These first two years of the rebuild were pretty painful. Record-wise, they've been the worst consecutive years in team history.
The difference, though, is that the Cubs haven't been losing aimlessly. When the Cubs started this thing, they knew they were going to lose. Funny things can happen in baseball and everything clicks and you can win unexpectedly -- but winning wasn't the plan.
The plan was to accumulate assets through all available avenues. They signed undervalued vets going in their prime years and traded them for long term assets, they signed players out of Cuba and other Latin American countries, they invested heavily in the draft in terms of personnel and finances.
They were building a foundation.
They have one now and Theo is reportedly happy with it. It is a consensus top 5 farm system and some would have it ranked as high as #2 overall. But as we've talked about before, a foundation is not like a jigsaw puzzle to be put together piece by piece until you have the whole. It is more like Settlers of Cataan, a process of accumulating and building - and, if necessary, selling surplus, buying according to need, and exchanging assets so that they better fit your overall plan.
The Cubs have accumulated a lot of assets and they are getting to the point where they have given themselves more options on how to build a team. The usual avenues will always be there: free agent signings (I still expect the Cubs to spend, particularly on Masahiro Tanaka), value signings and flyer-type additions through waivers and non-tendered players, the trade of short term veterans for long term assets.
But now the Cubs also have the option of using some of those assets they've accumulated to enter the next phase and start acquiring players who can better help in the short term as well as the long term. With their payroll low, they can afford to take on the salary of a veteran in a trade. I think they'll start picking up quality, in-prime MLB players. It's not going to happen overnight. The Cubs are too wise to spend all their assets in one place and all at one time, but we shouldn't be surprised if they start dealing from surplus in their farm system, if not this offseason, then perhaps by the deadline or next offseason.
It's no accident the Cubs have built depth at premium positions like SS and CF, and there has been attempts to create depth at catcher through the draft, there are the numerous position conversions to catcher occurring at instructs, and there's even been talk of creating surplus at the MLB level if they should seriously consider signing a FA catcher such as Jarrod Saltalamacchia or, less likely, Brian McCann. They've also started to build a cache of power arms, though few have much value right now.
The most obvious use of these assets is to package them in a deal for a guy like Carlos Gonzalez, David Price, or any other potentially available, under 30 year old player who can still be productive as the Cubs become contenders. They'll use surplus assets to exchange for equally valued need assets, those which are necessary to balance out the building process. The Cubs lack pitching depth, they lack left-handed hitters, they lack OBP oriented players, and they're always looking to add power.
An interesting idea that's always fun and has become a more realistic option for the Cubs is the multi-team deal. A common reason deals don't get done is that there is not a match between two teams. One team may want a Giancarlo Stanton but may not have the desired prospects to get done. With their strong farm system depth, the Cubs are now the kind of team that can fit in as the 3rd piece in a multi-team deal. While someone like Stanton would also be appealing as a Cubs acquisition, it would be a costly one to say the least. One option would be for the Cubs to help supplement the prospect package of another team trying to acquire Stanton with depth from their system and in return, they could net prospects which fill in some of their own gaps -- assets such as top of the rotation prospects and LH hitters with OBP and/or power potential. Or perhaps they trade high ceiling, lower level prospects for prospects closer to the major leagues.
For example, in an interview with Professor Parks earlier this year, we compared Jorge Soler and Gregory Polanco and Parks gave the edge to Polanco, but said it was close. However, Polanco could appeal more to the Cubs simply because he's a) LH and b) closer to the majors. Hypothetically, if say the Pirates wanted to make a deal for an MLB ready talent such as Stanton, but the Marlins preferred Soler over Polanco for scouting and marketing reasons, the Cubs could help supplement their trade and perhaps end up with a better fit for their team. In other words, the Cubs pitch in to the Pirates package with Jorge Soler (and perhaps another prospect) and for their troubles, they wind up with a similar player in Polanco who is a better fit.
The hardest part is over. The building of the foundation is complete,(though, of course, it needs perpetual replenishing). But the Cubs accomplished what they set out to do in the first 2 years of this massive rebuilding process. Now that the foundation is set, the Cubs will find themselves with all kinds of options.
This is where it's going to start to get fun.
Filed under: Rebuilding