Impatience with Rebuilding

Impatience with Rebuilding

The impatience with the rebuilding, or building if you prefer, of the Cubs has been growing for some time.  A crushing loss to the Mets seems to have added another well-known name in the Cubs blogosphere to that list.  Al Yellon used a lot of words  to give a thorough explanation of his disappointment in the Theo regime up to this point.  This siren call for all those that deemed a 100 plus loss season as an unacceptable outcome generated a lot of discussion on twitter.  These last two lines sum up the position best:

We have had virtually infinite patience. But that patience is growing short.

I understand the frustration with this team that should be better than it is at this point, but the idea that less than a season and half is enough to exhaust "virtually infinite patience" is funny to say the least.  This debate about patience reminds me of when I first started discussing the Cubs online over a decade ago.

My first experiences discussing the Cubs on the internet involved message boards.  The first one I joined was at Cubs.com.  My exposure to these message boards introduced me to a lot of new ideas about baseball that I was unaware of prior to joining.  The most memorable feature of  those early 2000s discussions was the two factions into which Cubs fans had divided.  The two groups went so far as to name themselves and I saw a few different logos for each side; sadly, I was unable to find any of them in Google images.  People from that era of Cubs message boards probably recall them as distinctly as I, but for those of you that missed on that let me briefly describe the two groups.

The first group was called the Nowacrats.  The name pretty much explains the position, but the idea was to do everything in the Cubs power to win right now.  The goal was to win a World Series as soon as possible by any means necessary.  The Cubs in the early 2000s had a top farm system and the posters of this position had no qualms about dealing any of them to land talent for the major league roster.  A majority also felt that the ownership of the team was being cheap and could afford to spend a great deal more on major league payroll.  And through those twin prongs the Cubs could quickly turn into a team capable of winning a championship.

There seems to be a little debate about what the other group was called.  I tried to find posts from that era which is more difficult than you might imagine.  In a few places I saw this group referred to as Buildicans.  I don’t recall that name from the time period, but trust that some people did refer to themselves as that.  The name that I recall and have seen mentioned is Dynastics.  These people wanted a period of sustained success.  The playoffs are a crapshoot in their eyes and so the way to maximize your chances of winning a championship was to have as many shots at it as possible.

These two opposing goals between the two groups meant that analyzing the Cubs resulted in great debate over what was being done.  Some moves were applauded by the Nowacrats and decried by the Dynastics and vice versa.  In some cases the Nowacrats proved to be right and in others the Dynastics.  The two groups seemed to fade away in the middle 2000s.  There are a number of possible explanations, most notably the seismic shift in Cubs fandom that the events of the 2003 NLCS caused.  But for whatever reason they disappeared by the time the Cubs loaded up for the 2007 and 2008 playoff runs.

The names and the line in the dirt might be gone from the internet debate.  I find that even a decade later we are still engaging in the same debate.  Perhaps we are smarter as fans and realize that there was a false dichotomy in those two positions, but virtual infinite patience wearing off in less than two years disputes that possible explanation.  I still participate in message boards to this day.  I am currently a moderator at ChiCitySports, and the most common criticism I hear of the new regime is their inability to do both.  That is to build a competitive franchise while at the same time revamping the minor leagues.  On the surface this position is different than the Nowacrats of a decade ago, but at the core it really is not.

Ultimately a lot of people forget the very basic concept of scarcity.  There is a limited number of people with the talent and ability to harness that talent for baseball.  There is a limited amount of money that the front office is given to use.  There is a limited number of spots on rosters, and sometimes complex rules governing the use of those spots.  There is also a limited number of the most precious resource which is major league wins.

Those clamoring to do both will often cite various moves that make the major league roster better at what they claim is no cost for the future.  The truth of the matter is that every move has costs in terms of the short and long term.  Any move clamored for by many of the nouveau Nowacrats would have had an effect on the long term outlook of the franchise.  Resigning Aramis Ramirez would have meant no Pierce Johnson.  Signing Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, etc. would have meant no Duane Underwood.  While the Cubs might have been better off making those moves, the loss of those impact arms does affect the long term health of the franchise.  Or not trading away players at the deadline for prospects.  Or any other move that would have more than just marginally improved the 2012 or 2013 Cubs.

The new regime has embraced what the Dynastics at Northsidebaseball preached for a long time.  I joined that site within a month of its start, and it definitely shaped my view of baseball.  I learned a lot about baseball analytics and prospect analysis there, but there is something that troubles me about the time I spent there.  A fun exercise during those years would be to fill out the future infield of the Cubs which was supposed to be entirely homegrown.  The infield of that era was supposed to be Hee Seop Choi, Bobby Hill, Luis Montanez and David Kelton.  Of course, none of those players ever made it as consistent starters in the big leagues, if to the big leagues at all.

During the first day of the MLB draft, I read various tweets and posts on message boards about where the Cubs are going to play Kris Bryant and Javier Baez.  I read tweets from experts drooling over the idea of Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant in the same outfield.  I understand that these are bigger and better prospects than the vast majority of prospects Cubs fans have dreamt over, but I still get the feeling from a decade ago talking about the future 2005 Cubs infield that never materialized.

I think the majority of Cubs fans realize that not all of the Cubs prospects will turn into superstars.  In fact not all of them are likely to be even league average starters in the big leagues.  The Cubs are, however, gambling that at least one if not more is an all-star type player.  The Cubs are forced into that position due to a variety of reasons, most of which has to do with the scarcity of quality free agents and money being allocated to baseball operations.  The debate might not have changed online, but I am hopeful that the results will be different this time.

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