If you have ever traveled to China, you know what it is like to travel by cab.
After a 12-hour flight, you land in Shanghai, shake off the hours of breathing recirculated air, slowly make your way through customs, hit the RMB chucker or currency exchange and drag yourself out to a cab line, groggy and disoriented. The only thing you have to communicate your final destination to the driver is a business card for the hotel or handwritten instructions from a colleague in Shanghai with the address written in Mandarin.
You close the car door and as the driver hits the gas (They prefer the gas pedal to the brake pedal.), you have placed your life and well-being in the hands of a MarioKart driver. You grip the oh-shit bar or the seat in front of you and clench your buttocks at every lane change or ignorance of a red light (mere suggestions there). You know you are somewhere between points A and B. You have no idea where in that connection, but you are definitely on the way.
Or are you?
This driver, knowing the gringo in the back is carrying cash and has no way of accurately describing to police what he looks like ("Officer, the man was Chinese and driving a green and white cab."), if they even find a cop who speaks English, he could easily drop you in the middle of nowhere and let you figure it out. Trust me on this, it happens. In a moment of arrogance one time, I negotiated down a cash rate with a cabbie, and he dropped me at the wrong hotel, in one of the most crime-ridden parts of Dongguan, leaving me to navigate my way to the hotel. Lesson learned.
What I'm getting at here is that we as Cubs fans have entered the cab of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, and they have told us they are taking us to point B. We're not familiar with the route, as we have never experienced a full-on rebuild. We're groggy and disoriented from years of failure and ALMOST getting there. We know mini renovations or new directions that have given us many bad years with a couple good ones spritzed in for good measure, but there were always some elements of the past.
The mid-season sell-offs, the sign-and-flips, the bad records. They've worn on a lot of people, but if you pay attention to their plan and trust the way they work the steering wheel and gas pedal, you will know that better times are not just ahead, they're around the corner. Beep-beep!
With the dealing of Samardzija and Hammel, the cries came from the highest seats in the Wrigley Field rafters that we are now two more years away from coming close to contending. That might have been the case if the trade was for just another top-100 prospect, but that just is not.
Theo and company have a virtual marching band of players coming up through the ranks. There's the core four and Kyle Schwarber. We mind their stats on an almost-daily basis, wringing our hands as we watch mediocrity on the major league squad in their positions. We want these guys up now.
And based on recent complaints from Cubs Nation, there is also the question, "Where are the top arms? Why aren't we dealing for top-level prospect pitching?"
Pshaw. Dealing top-performing big leaguers for young arms, especially exclusively, is a huge risk. It's comparable to hitting on 20 at the blackjack table. Doubt me? Go back and look at the Cubs rotation to start 2014. Even I still drool at the picture of Clement, Wood, Prior, Zambrano and Maddux. What should have been became what was: towel exercises in the bullpen for Prior and Wood.
I know that was not a case of trades, but it is still an important lesson learned. Throwing your biggest chips at perceived top pitching prospects can come back to bite you, and this group knows that.
Still want pitching? Then you should have been paying attention the last three seasons. Not only has this crew demonstrated the ability to grab arms off the wood pile and turn them into really good, desirable and trade-valued pitchers, they also have a plan to use below-cap money to bring in established arms as needed.
I was at a season ticket holder's event late last year at which Jed Hoyer explained just that. They are building what they need on offense, signing those players through the draft (including international) to long-term deals and then have a plan to use expendable cash to pick and place pitching--or even a veteran offensive presence--as needed.
To me, this is the way you want to go. Pitchers, especially young ones, are more susceptible to injury than offensive players, so why invest in young arms (especially prior to Tommy John) when you can build a solid run-producing team and fill in those innings eaters and game winners as necessary?
I know, it's easy to bitch, especially when you want things to happen right now. But as Theo told us a while ago, this is going to take some time.
We are now seeing that time coming pretty soon. With the dealing of Shark and Hammel and the impending ones of (James) Russell, Wright, Barney, Schierholtz, Coghlan and others, you can see that their garage is almost clean. Now is the time to start building that room edition they've had planned. And it's happening.
So as the cab zips through Shanghai traffic on the way to point B, you can close your eyes until we arrive, or you can be like me and watch the street lights wizz by, pedestrians run for cover, dogs laying on their backs side by side in the food market (they're not sleeping) and red lights be ignored. Call me daring, but I kind of like the ride.
And when this particular trip hits point B, I plan to be a very happy Cubs fan for years to come.
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