— dabynsky (@dabynsky) July 7, 2014
I've been trying to write about the blockbuster trade that brought Addison Russell and others to the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for days now. The tweet above is only half joking when it deals with my writer's block to get this post done, but the thing that has struck me most in the time since then has been the shift in rhetoric from the front office. The biggest complaint (well, maybe not the biggest but certainly a familiar one) has been that this rebuild could remain in a perpetual state. Many Facebook Cubs tweets and the like can point to various sentiments of the front office trading any good players on the major league roster. A colleague at my day job has often stated that he is waiting for the Cubs to make a move that tells him it is time to be excited about the Cubs. This trade is the delayed release tablet form of that move.
This is the quote that many people picked up on at the time:
"We certainly hope this is the last year we'll be obvious sellers at the Trade Deadline."
Compare that to what was said two years ago heading into the trade deadline:
“I don’t think there’s ever a good year [to be a seller],” he said Saturday. “There are ways to improve the organization long term [through trades], but it also means your record isn’t very good, and you’re giving up good players. You don’t want to be in that position very often.
`Yes, you can make improvements, but there’s a reason teams are calling you.”
The shift should be clear. Instead of the general, "gee shucks we don't always want to be sellers" rhetoric of two years ago, there is a date attached to the change. As far as I have ever seen this marks the first time that Jed Hoyer or Theo Epstein has given a direct year for when they hope to not be in this talent acquisition phase the front office led with when they first arrived in Chicago.
Even without the change in rhetoric, 2015 should be the year that we start judging the front office for the major league product. No, that does not mean that the expectations should be playoffs, even if the owner foolishly says so again. But it does mean that the handcuffs on this front office are finally gone. It doesn't matter where you place the blame for those handcuffs, but this front office inherited an aging roster bereft of elite level talent, one of the weakest farm systems in baseball and a declining payroll. The front office has been playing with less than a full deck since they arrived in late 2011, but that will not be the case heading into 2015.
The last Hendry contract will be off the book when the Cubs are no longer paying Alfonso Soriano not to play for the Yankees. The Cubs' guaranteed contracts heading into next season sit at a measly 27.3 million dollars. The estimated arbitration figures for all players is 34.2 million dollars. That means the Cubs payroll, if they bring everyone back on the roster besides pending free agents. will sit at at a mere 61.5 million dollars. That means the Cubs have 40 million dollars in payroll to just reach the low 100 million mark, which doesn't factor into the rollover savings that Theo Epstein has talked about at the beginning of this year. This represents a huge ability to invest in the free agent market or absorb payroll in trades to lessen the prospect cost.
The other aspect is that the Cubs now have a potentially historically good farm system right now. The Cubs have 3 prospects within the top 10 and close to the top 5 of all baseball. The farm system is poised to challenge the mark of 9 top 100 prospects set by the 2011 Royals. The front office has gone from not playing with a full deck to one that is overflowing as they head into 2015.
Now none of this guarantees success. Most are probably quick to realize that historic 2011 Royals farm system hasn't produced multiple All-Stars yet for the Royals. Mike Axisa looked at the number of teams with 3 of top 20 prospects on Baseball America's list, and the results were mixed at best. It also doesn't take a lot of digging to find poor free agent contracts. Neither asset is a guarantee of sustained success that the front office has promised. It does mean that the front office finally has an abundance of the resources necessary to achieve that goal.
I wrote about the trade the day of the Theo Epstein conference call, and I ended the piece with this line
It has been a long, dark road but the light has only gotten brighter after last night
Those words would be echoed just a few hours after being written by Theo Epstein:
“I really feel there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
There may be no guarantees for future sustained success, but I am excited to see what this front office can do with a full deck for the first time in Chicago.