As we all know, I'm supportive of the rebuilding process. I understand the process has changed because of changes in the CBA, especially the part about getting multiple compensation picks in exchange for (sometimes mediocre) departing free agents.
The fact that you have to offer a qualifying amount reduces the pool of free agents that can potentially bring back draft picks -- and even when they do bring them back, they no longer bring back multiple picks. It's one pick and only for those departing free agents who are good enough to receive a qualifying offer.
The draft pick compensation loophole that was exploited so well by teams like the Rays and Theo Epstein's old team, the Red Sox -- and even the Cubs in Epstein's first year (Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn were comp picks for losing Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena) -- has been closed.
So the Cubs have turned to an alternative -- trading players at the deadline to try and create their own compensation for players they are about to lose. They did this well with Paul Maholm (Arodys Vizcaino), Ryan Dempster (Kyle Hendricks, Christian Villanueva), Scott Feldman (Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop), and Matt Garza (Mike Olt, CJ Edwards, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez).
Dumping 40% of your rotation the past two years has a second "bonus", it weakens the team down the stretch to the point that, instead of focusing on meaningless late season wins, the focus becomes on how high a draft pick you can procure. So, on top of all that, you can add Albert Almora and Kris Bryant to the list of players the Cubs have been able to obtain, in part because the team tanked after roster crippling sell-offs at the trade deadline.
Lastly, the new CBA has been a deterrent for rebuilding teams when it comes to signing free agents. After all, if you're not going to be good for 3-4 years, then why sign a 30 year old player who may get you an extra 2-3 wins over the next couple of years? Instead, by keeping that pick, you get a LH starting pitching prospect like Rob Zastryzny in exchange for resisting the pleasure of signing Michael Bourn and the 2 wins above replacement he brought last year.
This is all sound strategy, is it not? After all, among the names listed here, you can argue that this very strategy has brought in 11 of the system's 15 best prospects.
So why I am I growing a little weary of it?
In all honesty, I'm looking forward to the day when this strategy becomes an afterthought and not the main focus of every season. I'm looking forward to the day when a guy like Jeff Samardzija breaks out and has a great season and the first thought that pops in our head isn't,
"Wow, he's pretty good! So, what can we get for him?"
I'm looking forward to the day when we say, "Wow, he's pretty good and we think he'll be good for another 3-5 years, what can we do to keep him?" I'm as big a prospect hound as you'll find, but I find myself looking forward to the day when the Cubs are in a position to keep known talent rather than pushing back the timeline to gamble on more prospects.
I know that this is sometimes inevitable. If Jeff Samardzija and the Cubs are going to play a game of negotiation chicken, at some point the Cubs need to make a move and salvage what they can before he loses trade value -- and that value begins to depreciate rather quickly after the trade deadline this year. I also understand that if Kevin Towers is going to freak out and offer the Cubs Archie Bradley, then it becomes an offer they can't refuse. It becomes a simple matter of common economic and baseball sense -- you're getting the same pitcher, possibly better, for cheaper and for more years of control. To top it off, a deal like that for a near ready MLB arm doesn't really push back the timeline all that far. So yeah, I get it and if it's offered, I'd expect the Cubs to jump on it.
But a trade isn't always going to be that clear cut. What many would consider fair would be a lesser pitcher (a bottom of the rotation type) with greater cost control and a couple of low level, high risk prospects with a #3 starter ceiling. So if you're lucky, you get a downgrade now in exchange for more current cost control + an equivalent pitcher 2-3 years from now.
At some point, that is going to start making a lot less sense and that point will come when the Cubs find themselves on the brink of contention.
The problem I find with rooting for one more bad year to sell off parts and get another high, protected pick is that it would almost certainly mean that the Cubs didn't get enough production from a young core of players. In the cases of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and even Mike Olt, they will go from potential core pieces to areas that potentially need to be addressed. They'd be starting from square one and now counting on the next batch of prospects to become the new first wave of core players.
Instead, what I'd really like to see is for all of those aforementioned players to play well, for Samardzija to reach the next level and force the Cubs to consider keeping him, and for the next wave of prospects to be just that -- the next wave, and not a do-over because the first set of core players failed. And please don't tell me that the Cubs young core can make significant progress yet somehow the team can still lose 95 games. It's not going to happen. If this core of young players play up to their expectations, then the Cubs won't be terrible enough to get all the consolation goodies we want at the deadline, the offseason, and the draft. It will almost certainly be that if the young core performs, then the team will follow suit and improve. It's either that or they all go down together. There is no picking from one and not the other here. The two destinies go hand-in-hand.
I know it is said that not much could be worse than a .500 season, but to me if that means that Rizzo and Olt combine for 60 bombs, Castro is back to his line-drive, .300 hitting self, Castillo becomes Molina-lite, Samardzija steps it up so that his results actually mirror his stuff, and the young arms form an intimidating Cardinals-like bullpen -- and then later adding Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, and others to that core for 2015, then I'll take .500 in 2014, a newly signed Samardzija, and my mid-1st round pick with a smile on my face.
Filed under: Uncategorized