Cubs no longer rebuilding, they're re-molding.

Cubs no longer rebuilding, they're re-molding.

The Cubs have been in rebuild and talent acquisition mode for so long that the concept has become ingrained in all of us.  The Cubs are now transitioning into a different phase and while we all seem to understand that it spells the end of the rebuilding era, it is more difficult to accept that the "talent acquisition" part of the equation has taken on a new meaning.

Some of the moves have been puzzling to some fans.  The debate that ensues is something along the lines of "Why replace (current Cubs player) with (potential new Cubs player)?  It is not an upgrade. The (current Cubs player) is better because reasons A, B, and C."  Or on the flipside, "Why don't the Cubs get player A, he is much better than the player they have right now?"  And again, a sound, statistics-based reasoning is laid out.

As I've tried to analyze the Cubs moves, the idea I've been trying to get across is that the team is looking for specific skills and traits.  They want to change the culture of the team.  They are looking at the big picture rather than isolated player-by-player comparisons.  It is not about whether player A is better than player B in a vacuum, it is about how player B better fits the larger goal the Cubs are trying to reach.

The problem for me has been trying to get a nice, concise word or phrase that fits this new phase.  "Rebuilding" and "talent acquisition" resonate well.  They have a clear meaning to us as fans.  So what to call the Cubs current strategy?

And finally, I saw it.

The answer didn't come from Theo Epstein or Jed Hoyer or from the media.  It came from Andrew Friedman, which seems odd because the Dodgers are in a much different place than the Cubs right now.  Still, I think his description fits what the Cubs are tying to do as well.  When talking about trading one of his most talented players, Friedman had the following explanation,

“ (We are) mold[ing] our roster into the most highly-functioning baseball team, as opposed to a collection of talent,”

And there you have it.

While the Cubs are undoubtedly not as far along as the Dodgers, they have begun molding themselves into a functional team.  They are building a team that fits their manager Joe Maddon and his creativity with regard to playing time and game management.  They are becoming more versatile as well as one that should control the strike zone.  In nutshell, they are changing the culture into one that is more team-oriented.

Theo Epstein is no stranger to this concept.  He took over a very talented team in Boston but, like the Dodgers team that Friedman just took over, it was one that consistently fell short.

Epstein replaced some of the best players on Duquette's team, players like Nomar Garciaparra and Shea Hillenbrand, and replaced them with the likes of Orlando Cabrera and Bill Mueller.  From a purely statistical perspective at that point in time, it was a downgrade.

I can almost see the debates back then because we see similar ones today:

"Why replace Garciaparara with Cabrera?  It is not an upgrade. Garciaparra is better because reasons A, B, and C." Or..."Why replace Hillenbrand, he is in his prime and is a better hitter than Mueller (who was 31 and coming off a season in which he hit .262 with 7 HRs)".

But Theo didn't need to re-build that team.

He had to re-mold it.  Garciaparra's defense and declining range was beginning to hurt the team.  Cabrera, meanwhile was among the best defensive shortstops in the game.  He prevented runs the way Garciaparra produced them.  Hillebrand wasn't considered a team-oriented player, but rather one that was more concerned with himself and his own statistics.  Mueller, on the other hand, was a player to do the little things.  He was willing to get on base and trust his teammates to get the run home.

The Red Sox didn't necessarily become more talented under Epstein, but it became more functional.

Still, many wanted to credit Dan Duquette for the Red Sox squad that ended the curse in 2004.  Do you think people will say the same if Friedman leads the Dodgers to a World Series title?  Are some going to want to give the credit to Ned Colletti?   He, like Duquette, should get some credit for building the team, but without Friedman to re-mold it, to make it more functional, they may never have reached their ultimate goal.  On some level, the Dodgers understood this concept.

But let's back to the Cubs.

They have the base of talent they need to win, from young players like Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, and Starlin Castro to experience established veterans like Jon Lester and Jason Motte, and on down to exciting, talented prospects like Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant.

So when you ask yourself why the Cubs would replace the younger, more physically gifted Welington Castillo with  Miguel Montero and David Ross, or why the Cubs might prefer an aging Jonny Gomes over Justin Ruggiano, or why they could go with Shane Peterson, Tommy LaStella, and Ryan Lavarnway over the toolsy, athletic trio of Junior Lake, Logan Watkins, and Matt Szczur, or even why the Cubs didn't or won't pursue a player like Matt Kemp, Yoenis Cespedes, Colby Rasmus, or Norichika Aoki, the answer is simple:

The Cubs aren't rebuilding anymore.  They are targeting specific players with specific characteristics and talents.

They are re-molding.

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  • fb_avatar

    This has been one of my favorite pieces that you've ever written John. Every single one of those 'minor' transactions has gotten me increasingly excited because I know why they are making them. It's been a VERY exciting offseason for precisely the reasons you've identified above. I'm looking forward to watching them put the finishing touches on the roster over the next month or so!

  • In reply to Andrue Weber:

    Thanks Andrue. I enjoy writing these big picture type articles. Glad you enjoyed it too!

  • In reply to Andrue Weber:

    I was going to say the same thing, but you beat me to it!

  • It is hard giving up on some of our prospects. We watched them grow up, but Theo is molding the team into a winner. It is the logical next step.

  • In reply to John57:

    Yep, they'll keep the guys they feel are the best fits for the org they are trying to build. It might make for some painful choices down the road.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Does this mean we're all going to be shocked when they trade Castro ("Cabrera...prevented runs the way Garciaparra produced them"; Castro has good range, but isn't good defensively) AND Baez ("Hillebrand wasn't considered a team-oriented player, but rather one that was more concerned with himself and his own statistics.)???

    Not trying to implode the website or cause WWIII. I'm usually at the front of the "don't trade from the young potential core" camp. I'm just saying, as I was reading what you wrote, my mind went to what seemed to be descriptions of Castro and Baez :/

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    I think it is possible they trade Castro at some point but it won't be this year. My guess is -- if he does get traded -- it is most likely that he either gets moved when Russell is ready (assuming Cubs believe Russell can prevent runs substantially better than Castro, which is no sure thing right now) or as Castro nears the end of his contract, gets expensive, and loses a step or two (the way Garciaparra did).

    As for Baez, we really don't know that about him. As far as I know he is ultra competitive, the guy just wants to win, and has been willing to make adjustments. That's not to say Baez won't get traded. That is possible too if the Cubs don't think he fits their overall plan as well as some other players.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    After I wrote that, I wondered if it wasn't a little unfair to Baez, but again, it was exactly what popped in my mind as I was reading the Garciaparra and Hillebrand descriptions. It very well might be that Baez is just ultra competitive and his ridiculously high self-esteem causes him to be stubborn. On the outside, however, it looks like all he wants to do is play homerun derby when he's in the batter's box in a game. I would think and hope that Manny explained to him that if you want to help your team, you get base hits...and HRs will come. That said, though his approach and results drive me crazy, I'm still really enamored with his potential.

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    John wrote an article, a while back, about how people learn differently. Baez seems to learn by failing. It appears that the FO sees it that way too.

  • In reply to Greggie Jackson:

    I read it and enjoyed it. Was a great article that I applied outside of baseball as well. I suppose it's really hard for me to empathize with Baez because I've never been good at one thing at such a high level that I lacked self-awareness of my capabilities. I'm fully aware of my limitations, and so I'd like him to be aware too, but I understand that we're all different.

    I would be more than delighted if the FO continues to see progress from their P.O.V. and keeps investing in him. Again, I'm not advocating for a trade. But from the outside looking it, he does appear likely to be gone if he doesn't really change his approach. And it's possible. I got into baseball right around the time Sosa came to the Cubs. And I saw him go from a guy who consistently struck out on that low and away 2 strike slider to a guy who matured enough to become a .300 hitter.

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    Good call on on that low and away slider for Sosa. My confidence in Baez comes from his baseball intuition on the defensive side of the game. He really impressed me after the call up. He has a feel for the game. He will be a work in progress on the offensive side.

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    Baez is a hard one to figure out. Until we know more, I will err on the side of caution. The Castro question is a bit more tangible and easier to answer.

  • fb_avatar

    I love the idea, and it definitely makes a lot of sense.

    Although the 2003 redsox lost in the ALCS in 7 games after winning 95 games. We know what the cubs did in 2014.

    I just hope he's not retooling a year or two early.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Thanks. I don't think they're re-tooling yet, more like they are in the process of creating an identity. To cross sports for a moment, the Blackhawks have an identity and they make moves that reflect that identity. They are very specific when they target players, they know what they are looking for. I believe the Cubs are in the process of turning into that type of organization right now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    And the Blackhawks have created a core group of players which they have committed to and make decisions based on this group. This is what the Cubs are trying to decide now. Which players will form the core? The answer will come over time (hopefully not a lot of time). I think that is why the top prospects are still being evaluated and will not be traded unless for another long term asset.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yes, John, no better organization to emulate in professional sports than the Chicago Blackhawks. Just today, they move your emotions to tears with their sincere and heartfelt support and tribute to their young trainer who passed away. Then with heavy hearts they dedicate the game to him and his family, and have a moment of silence before the game. Then they just fill your heart with pride as they focus and follow through on their dedication with a 4-0 victory against one of the better teams in the NHL. And, of course, follow up after the game with another tribute at center ice. The transformation of that organization from 7-8 years ago is just astounding. I look forward to being able to say the same thing about the Cubs in the not to distant future.

  • John as I began to read your article I was recalling Mr. Friedman's quote as I was going to use it in my comment. And BOOM you used it! Well done sir. Well done. Counting down the days to my pilgrimage to Mesa. Can't wait.

  • In reply to Third Generation:

    Thanks. I saw that quote last night and had no idea how I was going to use it at the time. I just know that I liked it and it somehow fit into what the Cubs were doing. A good night's sleep and some coffee helped me write an article around it :)

  • I get the molding part because I like the old school players that don't rely on the HR to help the team. You know, choke up with 2 strikes, move a runner over. Too many HR hitters hurt the team IMO. That being said, I'm not sure we are ready to mold with so many unanswered questions about the young players who are just starting to get settled in the majors.
    Castillo has shown what he is and I have no problem moving him for better defense.

  • In reply to CubsBuck22:

    I think the Cubs have a general idea of the kind of team they want to be as well as a general idea as to who fits that mold. When it comes to prospects, the answer is less clear -- and that is why the Cubs have repeatedly said they won't trade them...yet. But they will at some point when the picture starts to clear up as to who is going to fit best going forward.

  • And who better to mold and shape this team than Joe Maddon.
    I still can't believe that he is going to be our skipper in 2015.

    I can't wait. This is going to be wonderful ride, the next few years

    enjoy it all!!

  • Shoot John, I hate to say this again, but another easily understood well written observation.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Thanks for the kind words as always, 44. I appreciate it very much.

  • Do you think the Rangers will move Choo for secondary pieces? Maybe something like Wood, Olt, Castillo, Coghlan and McKinney for Choo and about 30 million dollars to get his salary down to about $14 mil a year? Or are they still trying to contend?

  • In reply to DeuceBaseman:

    I don't think the Cubs want any part of Choo's contract right now. He is a good player if he bounces back again, which I expect to some degree, but that is a lot of years and money left for a 32 year player, even if they knock off $30M.

  • Um, John, I know I'm nitpicking here, but I think you meant "exciting" players like Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant instead of "exiting". This article, like a vast majority of them, though, is spot on. I just love the insights and information you and the staff provide us readers with. Thank you for the time and effort you put in to make this such a great site for Cubs fans. I wish you, the staff and all the commenters here a very Merry Christmas!

  • In reply to Alabama Cubs Fan:

    Haha! Yikes. That typo completely changes the meaning. Thanks. And thank you for the kind words. Merry Christmas to you as well.

  • Thanks John. The Cubs are making me happy with these OBP friendly pick-ups. I wonder if part of the importance here is that the current players see what kind of skills are valued by this FO and are motivated to improve in those areas. Maybe just the thing to convince them that adjustments are necessary. Junior Lake is really working hard to show them he can take a walk down in the DWL.

  • In reply to Bilbo161:

    Thanks Bilbo. I definitely think that is part of the plan. They want their young players to emulate these veterans. They want to change the culture and they need to do that with these kinds of veterans to set the tone. It is one thing to preach it from an org perspective, but for young players, it may be even more important to see the veterans practicing what the org preaches.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Hey! The message came back from the ether. Thanks John.

  • I hate when it does this! Makes conversation impossible.

  • John, great article as usual. One thing we need to remember as well is that Maddon is a different type of manager than the status quo. He values certain traits over others and I believe now that Theo has "his guy" he is going to mold the roster around the manager's strengths.

    This is a different approach than purely compiling the best talent. However, it would have seemed very short-sighted to build rosters according to Sveum's or Renteria's managing style when the front office didn't have the foundation for consistent long term success in place at Wrigley

  • In reply to Berko:

    I do think Maddon has a strong influence on what they are doing, but remember that Epstein understands this concept too to begin with and it is why Maddon was such a perfect fit for this team. They are on the same page. Not that Renteria wasn't, but Maddon has been through it already,

  • Huh, now where did the first message go!

  • Re-molding the perfect phrase John! One question specifically about Beef. What do you John think is the possibility that the Cubs carry three catchers next year within the context of remolding the roster?

    Not trying to debate the plusses or minuses of keeping three catchers vs. two; or to keep or trade Welly. Also not saying which of these things is the right thing to do, or Welly's value in trade vs. on the roster, etc. It's not about any that.

    Just trying to get a sense in this remolding process if that's the type of thing the Cubs might consider because if they do, it gives them a young, inexpensive catcher with pop from the right side who would provide insurance in case one of your two older catchers suffers an injury.

    We know Maddon loves flexibility. And I'll assume for this purpose the Cubs acquire a starting CF who can play all 3 positions (like a Zobrist) before Opening Day. If they do that, the bench with three catchers on the roster could consist of Ross, Beef, Mendy, LaStella, and Olt.

    Mendy can play all over the field; Baez can play 2B, 3B, or SS; Olt can play 1B & 3B; Starlin can play SS & 3B, and Luis and LaStella are also versatile.

    In other words the collection of bench guys and starters the Cubs have assembled do give Maddon an inordinate amount of flexibility. So given all of that flexibility does the Cubs carrying three catchers become something within the realm of possibility?

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    Thanks!

    I think they may carry 3 catchers but the 3rd one will be Lavarnway, who will serve as the emergency/offensive minded catcher to play the yin to Ross's yang. I think they can get more value out of Welly in a trade rather than a guy who plays twice a week or so.

    I think Mendy will be a key to what Maddon wants to do. Lavarnway and Peterson will also play multiple positions. And you are right, some of the starters such as Baez can move around as well.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Ah, gotcha. Didn't consider that they might carry Lavarnway over Beef in a three catcher scenario but makes sense.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John,

    If the Cubs carry 3 catchers, where do they gain the extra spot from ?? Only 7 RPs, or only 4 OFs or does 2B T. La Stella start the season in AAA ..... Thoughts ???

  • In reply to SouthsideB:

    Lavarnway would be the 3rd catcher but he also plays 1B and corner OF, so he is versatile enough for them to carry.

  • Speaking of long term, mold fitting players, I'm really beginning to think going after Cole Hamels is the right move. Assuming the Cubs plan on adding another TOR arm in the next year, I think Hamels provides the best bang for your buck. At 23 million a year for 4 years (maybe a team option for 5th?), you are not going to get another pitcher of that quality at that price and those years. Smardj, Zim, Cueto, etc will cost more per year and will demand 6 years. I think pairing Baez, a quality minor league arm, Travis Wood, and another piece (Welly maybe?) would be worth 4-5 years of Cole Hamels. Lester, Hamels, Arrieta would be hard to beat. I know this has been discussed a lot, but I'm really coming around to the idea.

  • In reply to corleone:

    Hamels is a great fit but the problem right now is cost in terms of who they have to give up. The Phillies have to come down. If the Cubs contend this year and Hamels is still with the Phillies, we may see the Cubs revisit trade talks. They may be willing to come up in price once they are in contention and once they have a better idea of who the best fits are among their young, long term pieces.

    Aside from that, they don't have the payroll flexibility to make that kind of add this offseason and Epstein has straight out said they will not acquire two aces this offseason. And like we have said, he is pretty transparent when it comes to those kinds of things

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think if the price was right in terms of what Philly was asking, Theo would make the deal now. If it was a long term cost effective move, I have no doubt they would spend now to save later, and add a stud pitcher who you don't have to pay into his late 30's. But like you said, Phils will have to come down from their original asking price, which they will eventually. I may be a bit premature on this, but I'd give up Baez as a centerpiece if it meant getting Hamels.

  • In reply to corleone:

    I've been hoping the Cubs will make at least one significant move using their prospect depth, and Hamels seems to me to be the perfect target (though it most certainly won't happen). I know I'm in the minority, but I think this is the time to trade high on a couple prospects like Baez or Almora (neither are likely to ever have an acceptable walk rate). Both players' value will plummet if they struggle in 2015.

    A trade for Hamels definitely makes the Cubs contenders. And if they can dump Jackson and Wood in the deal and trade Castillo it might work out budget-wise.

  • In reply to VinceandLou:

    I don't know that the majority of people on this site would be against a trade for Hamels. It really comes down to the acquisition cost. Baez would be expendable, IMO, if he was the centerpiece with little else leaving the farm. That is not a judgement on Baez's ability but more of the value coming in return.

  • In reply to VinceandLou:

    If three of Bryant, Soler and Baez have decent years, the Cubs WILL BE contenders. If two or more fail, they will NOT be contenders.

    Whether Hamels is on the team or not.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    Sorry. If TWO of Bryant ...........

  • In reply to DaveP:

    Exactly. And taking that a step further, if two of the three become anything close to the players they could be, we will be contenders for the next 10 years. Hamels doesn't have 4 good seasons left much less 10. And Hamels showed how much value he has when he took a strong pitching staff and the talent around him and led them to....far out of contention last year.

    Prospects fail all the time. Why dump one of your top prospects before you know what you have with the others?

    Of course, there are exceptions. Would I trade any prospect for Kershaw? Of course. Would I do Baez, Bryant, Soler or Russell for Pederson? Almost definitely (though Russell would be my first offer). Indeed, I would consider trading any of those 4 in a deal for Giolito.

    But with a 73 win team whose biggest weakness last year was hitting, I'd be hard pressed to find a good reason to trade a top hitting prospect for a 31 year old pitcher. And my value of that prospect would not be changed based on two months in the majors at the age of 21.

  • fb_avatar

    Sometimes people ask me why I like certain moves, and a lot of times I don't really have an answer... it just feels right for whatever reason. You are great at explaining why I like those moves!

  • I'll try again.

    Thanks John, I like the OBP centered moves. Besides the direct affect it also makes it clear to the team how much they value controlling the plate. I'm sure that they make the importance of OBP very clear in the way they teach but actions always speak louder than words. Look at Junior Lake in the DWL. He clearly is getting the message that walks are important.

  • Great article, John. Very well put. Not only are you informing Cubs fans, now you're changing their lexicon.

  • Theo and Jed are busy remolding the Cubs into a winner while Tom and Crane are busy remodeling Wrigley this winter.

  • This remolding concept is perfect with Maddon and certainly would not happen this season without him on board. You can already sense the change based on the catching position and the high OBP guys they are acquiring.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    Yep. Cubs knew exactly what they were doing with those moves.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I wonder if the Cubs promised Lester they would make a good-faith effort to sign Ross? He really isn't an upgrade over Castillo in any respect other than pitch framing, unless he's one helluva clubhouse presence.

  • In reply to VinceandLou:

    Ross is a great clubhouse guy but there are a lot of things in play. Framing is one of them, managing pitchers is another. Then there is the question of value. Does Castillo have more value playing twice a week as the short side of a platoon and on days Lester doesn't pitch or does he have more value in terms of what they can bring back in a trade? I think when we add everything up it makes most sense to trade him.

  • Lake is gonna be interesting. His "wheelhouse" is down in the zone. Which als leads to all his strikeouts with breaking balls down in the zone.

  • Good stuff. But now that we found a name for it, can we get back to winning? Please?

  • I don't post very often, but I read every post. Excellent article John, it is great to have a website that is so in tune with the front office's way of thinking.
    I couldn't of a better team to execute these moves and build us into a contender than Theo/Jed. Also, Maddon is the perfect guy to manage the day-to-day things. It seems like the Cubs have all kinds of momentum going forward, and I am excited to see how it shakes out.

  • Really nice article, John. Very insightful to what the FO is trying to do with some of these last moves. One suggestion, though, is to remove "re" in front of "molding." I'd say the FO is molding the team to be what they want it to be (i.e.--what Friedman says). "Re" implies they have already molded the roster into something they want to contend with which I don't think they have.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Thank you. I did consider that but I wanted it to be a play on rebuilding. And in a sense, they are remolding from teams we have seen here, they are still young, aggressive and lack the true versatility the team needs under Maddon.

  • I like getting role players as long as they don't trade any prospect
    (Lake) who we need more time to see what they can really do

  • Hi John,

    This is an excellent article! I have been coming to your site daily for months now and have thoroughly enjoyed the high level of writing and comments found here. This is my first post. A big thank you to you and all who contribute to make this such a great site for Cubs fans!

    Cheers to you all.

    A long-suffering Cub fan in Munich, Germany.

  • In reply to hboliva:

    Cheers and thank you, I appreciate that. And I truly think there will soon be more fun than suffering. Feels great to have an organization with such a clear vision of where it wants to go.

  • I think I've got the message: get ready for the Cubs to package Baez in a blockbuster deal. Hamels? Young Mets pitchers? Who'll it be.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to markw:

    I agree - Baez's days as a Cub are numbered unless he does a 180 on his approach. I hope I'm wrong, but.....

  • In reply to Aggravated Battery:

    Remember, he's notoriously a slow starter at every level. Give him some time.

  • re: the 3rd catcher possibility, someone asked above how the Cubs could manage this when you have a 12 man pitching staff and just 5 reserve position players, one of which would be the primary backup catcher. I think the answer is that the Cubs have players on the likely 25 man roster that have positional flexibility, enough so that you don't need to allocate bench spots in the traditional fashion.

    For example, the Cubs don't really need a traditional backup corner IF, because Valbuena can play 3B, the 3rd catcher can play 1B, and in a pinch Baez could cover 3B as well. Similarly, Baez and Mendy can both play SS, or 2B, as can Valbuena, etc..., so one reserve IF would seem to be sufficient. Or looking to the OF, how often does a team need or use a 5th OF? Isn't it usually for just PH duties, which would now be covered by the hypothetical 3rd catcher?

  • Great article John, as usual, patience will be needed with youngsters . How much do you think will be given to Baez?

  • In reply to C R wolf:

    Should he and Lake start in AAA to get lots of AB's and work?

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Why not? There are other options at second. Let spring training decide if they are ready. Both are still young.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Very possible, yes.

  • In reply to C R wolf:

    Thank you. I think it depends on a lot of things with Baez. if he shows progress with his approach and the quality of his ABs, then I think they will be very patient and let him develop. If he gets into bad habits and/or the team is contending, they may be forced to be a little less patient. Some variables involved so we'll have to see.

  • This article should be printed out by the Cubs media relations staff, then handed out to every fan who comes through the turnstile.

  • In reply to Taft:

    Thanks Taft. That is a great compliment and I appreciate that.

  • John
    Great article. My friends and I have had a similar discussion often.

    Too often the Cubs teams have resembled a Cannonball Run movie. Bring in a bunch of big name 'stars' - name recognition with priority over talent- and throw them into a movie. The movies and the team were both enjoyable for the experience of either sitting in a theater with a date and a tub of popcorn or going to the game with the guys sitting in the sun figuring out which of the girls you met would be your date at the next sequel.

    I'm ready for a quality film with great supporting cast. I've had enough popcorn with dates. I have the perfect wife and kids time to expect more from my Cubs.

  • In the spirit of this piece, what is the outlook for Shane Peterson this yr? He seems to fit squarely in this narrative.

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    Could see him as a Daniel Nava style 4th OF'er. That's the player that came to my mind when they got him.

  • Awesome article John. Spot on! So to dig a little deeper into the rabbit hole......would it be fair to say that due to duplicity/redundancy that the following veteran players could be used as trade bait (whether as salary relief or talent acquisition):

    Wood
    Sweeney
    Castillo
    Strop
    Wada

  • In reply to SAPennock23:

    Thank you. I think they will trade Wood and not Wada, but yes, that is a realistic list of who may be moved. I like all of those guys, but again, it isn't just about that collection of talent, they have to mold this team and make the pieces fit best.

  • Progression of terms: "We stinks!", Rebuild, Retool, Remold, RELOAD, Repeat the Reload part.

  • In reply to Cphil:

    Ha! I agree, I would keep it a bit more simple: 1) Rebuild 2) Re-Mold 3) Reload

  • Still waiting to hear some rumors on the possible return for Castillo ? Needs to be a contributor on the Big League club (CF or LHRP) or a better prospect than Mejia.

  • In reply to SouthsideB:

    I mentioned Robbie Ross of Texas as a possibility somewhere (maybe Twitter?). Similar prospect pedigree/age/upside. That is the kind of player I think they should shoot for.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Speaking of Texas, I'd love to pry Jake Smolinski away. He's played six spots as a pro and Maddon would get the most out of a kid like that

  • Hey John, I was a bit surprised that you suggested that Matt Szczur doesn't fit the mold of what the Cubs are looking for. Don't get me wrong--I can see his weaknesses and think he's a long shot to make the team out of ST. A guy with his athletic talent should be able to drive the ball a bit better. Still, if he can get on base even passably, he certainly could fill a need for late inning defense anywhere in the OF, pinch running, pinch hitting in certain situations. I agree he's limited and it's uphill for him at this point, but there could be a temporary fit.

  • In reply to markw:

    I did say "could", so don't want to give the impression that it is all set in stone. Szczur might fit depending on the rest of the roster. He could be a 25th man/5th outfielder/defensive replacement/pinch-runner if they can build up enough flexibility elsewhere. He certainly fits in terms of makeup and defensive ability.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yeah, even with these pickups and Alcantara hopefully developing as a CF, they still look thin at this point in CF. Peterson could provide some depth at OF corners and 1B, but most of what I've seen suggest he's out of his depth in CF. Hopefully the FO is not done shaping the OF for this 2015.

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    These big picture articles are your sweet spot. I hope during the season you can give us some big-picture/context pieces with this same voice when it feels appropriate.
    Thanks

  • In reply to Theo Einstein:

    Definitely. And thank you.

  • I'd call it "functional optimization."

  • John:

    Let me be complimentary. The last two articles are quite insightful because you are perceiving the big picture as the small measures are revealed. No doubt the next age of MLB management is being elevated from one of horse stable where a club amasses talent without regards to how they integrate and function together and how an organization of individuals have to work within a common set of parameters as a unit. The controlling the strike zone is a significant insight for it is something that can be taught, measured and made into an identity of an organization down through the system and it is something that a player can control. Throw strikes and swing at strikes. Recognize the margins of what is a strike and how to take advantage of it.

    Now I have an assignment for the real sabermetricians. I was discussing with my 87 yr old father the current competitive potential of the Cubs. He is one of the few alive and well who not only went to the '45 WS but also the '38 WS and can recall the '35 team. As I explained the general aspects of WAR and then how Streamer projections of WAR placed the Cubs at 33.7 with the Pirates at 38.3 and Cards at 39.7 where if the Cubs are able to acquire two more OF'ers at a contributing to impact level they will be at or bumping into Pitt.

    He then asked is there a measurement for WAR for a manager. Essentially it is a quantitative measurement of what you are alluding to as to molding a team that plays under a set of approaches or philosophies and then to measure how a manager or coaching team improves individual performances. My father (measured as having an IQ close to Mensa) oft-handed stated wondered if Maddon (and other great managers like LaRussa, Cox, etc.) could be measured by identifying WAR's of individual's let us say 0.1 per player. It could be as high as 2.5 or go the other way as to -2.5 as to Sveum or Quade.

    Ultimately a manager's job is to tell a player where and when to play, how they play is up to the player, which goes to the cumulative of their approach and development and preparation. But manager's make decisions and those decisions reflect on performances. If there is f/x in pitching than could there be comparable data to players who played under Maddon before, during and after as to their performances relative to projections.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    I'm not a sabermetrician, but I just wanted to say I hope your Dad gets to go to another Cubs World Series. He could probably provide great insights, comparing them to the pennant-winners of '45 and earlier.

  • John, like your thoughts on the remolding. Another team I thought remolded and was similar to the cubs position was the 2012 pirates. They acquired an excellent catcher and big lefty starter. They also got an infusion of talent with large and Cole. They used crafty methods to get the most out of their team, I.e. shifting and bullpen use. The cubs will find crafty methods with maddon.

  • In reply to Mitchener:

    Thank you and I agree the Pirates are a good example too.

  • In reply to Mitchener:

    Meant marte and Cole, damn phone

  • Related to remolding: how important is the clubhouse atmosphere and how well teammates get along? Seems obvious that a team would do better when players like each other. But I grew up in the 1970s when the A's won three championships despite a very unruly clubhouse and the Yankees won two even though they fought so much they were dubbed the Bronx Zoo. What do people think - is clubhouse harmony important? And how do the Cubs rate on that measure?

  • In reply to October:

    Better players are more important than clubhouse makeup, as your examples highlight. I would think work ethic and professionalism mean more than how much guys like each other.

    I don't think your second question is answerable yet. With all the turnover the last few years, and a few key pieces not there yet, it's impossible to say how they will meld. (Baez and Bryant seem like two totally different personalities, for example, so who knows how it'll work).

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    John , Thanks for writing this article. As usual these "big picture" posts are some of your best. You have written a well-reasoned piece describing the advantages of what the Cubs are doing. We have gotten used to them simply snapping up all the high-end "talent" they can get their hands on. While I am sure they have their ear to the ground to acquire more high end talent (you can never have too much) they are focusing more on acquiring a very specific skill set. The image that comes to my mind is a stone carver. When they start they are making dramatic moves removing large chunks of stone. As they get closer to completion they make far finer modifications. Some appear meaningless, or even to be "regressions."

    I will be honest, this is a mind-set that I find somewhat uncomfortable. My natural tendency is to want to keep building the most talented team I can find. You have challenged that assumption and given me something to think about and consider.

    I still find the logic of: "in baseball, if it is good for the player it is good for the team" to be compelling. Unlike the other sports the players are limited in their ability to do something that makes another player "better." However, as you point out, Epstein (and in an indirect sense, Hoyer) have shown the ability at least once to pinpoint those players whose "production" might be deceptvely high and inflated in how much it helps the team.

    I continue to fall back on this: Trust the FO. They know what they are doing. It is not that they will hit a home-run every time (like the Samardzija/Hammel deal for Russell/McKinney) but there is a rationale for all their moves in how they will help the team. As you have pointed out, given what we knew at the time there was reason to believe the Edwin Jackson signing had a good possibility of working out. And while we sometimes complain about how big his contract is there are teams who would love to have their "worst contract" be 2 years $22-26M (depending on where I look).

    Thanks again for pointing out a plausible version of what they are doing. They are moving on to finer gradations of improvement rather than gross acquisition. And I very much agree that they have a very specific skill set they are looking at to make their improvements. While some of your insights may have missed the mark (you are not in their heads and in their meetings after all--and to your credit you don't claim to be) you have, over the past month, put together the most cohesive explanation of their moves/strategy I have seen. Rather than trying to get their moves to fit into your version of what they "should do" you, instead, describe and do your best to interpret their moves. And, when something comes along that does not fit the theory you simply try to either modify the theory to explain it OR come up with a new theory and explain why you are making the change.

    Keep it up. Reading the comments it looks like their is a lot of appreciation for what you do and how you do it!

  • Really enjoyed the article, John. I know there are some who discount clubhouse "chemistry" while others think it's vital. In my opinion, having veterans who not just examples to the younger players, but are approachable and who aren't afraid to speak up when they see something are invaluable to a team. I'm glad that Theo and Jed are thinking that way.

  • Have there been any moves you are unsure of? I'm fully onboard with the front office and it is still too soon to judge the offseason until we see how it wraps up however I feel like there's been a lack of criticism. It's an honest question - I've noticed bloggers being overly defensive lately so I don't want this to come of as an attack (although it really shouldn't).

  • In reply to Eric:

    Please don't take this response as an attack, as it is not meant to be. I will state my case assertively, however, so I give you fair warning :)

    I wasn't wild about the Wada signing and I was pretty lukewarm about it when it happened (but I wasn't harsh, as it is hard to get too upset about a minor league deal, no?). But that worked out better than I thought, so all is good now. Not crazy about the Felix Doubront acquisition, especially at the expense of Marco Hernandez. But honestly, it isn't horrible. I did mention Motte was signed for more than I'd hoped, but what are you going to do? There are no quality buy lows on the RP market right now.

    Honestly, when you follow a good process and are consistent with it, it is tough to criticize any deal regardless of how it turns out. Criticizing in hindsight is easy and this blog won't take the easy way out. It is when GMs abandon process and make a move that is outside their usual good thought process that should be criticized. If they do that, then I will be among the first in line.

    I lay out all the players I don't really want the Cubs to get all the time: From Prince Fielder to Michael Bourn to Ubaldo Jimenez in previous years to guys like Melky Cabrera, Nori Aoki, Nick Swisher, David Robertson. etc., etc. I was not in favor of signing Tomas or any of the NPB pitchers that came out on the market. I was pretty clear I did not want Matt Kemp. So my position is pretty clear on what I would like this team to do. I've been pretty transparent and proactive with my preferences.

    You've read my blog, I presume, since before this offseason. Have the Cubs made a move that I didn't speak favorably prior to their acquisition? Did I talk about how I did not want Lester, Hammel, Montero, or Ross? Did I not talk about wanting guys who get on base like LaStella, Peterson, and Lavarnway?

    I guarantee you if they would have signed Cabrera or Robertson I would have been upset And I will certainly be disappointed if they they sign Aoki or Rasmus.

    I don't think you should ask blogs to criticize for the sake of criticizing. I think you should ask them to be consistent as to when they criticize and when they praise. And as far as that goes, I will stand by my consistent stance on what I'd like this team to do or not do.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    We all know that you and I have a disagreement about Yasmany Tomas. You didn't want him, and I wanted him badly. I think with offense at a major premium and with power getting even more expensive by the day....it would have been prudent to go after him strongly, especially since it cost us only treasure and no draft picks. I still think that Arizona got the steal of the offseason, though I know that I am in the minority opinion on this site. Fair enough.

    But, now that the details of his very team friendly contract are out, I wonder if you might change your mind:

    SIGNING BONUS OF $14,000,000 TO BE PAID 2015-2018
    2015: $2,000,000 salary (age 25 season) plus estimated 3.5 million
    2016: $4,000,000 salary (age 26 season) plus estimated 3.5 million
    2017: $6,000,000 salary (age 27 season) plus estimated 3.5 million
    2018: $10,000,000 salary (age 28 season) plus estimated 3.5 million
    player option after 2018
    2019 : $15,500,000
    2020: $17,000,000

    In other words, we could have acquired a 24 year old power hitting left fielder for 2015 for what we are paying Motte and Ross....and we wouldn't be talking about adding another mediocre OF to be in the mix.

    This to me will be one of the big "what if's" of this off season when we look back at this winter 3 or 4 years from now.

    Also, since I am on a roll now, I hope that we can get an article eventually this winter, after all the moves are made and the smoke has settled, on what an alternative plan could have been, based on the choices we could have made differently.

    Granted, that article would mostly be academic, but I think it would be interesting to review the Cubs thinking and see what a different path we could have chosen had we opted to.

    Just some thoughts on a cold Sunday night in Indiana.....

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Reading your stuff for the past 3 years. One thing is sure, you are consistent. Only time will tell if The Front Office's plan will be successful. But for once in along time there is a plan and process in plan. Plus, from all indications the owners don't appear interested in hijacking the plan as happened to Dallas and a lesser degree Hendry.
    Yes, you are consistent. But more importantly, the FO has been extremely consistent and transparent. The transparency is the best part.

  • Thanks, I'd like to think I'm consistent, but like Joel said earlier, I certainly don't know everything and have nowhere near the info that the people within the Cubs organization do, so I try to also be adaptable within reason. So far they haven't done anything which is beyond the limits of reason. If they do something way out of bounds and potentially costly then I will definitely say something. So far it is hard to say that really happened. Even their worst move, signing Edwin Jackson, was perfectly reasonable at the time based on the process they trust. It just hasn't worked out.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    You clearly took my post the wrong way. It was not a criticism of your blog or the front office. I didn't need a comprehensive review. Nor was I asking this blog to criticize for the sake thereof. You know your stuff and while I don't agree with everything you write you typically back up your opinions.

    I check this site daily so I clearly respect the content. However this response feels overly defensive. It could just be me. There's so many positive things going on that I'd like to see a little more about the downside here and there. For example, the Ross signing could be fantastic based on what we get back for Castillo. Or it could be a big mistake. I fully believe Theo and Jed are taking us to a World Series but there has been some risk in the moves made.

    I like the positivity and I'm not asking for negativity . And as I said, we can't form a full opinion until we see how everything plays out. However one of the bright sides of this site and its community has been the place for dissenting opinions and that seems to be disappearing a bit lately.

  • In reply to Eric:

    I didn't mean for it to sound that way, so my apologies if it did. Those examples were just meant to be illustrations of the kinds of acquisitions I would have criticized. But also know that when you ask whether we are willing to criticize, whether you intend it or not, the implication is that we are shills or the the organization or compromising our journalistic integrity by not speaking out when we feel something is wrong. Lastly, when I get into logical mode it can come off as rather flat. The same goes for what I am about to say on Castillo/Ross.

    The Castillo or Ross switch is one you can debate and we are getting a lesser player statistically and in terms of talent. it's questionable and debatable, but I land on the side of getting Ross in this case for the following reasons.

    1. Framing: There is a 30 run swing in terms of runs against average, that translates to 3 wins. The difference in their offense was just 2 wins.
    2. Game Management: Ross simply knows pitchers better because of his experience. Castillo may get there, but he is not there now. He does work hard at it.
    3. Lester: Did this move influence Lester coming here in anyway? Obviously there were many factors and while Ross was not specifically mentioned, Lester did say that the Cubs appealed to him because they appealed specifically to what they could do for him and his family,
    4. The value of Castillo's value as a short-side platoon catcher is probably not as good as the value he can fetch in a trade. And you also have to wonder if he would develop properly with limited reps.
    5. The Cubs may truly believe Schwarber is their catcher of the future. He may be up by 2016, so rather than keep Welly one more year, maybe you get value on him now and bring in a mentor for Schwarber. Ross will be here for two years, enough time to bridge that gap.
    6. Ross best fits the Cubs overarching plan to control the strike zone better on both sides of the plate.

    I'm not sure any one of those reasons by themselves are enough, but the sum of those reasons are plenty for me.

    The Cubs know Castillo is a better player overall and he certainly has more upside. You can argue that the Cubs are better off with him in the lineup, but you could easily make the argument that these moves will be better for the long and short term. I don't think it's clearly a bad move and it may just be a good one.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    In terms of the Ross/Castillo situation you've got it covered. Obviously that decision is probably not going to have any sort of long-term impact. And as we've both said you can't make a judgment until the offseason at the earliest.

    I appreciate the responses and I don't mean to come off as overly critical or judgmental. Things are going in the right direction. The front office is going to make mistakes as that's just the nature of the business and they haven't made any damaging ones yet.

    I love the upside analysis with each article and sometimes there's really no potential downside to the moves but in some circumstances I think it helps to touch on it.

  • In reply to Eric:

    Thanks Eric. Appreciate the question.

    And I think what you said here is key. they will make mistakes but they do extremely well at avoiding big ones. And when they did make mistakes in Boston, it was because they abandoned their good process. Maybe they have learned.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think you've touched on the key point. They won a couple of World Series and still made mistakes in the process. They've learned from those mistakes yet it hasn't made them gun shy (Lester is a prime example). They will make more mistakes and they might eventually make a big one but I have no doubt their good decisions will outweigh the bad ones.

  • John, the prefix "re" means "again. To suggest the Cubs are "remolding" would indicate you felt they have already "molded."
    There are parts scattered here and there but to suggest these parts have "molded" might be a tad optimistic. This season should reveal what they are lacking, which "parts" stay and which "parts" go. I would think that "molding" must first come before "remolding" is addressed.

  • In reply to Hey Hey:

    As I said earlier, it is also meant to be a play on rebuilding. And to me it works anyway, the Cubs mold has already been created here and it has been that way for nearly every year I can remember, they've always had an overly aggressive approach on the mound and at the plate. And when the situation/context called for this FO moving forward, I just used molding.

    "While the Cubs are undoubtedly not as far along as the Dodgers, they have begun molding themselves into a functional team."

    Thanks for the suggestion, but I assure you I considered everything when I wrote this piece and I am very satisfied with my word choices.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The Cubs have been playing almost 140 years. There is a mold. Remold is appropriate.

  • LOL!

  • In reply to Hey Hey:

    By all means, the definition of the prefix "re" is the most interesting and relevant thing John wrote. Thanks for calling attention to this all consuming issue.

  • Another market inefficiency: international player posting rules and the unproven quality of the KBO? Just sayin'.....

  • So John, what do you think is next? It seemed to me atleast that within the last few days I was expecting to here/see a lot of moves or signings. What I took away from recent statements from Jed and Theo is that we'd see them pick up a few vet reliable significant bats in the outfield. Obviously Gomes has been rumored for a long time, but i got the feeling a week ago that they were thinking bigger in terms of a added bat. These last few signings are in so many words weak, besides Ross. I get those two outfielders are buy low, maybe they'll bounce back. But fact is, they still need atleast one proven hitter to work with this young group. Last couple signings are the same kind of signings as when they picked up Sweeney, Ruggiano and Coghlan. Seems like the front office has really slowed things down, '15 is a huge year for this team in terms of growing and getting a better overall picture of what this group of kids can do. Just like the signing of Lester, it's a great example for our young pitchers to look at, our position players need that example now more than ever because of all the great potential these kids have. Can someone name drop on some of the players the Cubs are or should be targeting??

  • As regards the Winter-League Watch:

    Baez: 6 games 9/22, OBP = 0.462, SLG = 0.773, 3 BB, 8 K (3 in first game), 2 HR, 5 RBI, 4 Runs.

    Lake: 41 games 34/136. OBP = 0.405, SLG = 0.353, 29 BB, 51 K. 2 HR, 6 2B, 20 SB, 12 RBI, 26 Runs.

    Alcantara: 19 games 22/68. OBP = 0.395, SLG = 0.544, 8 BB (1 IBB), 15 Ks, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 10 Runs.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Actually Baez has 8 games officially under his belt with one games rained out in the 4th inning in two days of trying, that game he had 1K and 1BB but not part of the official stats. But his trend is 1 K and 1 BB per game. More eye blowing is his BABIP, with is 9 K's to date in 22 AB's it means his 13 AB's he has hit the ball, 2 of them out of the park so...11 AB's where 7 are hits and 4 outs or a .636 BABIP.

    More: 12/11 3K's all swinging 3rd strike, 1 SF-RBI
    12/12 2 singles by ground ball to left, 1 K swinging, 1 BB
    12/13 DNP
    12/14: 2B on flyball, HR, 2 K's swinging
    12/15 K looking, BB
    12/17 BB, 2B flyball, K swinging,
    12/19 1B flyball to CF, K looking, HR to RF, 1B grounder to CF
    12/20 FB to CF, K looking, 1B liner to LF, BB (w/men on 3rd & 2nd no outs)

    Do you notice anything, I do. His K's not only have dropped but they are looking instead of swinging. His hitting the ball to center and right more in the last # of games,

  • Nice article John. It is good to put a name to these types of moves. You are right in line with how I see the possible roles of the waiver pick ups. By next Fall, I'm hoping it was crown molding you were talking about.

  • Good stuff as always, John. This is why Cubs Den is always my first and most frequent Cubs site of the day.

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    Thank you.

  • Excellent Excellent article John. Maybe your best to date. And certainly the best I have read describing what this stage of the process is about. You also wrote an article pre-Maddon about the importance of depth and versatility that became even more prescient after his hiring.

    http://www.chicagonow.com/cubs-den/2014/10/cubs-will-use-depth-versatility-to-help-them-dictate-the-market/

    It really boggles my mind that with all the trash out there that someone hasn't snapped you up. This article may finally do it.

    Side-note: really glad I suggested an offseason contest to you ;)
    As it stands now, based on your offseason #'s, also nailed the spending amount at 43M to date.

    But am kind of disappointed that the staff did not include picks. That would make a victory that much sweeter. Although I have a feeling you would have chosen similar players.

    I think the winner should be interviewed as a prize - nudge nudge, wink wink

    And finally, what, no love for the creativity of my screen name and it's origin folks or am I that dated. Maybe a new contest ;-)

  • Very creative. Barbarino, Boom Boom Washington and Horshak would be amused. OK, I'm old, I got your play on words. Ha.

  • John, with little fanfare your blog is right there. There isn't the noise of sophomoric, self congratulatory, self aggrandizement, bad personalized factious humor in the discussion but more important truly insightful, fact-based, research-driven original articles. How's that for verbosity! Sure other sites are faster on tweets as a rebroadcast of the old wire service information/news flow, others might offer other bites and pieces or an interesting thought but you and your community offers genuine insight that in its wake the community drills into. I guess in a word---respect for the material.

    Of all this off season is the most interesting since 2003, and beforehand the few years in the 1980's when first Greene took over then later Frey.

    As for the tactical timetable Cubs have an opportunity right now to move from the middle of the pack to a genuine WC contender with an upside. The best part is that they are merely part of a few other teams aggressively seeking to change the structure of baseball.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    Thank you. I really appreciate that. Self-promotion has never been my thing. I do not like marketing myself or creating a brand, as they call it on social media. The whole thing is anathema to me. My goal always is to let the writing speak for itself and let readers decide if it is something worth reading. I am grateful to have found an intelligent audience that I never need to pander to and doesn't care for gimmicks...I would never trade this readership for another, even a larger one, and I mean that very sincerely. It's wonderful to do what you love and on your terms -- and it makes it better still that there is a readership that appreciates it.

  • Thank you, I appreciate that.

    And I'm pretty sure you are referrencing Welcome Back Kotter and Juan Epstein.

    I am just old enough to remember that show :)

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Juan Epstein is Theo's adopted son from the Dominican. Always finding ways to exploit loopholes in baseball's rules, Epstein adopted the 15 year old Juan so he could begin molding his next shortstop of the future sooner than the CBA normally allows.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    LOL!

  • John, you make a great point. It's the minor moves that sometimes put a team over the top. Everyone likes to follow and judge FO's by the large splashy moves, when it's often times the smaller, glue moves that bind the team for the playoffs and beyond. I find myself reminding fellow fans all the time that all teams make minor moves like scouring the waiver wire, not just cheap or small market teams. The Cubs are tinkering with their roster now as opposed to rebuilding it. We are at the stage of the masterpiece where the artist's vision is starting to become apparent to all to see.

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    I think a good example of those "minor moves" would be the 2012 Giants, who made just one deadline move and acquired marco Scutero.
    Their fans were mad and many predicted a second half fade. But Scutero rose to the occasion, hitting .362 for SF and helped the Giants secure their second WS title in three years

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