By now, you're probably just getting free from the throes of your Javy Baez hangover. It's true what they say; only time will relieve the pain and discomfort. Although, sometimes something sweet and delicious helps too.
In the midst of Baez-mania, JavyTime, Javy-kuh, or Feliz Javidad, one little note that has gone mostly unnoticed lately is how (even through his early struggles) Baez represents the changing tide of the rebuild. I started thinking about how to put this into words, and the best way to describe it is to look back at my expectations for previous seasons.
Coming into 2012, there was a lingering high from bringing in Theo Epstein to run the show. It's like we woke up the next morning and our heads were still floating...so we had Cheetos and a bottle of YooHoo for breakfast while we watched Spongebob and giggled. It was that good.
But realistically, we all knew what we were in for. The team on the field in 2011 was bad, and there wasn't much internal help on the way. Sure, Anthony Rizzo was at AAA after coming over in the Andrew Cashner deal. But we knew that he alone wouldn't save the Cubs.
Any fan thinking the Cubs had a chance to compete around .500 in early 2012 needs their head examined. That team had some decent guys in multiple positions, but had zero depth. It's been said before, but it bears repeating: the post-trade deadline rotation in 2012 was Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Brooks Raley, Chris Rusin, and Justin Germano (with a dab of Jason Berken too).
After a 61-win season, fast forward to the expectations of the 2013 team. I was guilty from the start of thinking that this team could, if all broke just right, be competitive on the field. Rizzo looked good, Castro was being Castro, Alfonso Soriano was still good for 30 homers, the rotation was good, and even the bullpen looked decent for once.
I didn't count on severe regression at the plate from Rizzo, Castro, and Darwin Barney. I didn't see the poor pitching coming from Samardzija and big-free-agent-signing Edwin Jackson. I didn't see the implosion of the bullpen, starting with Carlos Marmol and Sean Camp and ending with a season-ending injury to Kyuji Fujikawa.
In spite of all of that, plus a side of Dale Sveum as the manager, the 2013 Cubs were 48-55 on July 28th and heading into an eight game homestand. Then the trade deadline happened and the Cubs were never heard from again.
Moving ahead, we entered 2014 with an obviously bad roster. While the bullpen and starting pitching looks just fine, the offense is clearly lacking. Can you imagine what this would have looked like had Castro and Rizzo not improved so much over last year? I wanna rip my eyes out just thinking about the horror.
Despite now-former Cub Nate Schierholtz completely forgetting how to hit, a relative disappearing act after April 11th from Emilio Bonifacio, and a clinic in how to not hit baseballs by Mike Olt and Junior Lake, the Cubs still found their way to 38-46 on July 4th. Then Samardzija and Jason Hammel were traded.
Not surprisingly, the Cubs have gone 10-18 in the time since; but with the bad comes the good. No more Justin Germano or Jason Berken. Through trade, waiver wire, or smart front office work, the Cubs have a rotation of Jake Arrieta, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Hendricks, and Tsuyoshi Wada, with Dallas Beeler, Chris Rusin, Felix Doubront, and Jacob Turner waiting in the wings.
That rotation may not be super impressive, but it is certainly deep. And that bullpen, as well. The Cubs traded James Russell to Atlanta, but still have two quality lefties in Wesley Wright and Zach Rosscup. And with power arms in the pen in 2014 to go with power arms still hiding at AAA and AA, the bullpen is set up well for the future.
Oh yeah, and I didn't even mention Baez and Arismendy Alcantara coming up (and probably Soler in a month). The guys that started poorly and are likely to stick around have rebounded a bit, as well. Ryan Sweeney has a .781 OPS since June 25th, Welington Castillo has an .811 OPS since July 12th, and Justin Ruggiano has hit very well when he's been healthy.
Add all that to Rizzo and Castro, plus maybe Kris Bryant early next year, and there is a lot to get excited about going forward. Depending on how the Cubs choose to allot their payroll in the off-season, they could be anywhere from “youthful but competitive” to “borderline playoff contender” in 2015.
So, while the 2012 Cubs met our terrifyingly low expectations and the 2013 Cubs likely played below their capabilities, I think the 2014 Cubs have been every bit as good as we could've hoped. While the record isn't pretty, the team is finally watchable. I could give you any one of several reasons to turn on the Cubs game or show up at Wrigley on a given day.
The rebuild has always been, to me, a three-stage process. Stage one was the teardown; the process of ridding the team of Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Soriano, and others. That process ended late last season when Soriano was traded to the Yankees. Stage two is the youth movement; continued rebuilding while allowing young guys to prove themselves. This process is ongoing.
Guys like Lake and Olt got their chances early, and Baez, Alcantara, Hendricks, and others (Soler?) are getting their chances of late. Next year, more guys will arrive to help. And at some point in 2015, the Cubs will transition to stage three: winning.
If you look closely, there is a wave that is moving that way now. It hasn't translated to on-the-field wins, but you can feel the tide shifting. The Cubs are making moves like a team that is planning to win soon. The aggressive promotions throughout the minor leagues, particularly that of Baez (rather than wait until 2015 and risk wasting a season while he struggles).
My info sez the CUBS put in the waiver claim on Cole Hamels. Would the Phils trade him there now and would Cole accept?
I can't tell you exactly what it will look like when they do start winning, or what point in the season that it'll happen. What I can tell you is that my expectation for 2015 is already high, and that it's more tied to a positive win-loss record than ever before in the Theo Era. Finally, I think we can expect the Cubs to put together a team that doesn't trade everyone away and tank in the standings. Hangover cured.
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