I was reading a fine piece from Baseball Prospectus about the monumental fail that was the Houston Astros' 2014 draft, and thanking my lucky stars that the Cubs are better perceived and executed a much better draft plan this year. I recommend that everyone look at this article. It's long, but it's well worth it. It's still too early to say that the Astros are a disaster and that the Cubs have the inside track to a textbook rebuild, but it sure does look that way and I feel like we as Cubs fans should be grateful for a front office that has an intelligent and respected plan, and that actually cares about its personnel.
The trades and drafts have helped the Cubs build what many pundits now consider the best farm system in Major League Baseball. As usual, Patrick Mooney gathered some quotes from Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and spun them into a decent article. I won't spoil too much because it is a good read, but I felt I needed to react to a couple of interesting quotes.
“We were just ranked the top farm system in baseball,” Epstein said, “but it really doesn’t mean anything.”
I admire Theo's humility, and it is true that a top farm system does not necessarily translate into big league success especially in a sport with as much uncertainty as baseball. However, I think he's selling himself too short. A top farm system creates a lot of equity and opportunities. The Cubs can reasonably expect at least a couple of their top prospects to pan out and solidify a developing offense that already has Anthony Rizzo (who's been tearing it up since the All-Star Break, earning NL Player of the Week honors) and Starlin Castro (who is in a bit of a slump, but has really stung the ball and unfortunately right at defenders). Theo does address the huge range of options opened up by their careful planning over the past few seasons (see below), and the prevailing thought is that the Cubs won't tank any more seasons after this one. In fact, I've often said that this season has been mostly watchable, and despite the last-place showing thus far, the Cubs have generally been an entertaining and competent team to follow.
Theo also says the following:
“We don’t deserve to be on the cover of magazines,” Epstein said. “We don’t deserve to really be lauded right now, because we haven’t done anything yet. At best, what we’ve done is put ourselves in a position to make a lot of interesting decisions going forward.
“Hopefully, (we’ll) have two of the most important currencies in the game – impactful young players and available payroll dollars and go make some hay. But we’re not there yet. We haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this is what most of the anti-Team Theo faction of fans are thinking. The ultimate goal of a professional baseball franchise is to win the World Series, and the Cubs definitely aren't there yet. Theo Epstein and his associates have been nothing but truthful in this regard, but it certainly doesn't mean that they haven't been working hard towards that goal all along (see: the aforementioned top farm system). However, the win-now faction of fans are probably going to salivate over that quote and regard it as a near-admission of failure and of shortcomings within the plan. I hope that fans who can think objectively and who have been paying attention since Theo was hired won't think that way, but I'm just putting that out there.
I believe, like my compatriots at World Series Dreaming, that the Cubs are on the cusp of something special. I enjoyed watching the process materialize as they kept building assets and reinforcing the franchise-building infrastructure on the North Side. I believe that their hard work is about to pay off and the money that is being saved up with make this offseason extra-exciting for Cubs fans.
I do like that Theo said this about potential trades between now and July 31 (and probably the waiver deadline on August 31):
“We’re not in any rush to make trades for the sake of making trades,” Epstein said. “There’s value to keeping players who have roles here – and for the sake of continuity and leadership and performance on the field.
“Especially for players we control beyond this year, we’re not itching to make those deals, unless we get something that we can’t turn down.”
Mooney mentions veterans and players under contract such as Emilio Bonifacio and Luis Valbuena, players about whom I had previously suggested would make for a super-versatile bench along with Arismendy Alcantara (who would be great as either a starter or a super-sub). From my point of view, despite the losing record, these guys enjoy playing with each other and have a positive clubhouse environment under manager Rick Renteria. Renteria makes some goofy decisions sometimes (and honestly, what MLB manager doesn't?) but he seems to be cultivating the right attitude in all his players. Everybody pulls for each other, everybody works hard to improve their craft (even if they're just a role player or replacement level) and everybody tries on just about every play. Continuity can be established with some solid role guys who might survive the eventual call-ups of top prospects, and leadership is already apparent with Rizzo.
We've written a lot of positive pieces lately because the potential for awesomeness and enthusiasm is too great not to. And I choose to take Theo's statement that they haven't accomplished anything yet and give it my own emphasis:
We're not there...yet. We haven’t accomplished anything...yet.
It's gonna happen. The Cubs have worked really hard behind the scenes to build a solid foundation, and I think they deserve to be rewarded with our faith and optimism.