -- the Braves, the Red Sox, the Rays, the Cardinals, the Rangers build a foundation of talent in the minor league system to use as prospective starters, role players, and assets to trade for MLB pieces. You can then use free agency as a way to fill in gaps instead of as a crutch to build your team -- much as the Cubs did 7 years ago or how the Angels have done it recently. It is nearly impossible to sustain success with a constant plan of acquiring short term value.

    You can't rely on the kids or the farm, but building a good one is a tremendous asset, even if it's just perceived value as was shown when Hendry traded prospects Choi, Bobby Hill for A-Ram and Derrek Lee. The best scenario is that some of these guys pan out and you build your team around guys who will be both cheap and productive for 6 years and you use the surplus to acquire MLB ready talent, then fill in some more gaps with free agency.

  • I agree the Cubs are better off than an expansion team. They only had to deal with "bad contracts" for a season and a half. Going into 2014 the only bad money left that Jed and Theo have to pay is $13 mil. being paid to NY for Sori. The farm system is now Top 5 and the payroll flexibility is huge going forward. The future is bright !

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    I'm not sure where Mike Rizzo is coming from; Nationals were not an expansion team, in fact the Expos farm system was a good one that produced alot of good players....that then signed with other teams in FA, but that's a different story.

    Certainly, the Nationals were terrible for a few years at the beginning, no question about that, but they made several missteps of their own, notably the Jose Rijo/Gonzalez scandal that pretty much destroyed their Latin American operation

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    In reply to Zonk:

    The Nats/Expos wouldn't have been nearly as bad in their early years in DC if they hadn't made that Colon trade. Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore & Brandon Phillips all went in that trade

  • I started off thinking that it was a no-brainer the Cubs are better off than expansion team. However if you really think about it wouldn't have taken much longer.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    It's sort of like a house. Sometimes, just building a brand new one seems easier than a complete rebuild. Neither provides us with any 'short cuts" or guarantees. Fan's can lose patience and demand spending on FA's immediately, but there's no guarantee will work and may even set us further back.

    I bought into the FO rebuild plan... now it has tested my patience at times. But as frustrating as this year has been for all of us, and everyone seems fixated on Castro & Rizzo's regression, there's actually more positives than negatives so we are moving in the right direction.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    You are completely disregarding the existing fan base and the financial support it gives, expecially in a major city. Expansion teams don't have that advantage.

  • I think we were definitely better than staring as an expansion team. I also think its a mistake to think that the current folks in the front office want to somehow distance themselves from prospects that were acquired from the previous regime. Not that john was suggesting that, but I've heard it from some. I'm sure
    Theo and Co know that their efforts in development mean as much as being the ones to pick up said talent. Javier Baez is certainly the most obvious example. Man! Is he looking good or what!

  • In reply to Bilbo161:

    Sorry Tom. Didn't look at the Author. Nice piece.

  • Tom, I think the question at the end of the piece is wrong. Instead of "when the Cubs start to win again how many of the last regime’s pieces will still be around?", the question should be "when the Cubs start to win again how many of the pieces of those teams were acquired with the last regime’s pieces?" I think this is a much better way to evaluate the state of the Cubs B.T. (Before Theo). The answer to the 2nd question will likely be rather long, as John pointed out above.

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    Agreed. Many times I already have an opinion on questions I raise. However half the fun is asking them for you guys to answer. I like to sit back and watch the answers unfold.

  • Since 1969 there have been 10 expansion teams and only 4 have won world series.

    Expansion Teams
    1969: San Diego Padres, Expos, Royals, Seattle Pilots = Brewers
    Combined: 1 world series

    1977: Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays
    Combined: 2 world series

    1993: Florida Marlins, Colorado Rockies
    Combined: 2 world series

    1998: Arizona Diamondback, Tamp Bay Rays
    Combined: 1 world series

    The Montreal Expos should have won at least one world series.
    They had an insane amount of talent that they drafted and traded for.

    "The talent extended to the front office at Olympic Stadium, which bred several top-level executives, including Alex Anthopoulos of Toronto, Larry Beinfest of Florida, Dave Dombrowski of Detroit, Neal Huntington of Pittsburgh, Omar Minaya of the Mets and Frank Wren of Atlanta.
    "Dan Duquette constructed the bulk of the 1994 Expos. He said Charles Bronfman, the team’s original owner, emphasized scouting as the best way for his team to compete.

  • In reply to ucandoit:

    I was living in Windsor, Ontario in '94 and I got to watch that Expos team on TV on a regular basis. (The telecasts were in French, and I don't speak French, but that didn't matter). Man, that '94 Expos team was just great. A travesty that a strike took away their chance for a WS. Who knows, maybe there would still be baseball in Montreal.

  • I think that the folks who are levying the criticism against the Cubs for not using FA (WIttenmeyer, and whoever else, be it fans or writers) need to be more specific in their criticisms. The Cubs signed 7 free agents last offseason: Hairston, Schierholtz, Feldman, Baker, Villanueva, Jackson, Navarro, and also signed Fukijawa and Lim as IFA. So they're actually pretty active in using the FA marketplace to build the org for the long-term. I think the criticism that they're really trying to articulate is that the Cubs are signing big-money, long-term deals. But if you look at who the fans and writers were clamoring for- Pujols, Hamilton, Fielder, and to a lesser extent Grienke, only Grienke is working out that well. Fielder is not bad, but he's not outproducing Rizzo to a degree that justifies the difference in their pay. I think part of what's going on is that the team is bad and people want something to criticize because the results aren't there.

  • In reply to Nateisnotnice:

    * make that are NOT signing big-money, long-term deals

  • In reply to Nateisnotnice:

    Hear, hear!

  • Baseball talent-wise the Cubs were better off than an expansion team. But most expansion teams get to move into a shiny new (taxpayer funded) stadium. Not a 100 year old facility that is falling down around them. In some off the field regards, expansion teams are better equipped.

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    I agree. If the Wrigley upgrades could just get going the sky is the limit. Though to be fair, if it were not for the Wrigley Field attraction, things would be even worse in the down years.

  • In reply to Bilbo161:

    As I have said before, the stadium issue is by far the main factor in the Cubs moving forward. It must be resolved, one way or the other.

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    I think a bigger issue will be the TV contract that we will sign next year.it will be way larger then any other TV deal that the Cubs have done.Think 100's of millions and perhaps a billion dollars on the next deal.PAY PER VIEW.I will miss WGN.

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    Interesting point.

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    The expansion team route would be easier. An expansion team has no expectations to deal with. Everyone assumes they're going to suck. They also have no history to deal with. An expansion team has no Curse of the Goat, and neither are they constantly reminded of how they haven't won a WSC in over 100 years. An expansion team wouldn't have the ballpark issues the Cubs have either, and there are no bad contracts to deal with. The front office of an expansion team pretty much starts with a completely clean slate, which might actually be preferable to what the Cubs are going through.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Michael - history has shown that pretty much everyone assumes the Cubbies are going to stink on a year after year basis as well! :)

  • FWIW Wittenmyer was just pointing out its going to take longer than expected. Not saying FA was the solution.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    I agree with wittenmyer that its going to take longer. The prospects that make it will go through some growing pains, like rizzo,castro and like some outside the org like trout.

  • How much time should Cub fans give Theo and Jed? Another year, two, three?

    But, seriously, how can anyone believe a baseball executive who uses the word "demographic"?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I wouldn't want the executive of my favorite team to not use the word "demographic". I want the guy to smart - I'm funny that way.

  • For me, as a fan with limited expectations, 2014 is the yr that I expect the team to begin showing an ability to stay in games and convert on win opportunites.

    I am not sure how that equates to winning a specific number of games, but what it demonstrates to this tired and many times hpoeless fan, is that the light is starting to appear at the end of this long dark tunnel.

    If I continue to see the same trademark processes that have been on display since we became a 2nd division team, then I will begin to openly question the direction that we are heading.

    Case in point is Starlin Castro - his situation as a player on both sides of the ball has to improve. If it does not, then it is obective evidence data pt #1 that may spell trouble.

    Another is addressing the leakage from the bullpen. This is not a diffucult thing to remedy and is objectve evidence data pt #2 that I will monitor in an effort to grade this regimes ability improve an obvious area of weakness.

  • Theo has said it all along... "progress isn't linear". The A's & Orioles seemingly came out of nowhere last year. Same could be said for the Nat's and PIT recently too. Sometimes, the difference between a .500 team and a playoff contender is little things. BP not imploding consistently, hitting with risp, etc...

    I think realistically, 2015 is about the soonest we can expect to be "good" and :2016" perpetual contender. That's probably a year or so behind what we were originally hoping for. But it's been 100+ is one more a biggie?

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    If "progress isn't linear" what is it? Circular?

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    In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Non-linear

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Which means?

  • OMG, Joey Votto just forgot how many outs there were. He should be sent to the minors.

  • In reply to Cubswin4harry:

    Lazy, dumb oh he is white never mind.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    That and he does have a .430 OBP

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    Baez just blasted a 2run shot !!!!! Amazing

  • In reply to Sportsgod:

    That ball disappeared into the night. Wow. Note to opposing pitchers: when 3-1 on Baez, just walk him.

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    In reply to Sportsgod:

    With that homer, he's now hitting .390 in August. Just insane.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    At Tenn., he's hitting .382 with runners on and .393 with men in scoring position. Those are PlayStation numbers.

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    In reply to Eldrad:

    He's pretty good.

  • The way Baez is going makes me think that if he finishes strong, and then goes to the AFL and continues to mash the Front Office will end up having him start next year with Alcantara in AAA.

    I know the original plan was to have him start next year in AA again, but plans change. He deserves another shot at the AFL anyway as he got hurt last year.

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    In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I agree, and although I'm usually all for avoiding aggressive promotion, You just can't hold him back at this point.

    I AM however, totally against calling him up to the big boys before next September. I can't see any argument or any reason to promote him earlier than that.

    Honestly, even if it comes down to an injury at 2nd base, I'd prefer Alcantara getting promoted first.

  • Predictions for the prospects-
    Alcantara- starts in AAA, called up to big leagues in September.
    Baez- starts in AAA called up in June
    Bryant- starts in AA, called up to AAA in June, called up to big leagues in September
    Almora- starts at A+, called up to AA in July
    Soler- starts at AA, called up to AAA in July, called up to big leagues in September
    Johnson- starts in AA, called up to AAA in July

    Whether the guys who get called up in September make the Opening Day roster for 2015 is another thing but I bet we'll see a line-up with Baez, Soler, Bryant, Alcantara next September.

  • In reply to GoCubsGo:

    Each of your individual predictions are certainly possible, but it would be highly against the odds for all of them to come true. Hope you are right, though. That would mean all the guys you mentioned would be up by June/July of 2015, and it would be just a matter of how much time each needs to get acclimated to MLB. So 2016 gives us a very interesting team, on the verge of competing. I can see that.

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    Baez in August: .390/.427/.710. You run out of superlatives with the kid. He's 20 and just too good for the Southern League. Gillespie tonight called him a potential Hall of Famer.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    And his AA fielding percentage is equal to Francisco Lindor's, who is considered a great defensive SS, and his range factor is significantly better too.

    Anyway, it's obvious Baez is good, but this could be a career-type year. If you extrapolate his AA stats out to 600 ABs, his numbers would be ridiculous. 43 doubles, 55 homers, 148 RBI, 52 walks, 182 strike-outs (okay, I'll give him an OUCH on that one)and 25 stolen bases.

    Just for frame of reference purposes, he has a higher slugging percentage than all but two major league players . He is also 4th in homers in professional baseball. Davis>Cabrera>Springer>Baez. WOW.

  • This is directed toward Tom Loxas, this is the dumbest ass, baseless article I have ever read. Just because there is no new news and the Cubs are having a tough season you don't have to write something stupid like the Castro and Cubs are having a riff, Cubs are better off as an expansion team. If you cannot dig up or find anything to write about that has merit then don;t write something dumb and have there so called Cubs fans write stupid comments themselves, unless thats what you want. Try writing more meaningful news and take some pointer from your counterpart John.

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    In reply to sringh5:

    Seriously out of line. We don't do personal insults here. If you want to disagree with him -- and many, including John, did -- do so with logic.

  • In reply to sringh5:

    We all try to bring things from different perspectives. Some read all 3 of us, some may read one writer more than the other. For example, not every reader is a fan of the minor leagues, so maybe they just skip those articles. Anyway, if you want to disagree with what Tom writes, please try and reserve your criticism for the specific content of the article and let us know why you disagree. I happened to disagree with the content at a basic level as well, but sometimes that gets a good discussion going, especially on this site where people are generally respectful and thoughtful in their debate.

  • Hey Mike, I was speaking with the same logic that Tom used in his previous articles regarding Castro and the Cubs and this particular article. I am just sick of Chicago sports writers writing baseless articles just to get people to react, well it worked with me and I am not going to sit here and write a thesis on why these articles are baseless and pointless. John yes I totally agree with you maybe I should have been more respectful but then again, some of the authors need to be more respectful to the players instead of stirring the pot.

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    In reply to sringh5:

    Actually, what Tom used in the Castro article were his sources, who were spot-on at the trade deadline.

  • Exactly his sources!, lol. Everyone has sources and the inside scoop! Funny

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