There has been a lot of talk lately about the division between the two segments of Cubs fans; those who are supportive of the rebuilding plan, and those that disagree with the method of rebuilding and are downright frustrated. I wanted to put a new spin on it and offer my view.
Let's go back in time. It's October in 2011, and Theo Epstein and his team of dudes have just been hired and handed the reigns. The new CBA is about to limit their ability to build the Cubs organization on the quick.
The Cubs were coming off of three straight seasons of no playoffs and were particularly mediocre the previous two. Many of the anti-rebuild people have suggested signing free agents to repair the MLB team while still building the minors. Let's check out the big free agents of that first off-season that were a potential fit with the Cubs.
1B- Albert Pujols (10 years/$254m)
1B- Prince Fielder (9 years/$214m)
SP- CJ Wilson (5 years/$75m)
SP- Yu Darvish (6 years/$60, $51m posting fee)
OF- Carlos Beltran (2 years/$26m)
OF- Yoenis Cespedes (4 years/$36m)
First consider that the Cubs would've had to top all of those dollar amounts to get any of those players. How bad would things look right now had they committed that money to Pujols or Fielder? Pujols is in massive decline, and Fielder's career is in doubt after a combination of decline and injury.
It's worth noting that the Cubs' production from 1B in 2012 was .277/.337/.460 with 27 HR and 85 RBI. And that came at a fraction of the money that Pujols and Fielder got in what has been (so far) their only highly productive years on their contracts.
CJ Wilson has put up a 3.76 ERA and 3.88 FIP in 3 seasons with the Angels with 3.8 BB/9 and 7.9 K/9. He's been fairly average, and, overall, the Cubs have done almost as well with Travis Wood. The Cubs put in a generous bid on Darvish (who couldn't just be signed by any team) but lost out to the Rangers, who entered a shocking bid of $51m.
Beltran hit .282/.343/.493 over his 2 year deal with the Cardinals, so the Cubs may have missed there. However, the Cubs got decent production from David DeJesus while he was on the North Side. He hit .258/.343/.403 with the Cubs, and put up 1.6 WAR in 2012 versus Beltran's 3.9 WAR.
The Cubs bid on Cespedes and Jorge Soler, and ended up with Soler. At the time, most felt that Soler was the better player, but was a bit further away because he was five years younger. Realistically, the only free agent that was potentially a better move for the Cubs was Beltran (considering the inability to sign Darvish, as the Rangers lapped the field).
And considering that they would've been trying to build a winner on the field, guys like Paul Maholm, Geovany Soto, and Ryan Dempster probably aren't dealt for Kyle Hendricks, Arodys Vizcaino, and others. Maybe the Cubs win 66-70 games in 2012 instead of 61. Now instead of Kris Bryant, you've got Clint Frazier or Colin Moran.
Now we can look at the next off-season, and the list of free agents that could've been signed by the Cubs.
SP- Zack Grienke (6 years/$147m)
SP- Anibal Sanchez (5 years/$80m)
SP- Hyun-Jin Ryu (6 years/$36m)
OF- Josh Hamilton (5 years/$125m)
OF- BJ Upton (5 years/$75m)
Hamilton had an awful season last year, and began to bounce back this year before being injured; he's currently 33 years old. Upton has been awful. The Cubs did well to stay away.
The Cubs did all they could to sign Sanchez, but he reportedly really wanted to return to the Tigers. Once the price was driven to the point he wanted, he didn't even allow the Cubs to counter. Grienke got a huge deal from the free-spending Dodgers, and he's lived up to the hype.
Ryu's contract looks like a bargain in retrospect, but remember that he was an international free agent. We can say now that the Cubs should've outbid the Dodgers and signed him, but that's not fair. None of us could have predicted his success.
The Cubs ended up with Edwin Jackson (4 years/$52m), and it hasn't been good for them. Based on his track record, it's curious why he's been as bad as he is. Either way, it's bad. In a perfect world, they could've tried to dish out a huge contract for Grienke.
But that would likely mean nearly a $30m AAV, and I'm not sure that's a great way to invest money on a 29-year-old for six seasons. The Cubs don't have unlimited resources, and Greinke's best years would be wasted on terrible teams. By the time they were actually any good, who's to say 32- or 33-year-old Grienke is still dominating?
The same people thinking I'm an idiot for saying that probably hated the Soriano contract. Don't lie to yourselves and us. He certainly fell off in production after his first two seasons.
But let's say they landed Grienke instead of what they got; he's good for about five wins over Edwin Jackson. Considering the one extra one from Beltran in 2013, and the maybe two or three you get from not dealing Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano, your 2013 Cubs are at 75 wins.
But now, based on the idea that the front office probably operates with a payroll ceiling of $120m, you don't have enough money to re-sign Garza. You're (hopefully) letting Beltran leave. With around $10-15m to spend, the Cubs are limited.
And before we go into the off-season we have to cover the topic of Yasiel Puig, who got 7 years/$42m from the Dodgers. The prevailing thought at the time was that the Dodgers were nuts to pay that money for such a risky unknown player, and Ben Badler of Baseball America articulated at the time.
Here are the major free agents from last winter.
2B- Robinson Cano (10 years/$240m)
OF- Jacoby Ellsbury (7 years/$153m)
OF- Shin-soo Choo (7 years/$130m)
C- Brian McCann (5 years/$85m)
OF- Nelson Cruz (1 year/$8m)
SP- Masahiro Tanaka (7 years/$155m, $20m posting fee)
Let's face it: with Greinke on board and a pending Samardzija extension, the Cubs payroll would now be high enough that they could not afford most of these guys. Cruz looks like the best fit based on what we know now, which is that the 33-year-old with PED and injury history is killing the ball for Baltimore.
The downside? He's DH'd half of his games, something that the Cubs cannot offer. Think staying in the AL played a part in his decision? The games he hasn't DH'd, he's been in LF. Which, in this hypothetical situation, is currently held by Soriano.
But let's just pretend they signed him anyway. And let's pretend they sign Jason Hammel too. The rotation looks good, with Grienke, Samardzija, Hammel, and Wood. Soriano is a black hole in LF, and maybe Cruz stays healthy and does well in RF.
If everything breaks just right for this Cubs team, it's possible they're hovering around .500 right now. That makes them a fringe wild card contender. WOOOOO! Okay, but seriously. Here are the guys you didn't get, whether it be a trade or draft position:
For the record, that's three potentially special bats, your top pitching prospect, your best ML reliever, and a ton of depth. You're left with Javy Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, and the two guys you drafted much lower in the 1st round the last two years. But not a bad top four.
Realistically, the Cubs would have to continue to sign big name free agents to attempt to be competitive. They'd have a lot of money to spend next off-season, and a decent amount of pitchers they could sign. Finally! A chance to put the team over the top.
Now let's come back to reality a bit. The Cubs have money to spend next off-season as it is. They have the same pitchers available. They have a ton of young talent and depth on the verge of the majors, some of them quite possibly on the verge of stardom.
The point of this exercise is that hindsight is 20/20, nobody is perfect, and beggars can't be choosers. Don't argue against the way the front office is choosing to rebuild if you can't come up with a better plan. It's easy to say “sign free agents, spend money” until you look back at history.
I can't tell you if the Cubs are going to win the World Series between 2015-2020. I can't tell you which of their prospects are going to be great and which will fizzle out. But I can tell you that, having looked back on the options, I think they're closer to a World Series in the next five years than they would be had they done it any other way.
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