Cubs fans are a salesman’s dream.
I mean, if Cubs fans apply the same level of trust and acceptance in everyday life as they do to the franchise’s latest grand plan to bring a World Series title to Wrigley Field, then they would be the most gullible group of consumers in history.
They’d buy that flight insurance offered at the airport, would ask for the extended warranty at the electronics store and always opt for the undercoating at the car dealership (ask your parents if you’re under 40).
Is that too harsh an assessment?
I don’t think so, because Cubs fans everywhere seemed to have bought in completely to the rebuilding plan (fantasy?) offered by team president Theo Epstein with nary a word of skepticism.
In fact, it’s just opposite. Local newspapers and Cubs-centric blogs offer regular updates on the “core four” minor leaguers – the players identified by Epstein and his staff as being the top prospects they’ve brought into the organization.
Of course, “core four” is a rip-off of the term used to describe New York Yankees mainstays Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada, the four homegrown players who formed the core of the Yankees’ championship teams from 1996 through 2009.
Sure, the Yankees spent a fortune on free agents during that period, but those four players provided a steady foundation to build around. Jeter and Rivera are likely first-ballot hall-of-famers, Pettitte was one of the best left-handed starting pitchers of his era and Posada was a switch-hitting catcher with power from both sides of the plate.
It’s rare for an organization to produce four players that accomplished at the same time, and it’s even rarer to bring them up and have them start producing at the major league level together.
But listening to the Cubs, it’s a piece of cake. They fully expect their core four – infielders Kris Bryant and Javier Baez and outfielders Albert Almora and Jorge Soler – to arrive in the majors in 2015 or 2016 with the World Series championship parade is scheduled for November 2018.
Actually, I’m just kidding about that last part.
Those kids better be good because Cubs management – specifically chairman Tom Ricketts – doesn’t appear interested in spending the money necessary to acquire quality major-league talent. This year’s team has the worst record in baseball and there are just two everyday players – Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro – with a chance of staying in Chicago for any length of time.
Whether the top prospects are legitimate building blocks or overhyped pretenders (see Bobby Hill and Hee-Seop Choi) remains to be seen. I can’t offer an opinion because I’ve never seen any of them play in person. I know Bryant is tearing it up in Class AA and figures to be promoted soon, whether it’s Class AAA or the majors. Baez, though, is struggling at Class AAA.
I think the Cubs are doing the right thing by trying to build from the ground up. I don’t care how much money you have, you can’t build a championship-caliber team completely through free agency. (That’s a fact the Yankees learned the hard way in the late 1980s and early 1990s.)
But the reality is rebuilding with young players can be a slow and often frustrating process. They usually experience peaks and valleys of success and failure before settling in and becoming consistently productive players – if they become productive players at all.
In the best-case scenario for the Cubs’ core four, they settle in and become established everyday players sometime during the 2018 season. And remember, that’s if everything goes perfectly.
The other thing that bothers me about the Cubs’ core four hype is the lack of a top pitching prospect. Pitching still is the name of the game and it always will be what separates the great teams from the mediocre teams.
As accomplished as Jeter and Posada were, the Yankees’ foundation would have been unsteady without the talents Pettitte and Rivera to build around.
The Cubs have some nice arms in their system, but I don’t know of any potential ace. That’s why I think it’s imperative that they get a pitcher with the fourth pick in Thursday’s amateur draft. Reports say their top target is left-hander Carlos Rodon of North Carolina State, although it’s unclear whether he’ll still be on the board at No. 4.
Regardless of what happens in the draft, I’d like to see the front office pay more attention to the product on the major league level. Having a strong and productive farm system is important, but to build a consistent winner an organization needs to acquire talent in a variety of ways.
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If the Cubs are very lucky, in about 20 years they can hold a ceremony at Wrigley Field when their core four players are reunited like the Yankees group in the following video:
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