The time the Cubs (almost) got it right

The time the Cubs (almost) got it right

There is a story to be told about what the Cubs did 10 years ago, but it isn't about Steve Bartman or Alex Gonzalez.  It is about the time the Cubs almost got it right -- but I'm not talking about almost in the sense that the Cubs were 5 outs away from their first World Series since 1945.  It's not about the perfect time to look back and then take a lazy cheap shot about where they are now, as Rick Telander did when he said, "It’s fair to say the Cubs are as far from their first World Series title since 1908 as they have ever been."

To understand what I'm talking about, let's go back a year further, to the year 2002.  The Cubs had scrapped together a team around Sammy Sosa that included value pickups such as aging veterans Moises Alou and Fred McGriff, Mark Bellhorn, and the return of Joe Girardi. But they also had some young talent beginning to contribute.  Corey Patterson was the starting CF, 25 year old Kerry Wood was the top starter, the Cubs had acquired a one-time failed prospect in his prime years in 27 year old Matt Clement.  A 21 year old kid named Carlos Zambrano came up and swung between the rotation and the bullpen, finishing 4-8 on the year, but showed some promise.  Another 21 year old named Mark Prior came up and showed even more promise than Zambrano in just 19 starts.

Many of those young players were part of what was then considered a top 3 farm system in the game and the farm system was still  considered among the best with Hee-Seop Choi, Dave Kelton, Brendan Harris, and Bobby Hill along with power arms such as Justin Jones still in the minors.

That team won just 67 games.

It is the most recent time the Cubs had actually constructed a foundation of talent in the minors and it was starting to creep through on to the major league roster.

The next offseason they shed the dead weight and contract of Todd Hundley and somehow managed to fill two holes with 1B Eric Karros and 2B Mark Grudzielanek.  They made a couple of minor deals to acquire C Damian Miller and SS Alex Gonzalez to shore up the defense up the middle.  Their only FA signings were a couple of lefties, a 5th starter named Shawn Estes to go with a young staff that would include the return of Kerry Wood and Matt Clement and the first full seasons as starters for Carlos Zambrano and Mark Prior.  The other signing of note was a bullpen lefty named Mark Remlinger.

Understandably, the media wasn't exactly thrilled by those minor trades and free agent signings.  How is that supposed to help a team that won 67 games?  The Cubs didn't go out and spend big and bring in more stars to surround Sammy Sosa.  Moises Alou had come off a mediocre season and wasn't really considered a star anymore.  Aside from Mark Prior and Corey Patterson, nobody was really talking about the young infusion of talent.

The next year the Cubs started surprisingly well, but young rising star Corey Patterson suffered a serious injury after a hot start.  The team slowly faded and on July 23rd they were an even .500 at 50-50 -- but it was a weak division.  They were still just 5.5 games back and so the Cubs decided to go for it.  They traded one of those prized prospects, Bobby Hill, along with pitching prospect Matt Bruback, and a productive young player in Jose Hernandez, and acquired Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton.  The Cubs would go on to finish the year 38-24 and win the division despite an 88 win season.  It was perhaps Hendry's greatest trade, not just because of the timing but because he somehow managed to steal a talented, but inconsistent 25 year old, cost-controlled 3B whom the Pirates had grown impatient with -- the Ramirez acquisition almost sounds like something Theo would do.

Despite the record, the Cubs were peaking and ended up beating the Braves behind their strong young pitching, then went on to take a 3-1 lead in the NLCS over the Florida Marlins.  We know what happened from there because that's the part that's been played over and over again.

Typical of Cubs culture to focus on what went wrong, of course.

But the story doesn't end there.  The Cubs were arguably better the next season.  They made a great offseason deal, trading top prospect Hee-Seop Choi for another great in-prime player, 27 year old Derrek Lee.  They traded the defensively savvy Damian Miller for the offensively oriented (and another previously inconsistent player who hit just .208 the year before) in Michael Barrett -- yet another 27 year old player about to enter his prime years.  Lee added punch with 32 HRs and an .860 OPS.  Barrett hit 16 HRs and put up a very respectable .826 OPS from the catcher position.  Through free agency, the Cubs re-acquired veteran Greg Maddux to add a much needed veteran to a talented young staff and also added 2B Todd Walker, plus a valuable role player in Todd Hollandsworth.

Again, strange to look back and see Hendry add a mix of in-prime players and still productive value priced veterans.  For the first time since the Dallas Green era, the organization seemed to know what it was doing.

The 2004 team was poised to outdo the 2003 team.  Unfortunately, things didn't go quite as planned as Kerry Wood and Mark Prior missed chunks of the year with injuries.  The Cubs were 10.5 games back at the trade deadline but were still in 2nd place and in wild card contention at a respectable 56-48.  The Cubs had one more deal in them.  Hendry traded top LHP  prospect Justin Jones, infield prospect Brendan Harris, and SS Alex Gonzalez and got one more veteran piece for the stretch run, Nomar Garciaparra, who went on to contribute with an .819 OPS down the stretch.

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to prevent yet another collapse.  On September 24th, the Cubs had improved their record to 87-66 (31-18 since the Garciaparra trade) to put themselves in position to take the wild card.  From there they lost 7 of their next 8 games and missed the playoffs.  Yet another heart-breaking Cubs finish.

Those two heart-breaking finishes became the story, particularly the 2003 team that came so close, but to me the real story is how the Cubs acted like an organization that knew what it was doing.  They built a strong farm, they traded for in-prime veterans, they made good value veteran signings in free agency.

From 2002 to 2003 we learned that the Cubs weren't as far away as we thought and how progress is indeed not linear, especially when you are dealing with young players.  From 2003 to 2004 the Cubs kept their plan in tact with more shrewd acquisitions.  They contended again without compromising their future.

But the story of failure dominated the headlines in all 3 of these years for different reasons.  Rick Telander had one thing right, 2003 raised expectations from the media and fans.  That's to be expected.

The truly unfortunate part of all of this is that the Cubs changed their process.  They forgot how they got there.  They abandoned their farm and concentrated on getting free agents.  They destroyed the makings of a good foundation and replaced it with bloated contracts in an effort to make a couple of  short-lived runs in 2007-2008.  Looking back, those are exactly the type of short-sighted decisions that got them right where they deserved to be before Theo Epstein took over.

And perhaps the biggest tragedy of all is that we still haven't learned from the biggest mistake of that era -- and, no, I'm not talking about the Bartman mistake, nor am I talking about the Alex Gonzalez error.  I'm talking about the mistake of growing impatient and looking for shortcuts again.  I'm talking about the error of those demanding that the Cubs once again abandon good process and adopt an expensive, results-oriented, win-now approach that has been the real failure of the franchise since those hopeful years.

The real story should be how the Cubs almost got it right just 10 years ago -- not because they came within 5 outs, but because they were doing things the right way.  That story still has an unhappy ending, but...

You know what?

I want to get to within 5 outs away again like they did in 2003  I want to head into the final week and a half with a team loaded with a mix of young and in-prime players like in 2004.  I want to do that because odds are that the next time, the Cubs will finish the deal.

But we can't skip to the end, we have to remember how they got there in the first place.

That's the story we should be talking about.

 

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  • Great article. I remember that year like yesterday and it breaks my heart to relive it. Only thing that made me feel half way ok was the fact we were very young and Capt Morgan. But I really thought we would have no problem getting back in 04 or 05. With all the young arms and prime players in the line up. But we are heading back to that place again.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Haha! Thanks. It did look like a time when the Cubs knew what they were doing and were set up to win for a long time. I remember thinking the same way as you did. Injuries played a role, of course.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, this looks even more promising than the 2002 farm,Prior, Z and Juan Cruz were the only real young players who stood out in the 01-02 farm. This time, its the position players who stand out.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Position players are more sure things -- especially with this FO, who scouts them very well. I think future teams may have to acquire some pitching, but I think the lineup will have a homegrown flavor.

  • Nice piece! Thanks for putting it into perspective.

    Despite the heartache at the end, those were fun years!

  • In reply to svelocity:

    Thanks. They were. The most hopeful time we had for long term success.

  • GREAT article John! A great way to look at it. Let's hope the F/O continues to stay on track. I've waited this LONG what's 2 more years. God willing I'll be here, and hope my father will be also.

  • Excellent article. The only thing I think should have been mentioned is this time we should hire a manager that does not allow 130 pitch counts and who says crazy sh*t like "black and Hispanic players are better suited to playing in the sun and heat than white players."

    Also, the bullpen of the '04 team was atrocious. Latroy Hawkins was awful and he was the closer after Borowski got hurt. I think the current FO's plan of creating an internal bullpen with power arms from the draft is a great strategy. If I remember correctly Remlinger signed a big deal and so did Bob Howry and Scott Eyre. In the end the Cubs had expensive middle relievers that could not get anyone out.

    If Baker did not run Prior (and Wood) into the ground the team would not have collapsed like they did in 05 and 06.

    Hopefully next time we have a team good enough for the NLCS we do not have our LF and 3B making plans before Game 7 because they "realize they are going to lose anyway."

  • In reply to Sandberg2014:

    Thanks Sandberg. There were plenty of small mistakes to look back on during that time, but like I said, I think the biggest mistake was abandoning the things they were doing right. They tasted a little success and forgot how they got there.

    This new FO is bringing that competence (brief as it was) back and I think it will work just like it did last time -- but hopefully with better results!

  • In reply to Sandberg2014:

    If I remember correctly, Mike Remlinger was a lefty reliever who had a lethal changeup, and who excelled in late inning appearances for the Braves because of that. However, our non-data oriented manager Dusty used Remlinger as a LOOGY, essentially negating his value. It drove me nuts when he would pull him because a righty was due up! Ah, the recollections your article brings - some good, some bad.

  • Hendry drafted a lot of good pitching to kick off this little run. Behind Wood and Prior were Zambrano and Juan Cruz and Dontrelle Willis and Jeremi Gonzalez and Angel Guzman, and quite a few other arms that made their way around the majors in Lohse, Nolasco and Garland.

    They established a foundation of good, young pitching, and fortified it with Sammy Sosa and whoever else they could find, and when they reeled in Alou, Ramirez and DLee among others, this was a formidable lineup.

    What did the Cubs do wrong?

    Well, you can look at the best pitchers on the above list to recognize just how many of them arrived with poor mechanics, headed for oblivion. Pair that with rampant overuse by Dusty, and what you have is simply a Crying Shame.

  • In reply to HackWilson09:

    Yep..they almost got it right. Some flaws but they were about as close to building a respectable organization as any in my lifetime.

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    In reply to HackWilson09:

    Good post Hack. Not to nit-pick, because I agree with everything you say, but Garland was a little before the others. He was drafted (not by Hendry) in 1997 and traded the following summer for Matt Karchner.

    What kills me about Baker and his mishandling of the staff, is that during the playoff run, he kept both Clement and Cruz on the bullpen bench without using either of them once. His reasoning is that Clement was a starter and not used to coming in out of the 'pen and Cruz was a rookie. Sure, Dusty. I suppose it's better to use bad relievers like Dave Veres and his 86 mph "heat" than an effective starter and a quality rookie.

    Ugh! What could have been. What could have been.

  • In reply to HackWilson09:

    Forgot about Angel Guzman - man that was a kid who oozed talent but could not stay healthy....

  • In reply to JK1969:

    Guzman was a great prospect, some thought he was nearly as good as Prior and better than Zambrano.

  • Great article and the perfect point to make as we look back on the last decade of the Cubs.

  • In reply to Seanhopper:

    Thanks Sean!

  • Great article. Hendry made some great trades. I had forgotten about his bargain free agency signings. It is somewhat difficult to know how much was him deviating from the plan and how much his superiors forced him to deviate from the plan.

    What also seemed apparent to me is that except for short-term success by Wood, Prior and Patterson, the organization (at least to my eye) didn't do a great job of developing those young guys. Prior was basically a polished, sure-fire Cy Young contender when he was drafted IIRC. An exaggeration, but you get the idea.

    I guess the point is it seems that the team, during those years, didn't worry about player development because they seemingly only viewed prospects as currency to acquire up-and-coming players in their prime? Outside of Patterson, Wood, Prior, and Zambrano, by the time Hendry was done, the position players looked like this, correct?

    Alou (FA), Patterson/Lofton (draft/trade), Sosa (trade), Ramirez (trade), Gonzales/Garciaparra (trades), Grudzielanek/Walker (trade/FA), Karros/Lee (trades), Hundley/Girardi/Barrett (trade/FA/trade)

    Anyway, lots of good stuff, however painful it might be to remember it all....

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    Thanks cubbie steve.

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    John. This is the best article you have ever written. It was a great read. Bravo to you.

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    Wow. Thanks Demarrer!

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    Don't you just wanna smack Rick Telander right in the mouth? Or is it just me? LOL

    Oh, great write up John! Nailed it again....

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Oh, you're not the only one!

    And thanks.

  • This may be your best effort I've read. It is a story I've been grinding about since 1945. I have an eerie sense deja vu. I think it would be a fatal mistake to hire the wrong manager. One that needs to be indoctrinated to ML dugout chief. We are placing our hopes on a bunch of talented kids with no major league experience I think it would be foolhardy to do the same with our new manager.

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    Thanks Bloomie and I couldn't agree more about the importance of the new manager is directly tied to how well they can develop those kids.

  • You really are a great writer. When the Tribune comes calling, turn them down. Need you here.

  • In reply to kissitgoodbye:

    Haha! Thanks for that.

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    There's another lesson I take from the 2003-2004 teams: we have to get better on the mound. That 2008 team was an offensive monster but, once we hit the post-season, the Dodgers pitching shut them down and our pitching staff just wasn't up to snuff. The '03 Cubs could shut your offense down on any given night.

    Short version: we have to get Tanaka.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    and one quick look at the remaining 4 teams this year, & you can really see how vital top flight pitchers are to playoff success. They need to put in a crazy high bid on Tanaka, & I hope there's a future ace there for the taking in the '14 draft.

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    In reply to ChiRy:

    I totally support the Kris Bryant pick and he looks like he's going to be an offensive monster sooner rather than later, but Jonathan Gray may haunt us for a long time.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I feel the same way on both accounts. I know you can't draft for need, but a potential TOR pitcher this June would alleviate some of that concern.

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    In reply to ChiRy:

    It's gonna be tough. Right now I'd guess Rodon, Hoffman, and Turner will be off the board when the Cubs pick. That means we can either take a great arm who is ages away (Kolek) or a guy like Beede with talent but issues.

    Of course, that is unfair because guys will move up and down the board based on their performance this coming season -- like the aforementioned Mr. Gray -- but it is going to be a stretch to get a true TOR arm at #4.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Sorry, I should probably say a true ace. A #2 starter -- also TOR -- can be had there.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    If the Cardinals got Wacha with the 19th pick...

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    In reply to João Lucas:

    An incredible pick. But there was a lot of luck there. Clayton Kershaw was a 7 pick. But you need a lot more to break your way that late in the draft. Without "sure thing" stuff, a position player tends to be safer -- as the Cubs demonstrated with the Bryant pick.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    For anyone who might blanch at tanaka's price tag, I say this: getting tanaka would make it easier to trade shark, wood or arietta if the right deal came along. And the right deal would certainly be heavy in pitching prodpects. So essentially for your 100 mil you're getting tanaka + 3-4 prospects.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    Agreed. I think it'd be a big step moving forward. They need to make every effort to land Tanaka.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    You might never know what kind of pitcher Gray will be in that Colorado ballpark.

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    In reply to kevie:

    True, but he's dominating in the Cal league which is essentially a league of Coors Fields.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I like the idea of doing it with emphasizing hitters and obtaining pitchers at the right time. Hard to depend on young pitching and while we need it, I'm glad the farm doesn't depend on it as much this time. Sometimes it's better to get the right guy at the right time -- and i agree that's Tanaka right now.

  • One of your best articles I have read, remember those days all too well. I too am worried that once again we're going to abandon ship and go for the quick fix. All you hear are fans clamoring to rush the young kids up, don't they ever learn? Look no farther than Castro's struggles to see what happens when you get impatient, have we already forgotten about the Patterson's, Pie's and on and on and on.
    Are we doomed to repeat a failed history once again? I for one hope not, stay patient my friends...

  • In reply to peoria cubfan:

    Thanks Peoria!

    I totally agree. I hope the FO can drown out the meatball fans and for that they need ownerships support.

  • Great read John! I had forgotten a lot of those details from '03 & '04, particularly how good they were before the collapse in 2004, although I remember being very excited heading into that year, and it's because of that process you're talking about.

    I love these stay the course, be patient pieces. It will pay off, & when it does I wonder what these guys like Telander will be saying then. I hope they are as far from 1908 as they have ever been, because the old way wasn't working.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    Thanks ChiRy.

    It's the most tried and true formula out there for long term success. Telander will try to pinpoint some reason why the Cubs are suddenly successful. A great year by a player, the manager, some free agent pick-up. He'll completely ignore that this has been building up for a while.

  • John,
    I like the read.

    "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was great the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way." Charles Dickens - A Tale of Two Cities

    This is the way I look at the Cubs a decade ago. As exciting as that time was, it's times like that where character is built. I know that ten years from now, I don't want to be talking about what was 10 years ago and I know I won't be because the plan the Cubs are following will bear fruit and bear fruit over the long haul. Keep the plan up and use FA as a supplement, not as a primary source.

  • In reply to joparks:

    Thanks -- and i love a good literary analogy!

  • In reply to joparks:

    Ironic. Back in early 1970, I picked up a book that contained chapters talking about some of the top players from the 1969 baseball season. One of the chapters from that book was about Ron Santo. The chapter opened with that very same quote. So I've always associated that with 1969. Hadn't thought about it in relation to the 2003 season, but it certainly works for that too. Let's hope we don't have more heartbreak in the future where we can use that quote again.

  • Nice article, John. I have to admit that without Cubs Den, I'd probably be as negative and dispirited as most Cubs fans and while sometimes I get down on some players, etc. I do believe in the process and think that sooner or later there will be a huge renaissance that will last for awhile. As Felzz would say, onwards.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Thanks Pura Vida! And onwards indeed!

  • John,

    That's the only "10 year anniversary" article I will read. Thanks for such clear-headed analysis. The FO must stay the course. If they do, they may be closer than the local media think. Keep writing!

  • In reply to drben:

    Thanks drben. Very much appreciate the kind words.

  • Really well done, John. Let's hope the new homegrown kids stay healthy and are given enough time to fully develop.

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    Nice job John. I've been a avid reader of the Cubs Den site for years and this article triggered my 1st comment. You hit the nail on the head. We're going in the right direction, this teams on the upswing, and if you cant see that you know nothing about baseball. Look at very team in the playoffs now. All them are from the same model. Build the farm system with studs then fill in your needs with veteran leaders who know the game. That's were Hendry went wrong at the end. Character guys were past over for guys with more talent. Rick Telander is losing it. Seems like he writes articles just to get a rise out of people. Smart baseball people will either chuckle at his columns now or just ignore them. The guy needs to retire. I'm an avid watcher of Caps show Sportnite live (watch it every night) and I fast forward when he talks. I wish they can bring back some trib guys to replace him. He's just terrible. YOU SHOULD GO ON THAT SHOW!!!

  • Our current crop of top prospects might be better than any we
    have had so I hope we develop them right. NO trading of any
    top prospects until July 2014 at the earliest. The trading of
    Carter and Rafael will always haunt me.

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    Nice piece. I think Hendry would have made a good wingman for Theo. He knew how to wheel and deal, but was a bit too old school and infatuated with toolsy players and not enough sabermetrics.

    I'm wondering about the shot you took at Theo, though, if I read it right. "that almost sounds like something Theo would do." Is this in reference to Castro? If so, I see few parallels with Ramirez, who was a firmly established player with the Pirates who had the reputation of being lazy. If that is your reference, I think Theo's impatience with Castro is that he doesn't fit his goal of acquiring players who understand the importance of quality at bats.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    Not a shot at Theo at all. I meant it as Theo would be the guy to acquire a guy like Ramirez on the cheap. He'd also be the guy to buy Castro low if another team was trying to deal him. He's not the guy that's going to sell on Castro low.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    And thanks, Greg.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks for the clarification, I definitely read it wrong.

    As for selling low on Castro, it is a bad idea to sell now if we are assuming this year was an aberration. I don't think it was, in which case this offseason might be the last chance to get something of value for him.

    I will say this, there are only two reasons why I hold out any hope for Castro: One is that he tore up the minors at a young age (the same reason I'm almost positive Lake will fail) and the second is that you believe in him, John.

  • I don't know that the 03-04 formula would work in today's MLB. The development of young players and the shrewd veteran signings are still available. But the trades for players in their prime have become much more difficult to pull off. The economics of the game have changed drastically in the last 10 years. Small market teams like the Pirates and Marlins could not afford to go to arbitration with Ramirez or Lee. Nowadays, we'd see guys like that locked up well before the trade winds started to swirl.

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    That's true, but the general idea is that the Cubs had a good process for that time. I think this FO has the right process for this time around. They don't need to be the same exact process.

  • I think with Theo running all baseball operations, we should see a team(s) like those that Boston has had the past few years. You look at that team right now and they are still contending. I think we will be in great position to do the same.

  • In reply to lokeey:

    Exactly. And if you give yourself a chance to contend year after year, sooner or later things break your way and you make that run through the playoffs.

  • There has always been talk of Spanish players being lazy
    because it looks like they are not doing there best.

  • Great trip down memory lane, John.

    RE: "It was perhaps Hendry's greatest trade, not just because of the timing but because he somehow managed to steal a talented, but inconsistent 25 year old, cost-controlled 3B whom the Pirates had grown impatient with -- that almost sounds like something Theo would do."

    Well done. If Mike Olt turns out as good as A-Ram offensively then the Garza trade could end up being one of Epstoyer's best trades as well, with CJ Edwards, Ramirez, and Grimm.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    Thanks and I didn't think about it at the time but Olt may wind up being exactly that, though he didn't have as much major league (albeit inconsistent) success that A-Ram had. Fingers crossed for Olt. That'd be like found money for me at this point.

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    Great stuff, John!

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    Thanks Joao!

  • FWIW, Moises Alou was not a bargain pickup. He was a pretty big FA signing going in to 2002. Just saying.

    Fun read, though.

  • In reply to DavidH3:

    Pretty big, but still a reasonable price and contract length. Maybe bargain not the right word, but they got good value.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Perhaps you could comp that Alou signing to the Beltran signing by the Cards. Maybe Beltran took less money / years to sign with a contender? That is the benefit of having a good team.

  • In reply to Roscoe Village:

    Something like that. Alou did sign with a team that was actually decent in 2001, so there may be something to that comparison. Unfortunately that team wasn't built to contend beyond that year and Alou found himself on a bad team in 2002...but it was a team in retrospect that was about to have a huge upswing.

  • John, have you ever thought of doing a "mail bag" type feature on here where readers can post (or email) questions? Or do you prefer to use the comments feature here to answer questions in general? Could be a fun off-season and/or spring training article or two.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    I did do it for awhile and it actually worked really well. Thanks for reminding me. I'll do that again.

  • Couldn't have said it any better, well done, John.

    I think 2003-2004 was the highlight of Hendry's career... Since then I wasnt as impressed with the 2007-2008 teams... I enjoyed every bit of it but feared JH was digging a grave.... I always wondered why Soriano had to be signed until he was 38 and I always thought JH kept the fan favorites way too long and then couldn't trade them for real value.

    In 2009 and 2010 I didn't sense the effort to sell when they needed to sell, plus the obsession to bring a left handed bat that saw the Cubs deal with Milton Bradley.

    You are darn right the org changed formula after the 2004 season... And some of it probably had to do with ownership wanting to increase the value of the org.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Thanks Caps. I think Hendry knew it was WS or bust for him then. I often wonder if he lost his way or ownership redirected him after tasting success. We may never know, but either way it's a lesson to be learned. Stick to your guns. Stick to the process you believe in and if ownership fires you for it then it's their loss. If Hendry would have stuck to his guns and got fired, teams would have been lining up at the door to hire him.

  • This may be the best article I have ever read on the Cubs. Great way to put it all into perspective John. If only you could replace Rick Talender I would actually start reading the paper again lol.

  • In reply to Peter Chicago:

    Thanks very much for those kind words Peter!

  • Excellent article, John. One of your best, I think. Perhaps I feel this way because of the other stuff that's been written, but this post compares very well to some (not all) of the other '03 articles I've seen. A lot of the stuff I've seen so far has felt very lazy -- who's to blame, rehashing the emotions, whatever. They're pieces that people will read, but it's low-hanging fruit stuff. I'd almost wager that the piece you put here is not only with strong effort and thoughtful, but in fact brave -- I don't think the beat writers would think they could get away with a piece like this.

    So again, bravo -- I almost didn't want to read this one after seeing the headline, because I've done my share of emotionally punching myself in the face the last few days (the Bartman game remains the worst sports fan moment of my life), but I'm very glad I did. So forgive me for not immediately trusting the article despite the continued and ubiquitous excellence of the site -- my emotions had briefly gotten the best of me, but, in a quote that I think could define this site, "I'm glad I came to reason".

  • In reply to Matt Mosconi:

    Thanks Matt. I was actually worried that people wouldn't want to read another 2003 story, but I'm glad you all know me well enough to know that I wouldn't re-hash the same perspective.

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    This is a good article, it reminded me of what Jim Hendry did right, but like many others, I felt that Manager Dusty Baker did not handle the pitching very well. He overused and wore out his starters... then he mismanaged his relief pitching, which lost a lot of games. The worst thing though, was we lost Kerry Wood and Mark Prior to overuse. They were never the same after that stretch. Also, finding players like Sammy Sosa is not an easy task. When the Cubs got him, nobody had any idea he would hit so many key home runs. He may have lost the home run title to McGuire, but he was the MVP. Maybe Rizzo will reach that point someday, but I doubt it... pitching is much better these days.

  • In reply to Tom Mack:

    Thanks Tom. Lots of mistakes were made when we look back on that year, but none bigger than the huge mistakes they started making in the years afterward as far as neglecting the farm and adopting a short term win now approach.

  • I think a common thread in all the deals you mentioned is, well, utilizing prospects to acquire MLB talent. Hendry was really good at this back in the day. Theo has shown the ability / willingess to trade talent for established MLB players. The key is trading the guys you either don't think will pan out or redundancies in the system. I'm sure there were a lot of people that didn't like giving up Hill for those Pitt players - but it turned out to be a great deal.

    There will come a time when Theo will leverage the system to acquire established talent - I just hope keeps the right guys.

  • In reply to Roscoe Village:

    That was one of his strengths. He used to know which ones to keep and which ones to trade.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Hendry, you mean? Not sure I agree there. Since only Prior and Zambrano turned into anything, you were pretty much guaranteed to look good by trading anyone else in the farm system.

  • I'm finding it to be an exciting to be a Cub fan. I think that the team can field the same roster that it ended the season with and win a lot more games in 2014. I know that they ended in a funk, but they were in every game. Even without Tanaka the SP looks solid, BP also encouraging, defense was real good, and hitters will be a year older. New manager and young studs getting closer makes this a good time to be a Cub fan.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Totally agree. I'm probably going to get made fun of for this when I write a 2014 preview, but I think the Cubs are going to be a lot better than we think in 2014.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Much like 2013, it depends on Rizzo and Castro. If they bounce back, we can make a run at the wild card with some mid-season support from our Killer B's.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Yep. Need those guys to bounce back.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Easy there big fella. We both felt like the 2013 squad 'could've' been better than advertised too. They would have been, at least initially; if it weren't for that shoddy BP.

    They actually have several pieces in place. But man, we are in the new AL East now....

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Haha! True. I'm not worried about the other teams yet, though. I just want to see the Cubs get better.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    You believe we will have a quality starting rotation at the beginning of '14?

  • In reply to Oneear:

    I think Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, and whoever else...Arrieta, Tanaka, etc. will make a staff solid enough to compete.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That, and they NEED to address the bullpen. We blew WAY too many saves early in the season. ESPN notes that the average save conversion rate it around 69%. Cubs conversion rate was 60%. Only Houston, AZ and randomly Boston had worse %. Cubs had 26! blown saves. It would have been worse if we didn't catch the Gregg lightning in the bottle.

    2014 keys are the bullpen and the 'return' of Castro / Rizzo. If those two can put up crooked numbered stats on a regular basis and Theo can shore-up the bullpen - we could see a different team in 2014. Baez / Bryant could add to the mix as well.

  • Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and bad breath. lol

  • In reply to GAHillbilly:

    Haha ;) Never heard the bad breath one.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Speaking seriously, this article makes a good point, the teams (in any sport) who compete year in and year out are the teams who have a good plan and stick to it. Every team is going to have its down years here and there but the good teams don't panic. They ride it out and stick to their plan.

    Few if any baseball teams will be in the race 10 years out of 10, in September. If you can be in the race (not necessarily winning) 7 or 8 years out of 10, then you're doing what you need to do, in my opinion.

    That's doing things "the right way", even though I've heard that phrase so many times now that it makes me nauseous to hear it.

  • Nice work John. People are quick to blast Hendry for these bad contracts now. But he was once a coveted GM. Always been a great talent evaluator, just needed more emphasis on development. That and non meddling ownership.

    The Theo/Jed & Ricketts combo seems to be addressing those short-comings. This gives me optimism that we can actually do it the right way (and sustain it) this time around.

    Poor Bartman....

  • Couple articles from 2002/2003 that make you think...

    http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20030302&content_id=208522&vkey=spt2003news&fext=.jsp&c_id=chc
    http://www.micubs.com/resources/view/jim-hendry-trade-review-cubs-acquire-damian-miller
    http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/2001/12/10/Cubs-obtain-Alex-Gonzalez/UPI-96961008029272/

    It's funny, but the little deals make huge impact. Hopefully a few deals liek this are made this off season that get us closer to the hump...

  • Nice article, John. Hendry gets lots of credit for the Ramirez and Lee trades, but man, moving two years' worth of Todd Hundley back to the Dodgers for the right side of their infield in 2003 was a fantastic deal! Jon Lieber was gone by then, but getting Lieber for Brant Brown was excellent too.

  • In reply to licoricewhip:

    Thanks. Unbelieveable deal. That was amazing -- sometimes it takes just one team that believes in a player like Hundley to make that kind of deal.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    IIRC, Karros and Grudz were considered wasted contracts, too. Hendry and his scouts deserve huge credit for seeing the upside.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Good point.

  • Albert Almora already 1 for 2 with a double and a walk.

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    In reply to Caps:

    3 of our Top 4 prospects are playing at an incredibly high level.

    Some days you gotta just sit back and smile.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Make that 2 for 3 with 2 doubles and Soler 1 for 3.

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    In reply to Caps:

    It was a nice at bat, according to gameday. Took a strike on the second pitch and on the third got one right down the middle.

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    In reply to Caps:

    Glad Baez needed a rest, because Almora is putting on a show. Wonder if he might start the year at Tennessee, or at least Daytona with a quick bump.

  • That was a really fun read! Nice trip down memory lane. Respectfully though I'm going to have to disagree with my favorite Cubs writer on this one..

    First off, and this is minor but "aging veteran" Mark Bellhorn was 28 in 2002 (prime years??) while "productive young player" Jose Hernandez was 33 in 2003 (post prime??).

    The six seasons from 2003-2008 saw 4 "good" Cubs teams. To me, that qualifies as a period of sustained success. That's the same thing this FO is trying to achieve and there several ways to skin a cat. The old regime was just on the complete other end of the spectrum as far as how its done. Or was it? They're best pitcher in 2003 and 2004 was an upper echelon draft pick, so was their number two, and their center fielder. Those three plus homegrown Z were a really nice young core, much like the one this FO is trying to build. Patterson, Prior, Wood SOLD HENDRY OUT by being hurt so often and thus not reaching their ceilings. That's the way I look at it. Prior should STILL be in the rotation given his Strasburg- like pitcher-zilla hype for F&$@'s sake! PLUS they had a 60 HR threat to build around. In that instance I love the win-now, sell out approach. Then in retrospect gives up absolutely nothing for several good years of Aramis and D-Lee. Pretty solid.

    If the Hendry regime had the kind of elite prospects that this FO has, (and I do give Theo and Co. credit for drafting and signing much better overall) I don't think they would trade them either. These are really special guys now. He didn't trade away his Prior's, his Wood's, his Patterson's, the blue chip level guys. He had his core. He augmented it with veterans. It all fell apart when he lost his core. I don't see it as him abandoning his process as much as core players failing.

    Zambrano and Prior are both 33 years old right now. They should still be pitching for the Cubs. I think Hendry abandoned the process that is in place now more than he abandoned his own process. I'm great with a win now approach as long as the front office takes that approach every year. If Hendry's core had come through with a decade of success like top 5 draft picks are supposed to he could still have his job. I don't blame it on him either that they flamed out because they achieved success in the big leagues before they flamed out.

    Finally, I thought that you kinda dismissed 2007 and 2008 as if they didn't even happen by labeling them short lived runs. That was a lot of winning. Its not easy to win back to back divisions. The 2008 team especially was outstanding.

    Coming off a 66 win year I'll be so thrilled if this FO can duplicate that six year run of the last FO and have 4 good teams, including a 97 win team. Baseball percentages say that won't happen. With the strength of the central and the lack of top end pitching, I'm worried this FO may not be able to do that. I wonder if this FO would rather have the 22 year old Prior, the 22 year old Z, and the 26 yr old Woody, and the 23 year old Corey Patterson and roll the dice. Sprinkle in a little Sammy...

    The great irony to me is that if Mo catches that ball, this article may not have been written. Really good article, man!

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Great post!

  • In reply to Yemi:

    Thanks Yemi.

  • John:
    Interesting persepctive. Your posts always seem to be looking at the postive, looking forward and this one is consistent with what I perceive as your "glass half full" view of the world. I was at that ball game in 2003. Indulging in a backward looking moment, like everyone, I have a view of where culpability should be assigned (not Hendry). He made some excellent moves that are still paying out. Nevertheless, as you look at the parallels of then and now, the "celeberity manager" was the choice in the Hendry era -- Baker then Pinella. Girardi aside, that does not seem to be the emphasis now. Do you see that as a differentiating factor as we go forward now?

  • In reply to All W Days:

    Thanks. I think these Cubs are a little behind where the 2002 Cubs were. Those Cubs will probably be more like the 2014 Cubs where Cubs will start to make their way to the club.

    But I see your point. You wonder if Baker came with the expectation that the Cubs would acquire more veterans, which they did. That may have happened with Girardi as well. I think the Cubs will still pick up veterans, but not as quickly as they did in the 2002 offseason leading up to 2003. I think these guys are one year behind and they have the hope that whomever they hire as manager can grow with the team.

  • Great article John. Unfortunately, I wrote basically the same article over three years ago.

    http://chicagocubsonline.com/community_blog/2010/09/2003---five-outs-from-glory-or-doomed-to-fail.php

  • In reply to Maven:

    Thanks, never read your article and now that I have, it's very different than mine. Not the same thing I'm saying here at all. I approve of the trades the Cubs made in 2003 and 2004 and don't think that signaled the end of the youth movement at all and it doesn't reflect my view on prospects, so if you're implication is that I drew from your article, you couldn't be more wrong.

  • FYI, during a recent chat, P Parks just said that he has Bryant as a top-10 prospect and has him just behind Tavares. Says he will be in the show in 2014. Thats exciting...

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    In reply to Roscoe Village:

    He also said that he thinks Almora would be able to skip Daytona and go straight to Tennessee. Now THAT is exciting. The potential of having Soler, Almora and Bryant in the same lineup.

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    John,

    You mention Bobby Hill, Hee-seop Choi, and Justin Jones in favorable prospective ranking comps to our current Big Four.

    I'd say not so fast - yes, all three were well regarded, but both Hill and Jones were only ranked in Baseball America's Top 100 once (48th and 56th, respectively). Now Choi was ranked four times and as high as #22, but I never recall his ceiling being talked about comparably to Baez', Almora's, Bryant's, and Soler's.

    Now you're absolutely on with Prior and Patterson, who were both the "future of the franchise" and who both could've been, if it weren't for injuries.

  • In reply to Chris Trengove:

    Not comparing them to the big 4. This piece isn't a direct piece by piece comparison to the Cubs today. That's not how I write.

    It's a global, big picture perspective about process and how the Cubs seemed to get it at one point, but quickly abandoned it after two near misses. That's the shame and a warning to those who want to abandon the process today. That's what the article was about.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Hopefully Tom Ricketts reads this.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    John,

    Aha! I'm with you, and I totally agree. To be sure, our system was on the rise at that time, what with Wood, Prior, Z, and Patterson all in the fold, not to mention the division-4 to 5 guys in Hill and Choi.

    ...And then the bottom fall out. What the heck happened to the scouting and drafting between Mark Prior and Tyler Colvin (i.e., the years 2002-2005)??
    * Not ONE single 1st round pick made the majors from those four drafts.
    * Only one 2nd round pick made the majors (Veal).
    * Sean Marshall is the only impact player to come from that period, while Jake Fox, Rich Hill, and Casey McGahee had small flashes.
    * Only one player from the 2005 draft made the majors (Veal).

    And frankly, although we produced marginally better talent, the scouting and drafting from 2006 to 2010 wasn't that much better.

    Again - what happened??

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    John, I have to echo the sentiments of the other posters here. This was an excellent article. Definitely one of my favorites.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Thanks Mike!

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    Almora finally strikes out. Judging by gameday, a veteran pitcher (Zack Thornton of the Pirates system) used a nice sequence of pitches to get him to chase. He'll learn.

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    good article

    hers my thought - hendry made decisions to trade prospects

    david Kelton
    matt bruback
    he sop choi
    bobby hill
    brendan harris

    none of which amounted to much.

    I love the optimism on the site - but the reality is
    some / many current prospects will have the same fate

    So curious - (given the optimism) who people on this site
    think wont make it - or will be a replacement level player?

    one more example here is baseball prospectus top 20
    in 2002 - a lot of misses here as well:
    Hank Blalock, 3B, Texas Rangers
    Josh Beckett, RHP, Florida Marlins
    Sean Burroughs, 3B, San Diego Padres
    Nick Johnson, 1B, New York Yankees
    Wilson Betemit, SS/3B, Atlanta Braves
    Carlos Pena, 1B, Oakland Athletics
    Joe Borchard, CF, Chicago White Sox
    Juan Cruz, RHP, Chicago Cubs
    Marlon Byrd, CF, Philadelphia Phillies
    Mark Teixeira, 3B, Texas Rangers
    Dennis Tankersley, RHP, San Diego Padres
    Jacob Peavy, RHP, San Diego Padres
    Austin Kearns, OF, Cincinnati Reds
    Mark Prior, RHP, Chicago Cubs
    Brandon Phillips, SS, Montreal Expos
    Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Florida Marlins
    Angel Berroa, SS, Kansas City Royals
    Michael Cuddyer, 3B/1B/OF, Minnesota Twins
    Chris Snelling, OF, Seattle Mariners
    Jack Cust, "OF", Colorado Rockies

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to deport soriano com:

    I guess I read this list a little differently than you do. I count at least eight guys (I'm not sure about a couple of others) that were named to at least one all-star team, and a handful of others like Cruz, Kearns and Cuddyer who have had respectable major league careers. I only count a few out and out busts, but more than half have gone on to have decent MLB careers, at minimum.

  • In reply to deport soriano com:

    Thanks.

    I think you're looking at this the wrong way. Prospects are assets and as we've seen with the 2003 Cubs they can be used on the field, like Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, Corey Patterson were -- and heck, even Greg Maddux came up from the Cubs system. They could also be used to acquire players such Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Matt Clement, and in 2004 Derrek Lee and Nomar Garciaparra. Prospects, one way or another, played a huge role in the Cubs success. The problem was they decided to abandon that plan to acquire assets via their farm system after 2003 and 2004 didn't finish well. And we know how that turned out. After two failed attempts to buy a WS ring, the organization was left in ruins.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    totally agree prospects are assets

    would disagree they abandoned that strategy
    Garza trade, as an example
    How about Rich Harden ( sean gallagher being the centerpiece)

  • In reply to deport soriano com:

    They stopped developing those assets. That's the important part. Investment in the draft and international market disappeared and resources were invested in MLB team. That Garza deal decimated the Cubs system and one of the guys, Archer, was drafted by another organization. And that Garza deal was not part of the strategy because that team wasn't in contention. Not the same thing -- that was a prospect overpay to try and win now, not much different than FA overpays to win now.

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    John if I remember correctly, the future of the rotation was said to be Angel Guzman and a lefty whose name escapes me at the moment. Felix somebody, perhaps? I believe he was traded to Detroit, and like Guzman, injuries derailed his career.

    Sadly, Guzman has also been suspended twice in recent years for violating baseball's drug policy.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    There was Felix Heredia who was acquired for Todd Noel, who was himself a top pitching prospect who didn't make it because of injury. But Heredia was a reliever. The Cubs also had Rick Nolasco, a RHP, and Mark Pawelek and Rich Hill -- they were lefties and top 10 prospects around the same time Guzman was.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think Felix Sanchez was a highly touted Cubs pitching prospect, a lefty.

  • In reply to Caps:

    He was a prospect. I don't know about highly touted. He was a reliever by the time he reached AA. Showed some promise in low minors but kind of faded early.

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    In reply to Caps:

    Thank you caps, that is indeed who I was thinking of.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Guzman's career took a downward path due to injuries and the tragic death of his brother... I think he was there when his brother was shot to death, since then, the drugs suspension started... As for the lefty, I think you mean Felix Sanchez, who was sent to Detroit and disappeared from baseball... I think he's still young enough to play.

  • Bravo to the writer! Agree with others. John has written the best 10th anniversary article I have read.
    A few of my thoughts about 2003 and 2004.
    - Dusty Baker and the pitchers- It is really two different subjects.
    1) Did Dusty manage the pitching staff well? Most experienced observers of baseball would agree no.
    2) Did Dusty contribute to the early demise of Wood and Prior? This is a much more difficult question to answer.
    - Alex Gonzales foul ball - Admittedly, I have the vision of a 50 year old and I'm not too coordinated. But as a fan I find it difficult to track a foul ball during night games at Wrigley. I'm surprised more fans do not lose their bearings relative to fielders. I can't think of any other stadiums without lights columns in the outfield.
    - The 2004 team was the most disappointing of my life time. I thought it was the most talented since late 60's/ early 70's and can't believe they did not make the playoffs.

  • In reply to Rosemary:

    Thank you and agreed. Dusty Baker was a factor. That 2004 team looked like it was set for big things, but it underperformed relative to their talent -- and part of that was injury, but like you imply, one has to wonder if Baker contributed to that.

  • I'd love another 2003/2004 era. Mostly because there's no way all those top prospects flame out in one way or another. Prior had one good year before his arm betrayed him. Harris, Kelton, Jones, Hill, Pawalek, Guzman, and Choi all failed to make any real MLB impact. Wood's arm was done in by Jim Riggelman in 1998. Zambrano had a couple good years before he started beating himself. With how little impact the Cubs got from all those highly regarded prospects, they did manage to defy the odds.

    We're not too far from getting back there. Castro, Baez, Rizzo, Olt, Shark, Wood, Arrieta, Strop, Schierholtz, Bryant, it's all so promising and so close.

  • In reply to Jim Weihofen:

    Agreed. Things panned out okay back then but would like to see it work out where the guys stay healthy. There's a better chance of that now because the top prospects are position players.

  • In reply to Jim Weihofen:

    Wood's arm was actually done in by his high school coach, occasionally pitching back to back games of double headers

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    I remember he pitched both ends of a double header right after he was drafted. The Cubs were furious.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    I remember the Steve Stone/Carry Wood feud because Stone was insisting Wood was misusing his arm. Wood is to blame more than Dusty or Riggleman. He was being told he was ruining his arm and he blew off his critics.

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    In reply to Jim Weihofen:

    as listed above

    Harris, Kelton, Jones, Hill, Pawalek, Guzman, and Choi

    who will be the equivalents here ?
    who do we trade, who do we keep?

    Soler for instance - might never make it, raw talent.

    Bryant looks like a machine

    Could Almora be all glove ? maybe
    If so package hime while hes high

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    In reply to deport soriano com:

    Almora all glove? Have you paid any attention to him at all? That kid is a hitting machine there is no way we trade him

  • In reply to William Ray:

    Almora is probably the best pure hitter in the system.

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    Great article. I was thinking about all the memories from those past seasons and it made me think of the time Randall Simon clubbed the sausage at the Brewers game! So funny!

  • In reply to William Ray:

    Thanks. I'd forgotten about that. Did that happen when he was with the Cubs or before he got there?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    He was a Pirate when he pulled that stunt. That trade made him Abe Froman.

  • Excellent article - and a great trip through what 'almost was' back about a decade ago. There were some great days, and some very good teams,..... and some shrewd short-term trades,....

    That rotation of Prior, Wood, Clement, Zambrano, and whomever filled it out should have been dominant and forming a core until at least a couple of years ago. Add Greg Maddux into the mix, and Dempster in his prime (as closer or starter) and what coulda been, shoulda been is a wonderful thing to think about.

    But injury,.... overuse,.... failure to correct mechanics,.... and failure to restock the farm system depleated what could have been a long string of good ML level pitching.

    2003 was a great year though,..... and if only a few things had fallen a different way that year, or the injury bug not been so bad in 2004,.... or,.....

    But I would rather look ahead to the future at this stage - if this team can gather some offense next year, or in 2015, and develop the pitching they have - they could be fun to watch for years to come.

  • The last month of the 2003 season was so much fun. It seemed like they won every day. It's too bad how that is often overlooked. Thanks for the great article.

  • In reply to Diggs:

    Thanks Diggs.

  • loved the article and couldnt agree more with the last part about being patient and doing it the right way!

  • In reply to CubfanInUT:

    Thanks!

  • Great article John and, like always, excellent comments sent in. I moved back to the Chicago area the first week of August in 2003. Besides gorging myself with pizza, hot dogs, and Italian beefs, I completely jumped into the Cubs run to the playoffs. In September, I skipped many afternoon classes at Loyola to catch some games. My favorite was the afternoon game of a doubleheader against the Cardinals when the Cubs set the tone for the rest of the month. Thanks for focusing on the positive side of those times and linking to the process going on today. I see good things in the future.

  • In reply to Greggie Jackson:

    Thanks Greggie. I appreciate that. Thanks for the kind words and also for your story. And I do believe good things are coming.

  • John, as always, great work! Losing to the Marlins (it's still hard to believe that happened to this day) was right there in the heartbreak level of '69 (or worse) for me, but your article makes it all a bit easier. If it weren't for this site, I would be in doomsday thinking as we speak. Because of this site, I can look forward rather than backwards, so I thank you for that, especially because I'm not getting any younger. Every indication, as delineated by you, is that this FO will not stray from the plans it has made clear to all of us. Telander can go pound sand as he's obviously not smart enough to see the forest for the trees.

  • Excellent piece, John. I always come to the blog for the sanity among the wilderness of the impatient. I'm hearing a lot of "the honeymoon is over" stuff lately. As to be expected. Thank you for the consistent, grounded perspective.

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    Great piece, John. While I do believe there are some parellels between the timespan you mentioned and today, we certainly do not have the pitching at the MLB level that we did in 2002. Our MLB pitching lacks a true TOR pitcher, whereas in 2002 Kerry Wood was a bonafide ace and then we had Prior and Zambrano who blossomed. On top of that we acquired the likes of Derek Lee and Aram (the latter was definitely a "gamble" at the time). Today's team is anchored by Castro, Rizzo, and Castillo....our pitching is mediocre at best....pitching is the key....the teams remaining in the playoffs have elite pitching, I believe that is the model we need to emulate.

  • In reply to cking6178:

    Yes, it's definitely a loose comparison. It's really more of an overall global, process oriented view than it is about a specific comparison. It's about how you can build a foundation of talent, concentrate on in-prime players, don't overspend on veterans in free agency and you can create sustainable success. Those 2002-2004 Cubs should have been able to create sustainable success but injuries, raised expectations, and probably ownership meddling forced them to stray from a process that was working.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed...I was living in Charlotte back then (actually just relocated back to Charlotte - perhaps that's what we've been missing the last few yrs!!) and went to game 5 in ATL....the atmosphere was ELECTRIC - Turner Field was probably 60% Cubs fans....here's hoping we get to a point of annual contention! Thanks for the article John.

  • You argue your case well, but as is my tendency, I have my quibbles.

    The big free agency signings and the failures of the mid-2000s farm system are two completely different issues. They coincided, and they may have even had a common cause (The Tribune having a foot out the door), but they weren't directly connected.

    The farm system failures absolutely cratered the team in the following years. The big free agent binge was awesome and directly led to two division titles. If Tim Wilken had done the job we envisioned when we hired him, we wouldn't have those problems.

  • In reply to Kyle:

    Blaming putting the blame on Wilken is just finger pointing. It's not a real solution. Wilken had a long, distinguished career finding talent with more competent organizations and ownership. Finger pointing is just a knee-jerk quick fix idea that rarely works because it doesn't get to the root of the problem. Never mind that we don't provide resources that the organization needs at the scouting/development level, let's blame the guy this guy and go get another guy. It's self serving and lazy on ownerships part. Sigh. Just another example of lack of accountability at the top and trying to pass the blame down. And why wouldn't they do that? People fall for that sort of misdirection every time, so it works. Blame the guys below you for your incompetence -- and people love it. Some fans don't want a complex problem to solve, they dont want to dig any deeper than the have to. They just love a nice, tidy answer to direct their blame and frustrations.

    There is a definite link between funneling resources away from scouting/development, dismantling the pipeline of talent, seeing the MLB team go dry, losing attendance, and then throwing money at the problem to try and fix it for a designed 2 year window, and then crippling the team's resources for the next several years. It's what incompetent organizations do.

    But yeah, it's all Wilken's fault. Give me a break Kyle.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    You can blame whomever you like for the scouting and development failures. It wasn't meant to be a personal shot at Wilken, just a shorthand for how the organization as a whole failed. I apologize for giving the impression that I thought fixing it was as easy as blaming Wilken.

    The point was that the big signings and the scouting/development failures should in no way be linked. They operate, as a wise baseball man once said, on parallel fronts.

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