Mets win Dickey trade -- but Cubs goal is to be in the Jays position

I’m a pretty patient guy.

I understand the rebuilding process the Cubs are undergoing.  I more than just understand it.  I trust it.  You have to trust process because it is the only thing you can control.   Results are slippery.  There are too many variables.   No matter how much we try to minimize it, luck is always a factor when it comes to the end result.

Once the foundation is in place, you can splurge on big – but expensive, inefficient investments in the trade and free agent markets.  You do that because, at that point, you don’t mind overpaying for an extra 2-3 extra wins because that could be the difference between the playoffs and staying home in October.  In other words, those few extra wins themselves become that much more valuable once you are a contender.  It minimizes that overpay whether it comes in terms of dollars or prospects.

Which brings me to the reported trade between the Blue Jays and the Mets.  Like most people, I was shocked at how much the Jays gave up.   The trade will include their “untradeable” player, catching prospect Travis D’Arnaud, and the pitcher whom I consider to be their best pitching prospect, RHP Noah Syndegaard, for Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.  There are other players involved, but that is the essential, impact player/prospect portion of the deal.

If the Cubs were to make that kind of trade today, I’d be thrilled.

If they had to make it next year, I’d be lukewarm about it at best.

And if they had to make it after the 2014 season, I’d be downright disappointed.  At that point, I’d rather be on the Jays end of the deal.

Don’t get me wrong, in terms of getting long term surplus value,  it was a steal for the Mets.  I’m just saying it’s just too bad the Mets organization is still at a place where they badly needed to make such a trade.

Timing is everything.  And the two teams are a prime example of what I mean when I say that you can’t control results, only process.  On the surface, this looks like a deal between a 90 win team and a 60 win team, but if you look strictly at results, the Mets were the better team last year.  They won 74 games and the Jays won 73.

The Jays, however, are miles ahead in terms of where the teams are in their rebuilding processes.  All the luck in the world probably wouldn’t have saved the Mets, but the Jays had enough talent to have parlayed better luck into a playoff run.

Looking at the situation here, the Mets are one year ahead of the Cubs in their rebuilding process in terms of when they decided to stop throwing money at players and hire a new front office that puts an emphasis on value.  The Mets are led by Sandy Alderson, and their aim, like the Cubs, is to build the kind of organization I spoke of at the beginning of this piece.  Yet, after just over 2 full years of rebuilding, the Mets don’t seem any closer to making the playoffs.   In fact, until the deal they didn’t seem much further along in building their foundation. Before the trade with the Jays, their farm system was still relatively weak, even when compared with the Cubs, much less the Jays.

The Mets re-signed David Wright, giving them one MLB core player, albeit slightly older than you’d like given where the Mets are now.  Perhaps if Ike Davis can stay healthy, he’s a second core piece.  The Mets also have two young, promising pitchers in Matt Harvey and Tim Wheeler.  After that they had some talent, but it was highly speculative at best.  They needed to add a couple more potential core pieces for the future and this deal accomplished exactly that.

The Jays, meanwhile, are on an accelerated path.  They are just one year ahead of the Mets (and 2 ahead of the Cubs) in terms of when they hired their current GM, Alex Anthropoulos.  While they won just 73 games, they exemplify what Theo Epstein meant when they said that “progress is not linear”.  In three consecutive seasons since Anthropolous took over the Jays have won 85 in 2010, then 81 in 2011, and down to 73 in 2012.  They are now the favorites in the Al East going into 2013.

Granted, the Jays were ahead of both the Cubs and Mets in terms of talent when Anthropoulos was hired as GM, though he did have a hand in that progress too, rising through the ranks as a scouting director and then Asst. GM before getting hired as the GM after the 2009 season.

In some ways, though, the Cubs rebuilding process, at least the farm system portion, started with the 2011 draft when the Cubs selected many of their current top prospects, including Javier Baez, Dan Vogelbach, and Dillon Maples.  They’ve now added about a full year of rebuilding with the new front office when you consider the time it took to get everything cleared.

I would hope that by this time next year, the Cubs don’t find themselves in the position of essentially having no choice but to trade a top starter who figures to have at least 2-3 good years left, as many feel about R.A. Dickey.  The goal is that the Cubs make enough progress in 2013 in terms of what they do on and off the field that they don’t feel like they need to trade good starters who still have a few years left.  While the Cubs don’t have a Cy Young winner, they do have talented guys like Matt Garza and Scott Baker.  Should they bounce back and have great years, I’d like the Cubs to be close enough to where keeping them is at least a legitimate option.  I don’t mean this to say that they shouldn’t trade them at all if they think they can improve the team going forward, but I hope they aren’t in the position the Mets were with Dickey.  I hope they aren’t still an organization that is in such need of young, core potential impact talent that they have no choice but to set the clock back another two years, as the Mets have seemingly done.

That is why I say that while I think the Mets pulled off a great trade under the circumstances, I’d be lukewarm about it if the Cubs had to do the same thing this time next year and flat out disappointed if they had to do it two years from now.

I understand that as far as the rebuilding process goes, patience is still required.  The Cubs are much closer to the Mets than the Jays.  If the Cubs had a chance to make the same trade today from the Mets side, they’d have to make it.  It’d be a no-brainer.

I just hope that need isn’t that clear cut a year from now and that in two years, the Cubs will be in a position similar to where the Jays are now.  By then, the goal should be that the process is far enough along  to at least consider the option of not just making a run — but perhaps even going full speed ahead, with the pedal pressed firmly against the floorboard.  Like the Jays, you want to be in the position where 3 extra short term wins could result in all the difference in the world.

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  • Excellent job putting things in perspective John. I appreciate the way you pull us back and help us see things from 50,000 ft.

  • In reply to KSCubsFan:

    Thanks KS! I like the way you put that. For better or worse, I'm definitely wired to see things in big pictures.

  • In reply to John Arguello:


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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Hey John - I think TimWheeler = Zack Wheeler in your piece. Great article though!

  • How about Soriano (plus $26 million) and Dan Vogelbach to the Rangers of Mike Ott?

  • In reply to Craig:

    I'd consider something like that. Cubs get an MLB ready player -- Rangers get win-now help and a prospect to replace Olt. Probably comes down to how Texas feels about Soriano as the guy to help them this year.

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    In reply to Craig:

    I'd be really reticent about dealing Vogelbach right now. If you look in our minor league system, he's one of the very few guys with potential of being a Top-5-in-all-of-baseball prospect. (I'd put the list at Vogelbach, Soler, Baez.) To trade him this young, before he's anywhere close to AA, is counterproductive to the rebuild. When we trade him, we want someone like David Price on the other side of the coin, not Mike Olt. Or, perhaps, he plays first and we trade Anthony Rizzo to restock our farm system. Many options -- but none of them exist if we trade Vogelbach this young.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Can we start a petition to the MLB offices to make the DH universal? I actually hate the DH rule, but I am starting to come around...I can see the writing on the wall that one day it will happen and it would be nice for a break to go the Cubs' way for a change, just when Vogelbach is heading to the majors...but our luck it will happen the day after they trade him.

  • In reply to DoubleM:

    I think DH gives AL an enormous advantage against the NL.AL should get rid of it or NL should go with 2 DH's until they do.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I agree with you 100%. You don't want to have your very high ceiling guys just thrown in on deals. I think TB is great at trading guys once they have blossomed. Look what they got for Garza, Shields and Davis. I would much rather see Vogelbach spend 3 more years in the minors to fully develop his potential. Then we can better decide if he will be He Sop Choi or Babe Ruth. We will also better know what Rizzo will be. He may improve and be a monster or he might regress or get hurt. To put it in a business mindset, Sell high(Majors), not low(Minors).

  • Hello John , first time commenter , but long time fan . What do you think about the idea of trading prospects for Justin Masterson of the Indians . He seems to me to be a bounce back candidate . Where do you see his potential as whether it be a number two or three pitcher and what type of return would the Indians expect ?

  • In reply to walterj:

    I think you have to be sure he'll not just bounce back but also improve to trade prospects. You have to think that he can repeat the control/command he showed in 2011 because he really hasn't done that any other year. Without that level of command, he's a #4 starter, or a mid rotation guy at best, and won't be worth the kind of prospects the Indians would ask for.

  • Excellent article John! The Blue Jays should be a blueprint for the Cubs. If you build up a great farm system , then when you are close you can use the prospects to get a difference maker.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Thanks Steve. That's where the Cubs want to be. Not that they'll take that pedal to the metal approach, but they should at least build the depth and talent level to have that as an option.

  • Well, that's one suitor less out of the SP market, increasing the Cubs chances to land another FA starter, especially Carlos Villanueva, who was linked to return to the Jays.

  • In reply to Caps:

    AA never seemed in love with Garza. Always considered him a #3 at best, so I'm okay with Jays moving on. TX seems to like Garza better and seem willing to pay more.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Kapman said the other day that the day Garza got injured there was a deal in place with the Rangers involving Mike Olt, a top pitching prospect and another prospect for Garza... He said it was a "killer deal" for the Cubs.

    And seeing the prices for Shields, Dickey and others... I feel there's still a chance the Cubs sell high on Garza, if not, then I hope we work on an extension.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Agreed. Though selling high at this point would be difficult because i think even teams confident in Garza's health will want a discount. Can't say I blame them.

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    I'm not sure the Jays are all that close. Time will tell. Many of the players acquired from the Marlins had terrible years last year.

    I certainly don't want the Cubs to be in a position where they're trading young talent for past-their-prime players on the wrong end of major contracts.

    I see a lot of players making desperation moves to win.

    Personally, I don't understand the rush for the Cubs to win.

    You can hope for a season like the Orioles and A's just had, but those teams overachieved by any critic's measure. And overachieving is invariably followed by a return to the mean.

    Our farm system is improving quickly but I don't think any of our prospects have top-10 potential.

    I think the teams long term outlook is much better served by accumulating talent for another couple years until some of that talent starts hitting the big leagues.

    Personally, I don't want to be where the Jays are.

    I want to be where the Nationals are. Flush with young talent, with more in the pipeline. Winning games and potential for a decade of winning based on your core pieces.

    And the fact is, the Nationals wouldn't be where they are without having a few years of being just plain awful.

    It's not fun to watch but Theo has been very clear that the main goal is long-term, sustained success.

    If you had to predict, between the Jays and Bats, who is in line for sustainable success, its not even close.

    For now, losing might be our best friend.
    I think we're too far away to be holding on to any players on the roster that aren't young core pieces.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    I don't fully understand the lose to win mentality since it rarely works in baseball. It's a starting point, maybe, but it's not a long term plan.

    You can point to the Rays eventual success, I guess, but every team -- even the Rangers and Braves, who are good models to follow, made bigger short term deals when they felt they were getting close.

    The Nationals are a tough comp at first glance because they got two once in a decade players with first picks. That's dumb luck and fortunate timing. It's not a plan. But after that, even they made big FA/trade moves after a couple of years, starting with an overpayment of a past his prime player in Jayson Werth -- and this coming of a 69 win season, then trading their top prospects last year for Gio Gonzalez -- which was a huge risk, especially coming off yet another below .500 season. If anything, it looks like the Jays are following the Nats plan.

    Mets have lost for 2 years, basically on purpose, and now they've probably set their team back another 2 years -- assuming D'Arnaud stays at catcher and becomes a star and Syndegaard is ready to contribute in 2 years.

    The Jays have a much better chance of winning in the next 3 years than the Mets do (and at least an equal chance of winning after that0, and AA has only had a year head start on Alderson running that team. I'll take being the Jays over the Mets without hesitation. I'll take the Nats too, because they weren't satisfied watching their team continue to lose year after year. Eventually you have to make that leap -- all the successful teams do it, while all the unsuccessful ones (KC, Pitt, etc.) don't. KC going for it this year. Don't agree with the moves, but i do like the approach. You can't rebuild by losing year after year and hope that suddenly you'll have enough prospects to win.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    While you have a point on stumbling on 2 once in a generation players, I counter that, barring a Major injury, Carlos Rodon will be the first clear cut #1 in several years when his time cones.

    And I certainly don't advocate losing year after year. Not even close.

    I just think that we're 3 to 4 seasons from being a genuine competitor, so acquiring ant players that aren't clearly one of the top 2 or 3 at their position in the MLB is a mistake. Those players would have to play for too long on a middling team, wasting value.

    And just to further clarify, while I think we're 3-4 years from being a legit team, one that is EXPECTED to make the playoffs....that doesn't mean I want to wait that long to sign FAs.
    I think 2 years would be the perfect time to start signing FAs and acquiring new major league players.

    Losing year after year in Chicago? No way.
    But, just for now, rushing to win will just turn us from an awful team into a very bad team.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    I agree with where you think the cubs are in this; the nats were very bad for 4 years before they got worse and were the number 1 pick for two years in a row. 6 years total and the last two were number one picks and luck? franchise players. Don't think teams line up for that number one pick when they see a franchise type player coming down the road? Watch Houston.

    I think the cubs are worse off than the Mets and the jays. The mets still have top level major league talent to trade from their free spending days, and the Jays have had a better stocked farm system for seems like decades. The cubs have neither, garza went from possibly erratic to seemingly unreliable, not what you expect from an ace. And then there are Marmol, Soriano, and maybe Dejesus as major league trade bait, not a cy young type player among em. The Jays two prospects in the deal whould be where in the cubs top twenty? both top 5? The cubs farm system is virtually void of top level pitching and that can take forever to develop through the draft and may not be possible to get through trades with what the cubs have to offer at this point. This leaves you closer to where the Nats were 5 or 6 years ago than to where either the mets or jays were yesterday. FA, and deals like the sanchez one, may be your last, best hope for any short term, 3-4 year turn arounds. That's how you get the owner on the plane to florida to try and land sanchez.

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    In reply to eddie35:

    You say that the Bats were bad for a few years before they were awful. The last 3 years our losses have been 87, 91, and 101.

    We're already there.
    I just think we hurt our long term plans by picking up players that will not prevent us from being a mediocre to BAD team.

    The Astros were clearly tanking last year. We weren't and still were just barely better.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    Well put Giffmo,

    Am a Cubs fan by birth - relatively recent transplant into the DC metro area. What you write applies to what both the Nats, and to a lesser extent Orioles have done over the last couple of years. With the Orioles - it remains to be seen whether they are a flash in the pan, one-time thing - but the Nats appear to be on the right track for years to come barring a rash of injuries to their youngsters.

    Watching the Nats play - even 3 seasons ago - was a painful experience. They were in the same place then that the Cubs were last season in a lot of ways. Now - they can fill in gaps with Free Agents, to cover the few remaining holes in those that came up through their farm system. Young arms, young legs, and I thought that their move for Gio Gonzales was a sign that they were 'ready' to contend. Sure enough - they were.

    Next season for the Cubs will be sad and hard to watch - but I expect to see flashes of what is to come - much like I was seeing from the Nats 2 seasons ago. By 2015 - the Cubs should be ready to field a contending team, and will have built a farm system to back up the big-league team's long-term success.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    We all want the Cubs to rebuild and from the ground up. I think that's always been our stance here.

    That said, I think there has to be some balance. And you have to take opportunities when they present themselves. The Sanchez pursuit is an example. If you think there's a guy out there who fits, and that can help you win now and in the future, you have to try and get them when you have the chance.

    Now you will always lean toward the long term in the beginning of the rebuild, and that's where the Cubs are now and for next year as well. If they're going to make a big move, they're going to be for long term assets.

    At some point, perhaps in the next 2 years, that emphasis will begin to shift back some toward the short term (while still balancing the long term, of course). If the Cubs don't get to that point in 2 years, then something went wrong and they're behind schedule.

  • I think the Mets made out like Bandits. If, and only If The Blue Birds win at least the AL pennant is this a win/win..... I don't see a 38yo knuckle-baller being that much of a difference maker for this team and clearly they'd be better off in 3 years with those young potential core players.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I don't disagree that the Mets won this deal, but would you rather be the Mets or the Jays right now? Not just for next year, but for the next few years?

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    You know who looks awful here? The Marlins. They gave up substantially more than the Mets, and couldn't even get D'Arnaud out of it.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    They do.

    But the Jays are willing to pay a higher price now. Timing plays a role. Before the deal, the Jays had some holes in the MLB roster on a good, but not great team -- still a long shot to win AL East.

    After that Marlins trade, they were no longer a long shot, they were now in the thick of it. Suddenly gaining those extra 2-3 wins became much more valuable. Sometimes it pays to be the last ones to the party.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Still no guarantee. IF the best team on paper won it every year, the Yankees would have had like 10 straight titles.... I think it's an awfully big gamble on the Jays part.

    Then again, I'm just NOT a big fan of Dickey. Time will tell, but I really think the Jays are paying for past performance here.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Conceptually, I'd rather be the team that thinks and feels like they're just one piece away from contention (Jays). But to answer your question, I'd rather be the Mets in this transaction because they just traded a 38yo pitcher, with one year of control remaining, and a bit of an attitude to boot... for some legit prospects.

    But really, the only teams in MLB that I envy are the Nationals & Rangers... They seem to be contenders now and loaded for the future both.

  • Good post in the NYTimes about the Dickey trade:

  • In reply to baseballet:

    Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

  • Timing really is everything. It's like some old 8-bit game where you have to time when you drop 5 different pieces that fall at different rates so that they land at the same time. What do you think is the best gauge of our progress as we go from where the Mets are to where the Jays are? Depth of the system?

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    I think depth of the system is a big factor. You have to get at the point where you can make trades without decimating your system. I dont think the Cubs are there yet. The Jays are.

    You also have to assess the talent on your roster honestly. I think we can say the Jays had enough talent to be competitive until they were decimated by injuries even before the trade. They also have to take into consideration that guys like Bautista and Encarnacion aren't getting younger. They have to go for it soon or start all over.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Crazy the amount of balls they have to juggle timing-wise. They have to time contract lengths and prospects' ETAs while still maintaining positional depth and eventually number of wins at the major league level. Then they get to do it all over again and reevaluate at *least* twice a year at the trade deadline and during the offseason.

  • I love what we are trying to do with pitching and defense, but i am worried about where we are going on offense. OBP and patient hitting are nice but don't you need some power. Soler and V-bomb are the only power sources in the system that I see. I just hope we don't turn into a small ball team.

  • In reply to cbbiefun2014:

    Javier Baez may have just as much power potential than those 2... Brett Jackson has 20 hr power potential, Junior Lake has some hidden monster power (Seen him hit a 500 ft hr in AA), Josh Vitters could develop 15-20 hr power.

    Other guys with power potential include Jeimer Candelario, Rock Shoulders, Albert Almora (projected 15-20 hr type of guy), Reggie Golden...

    Well, keep in mind I'm just talking about power potential and not about chances of them panning out... I think our minor league power hitters are doing good, it's the MLB roster the one lacking power hitters, IMO, especially if they trade Soriano.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Agree, Caps. And let's not forget that at the major league level, Castro's bat could be producing a higher SLG in the next several seasons as well. He hit 14 HRs last year. If he's hitting .300ish with 20+ HRs and playing an above average SS, that's considered very good power from that position. Rizzo looks to be a 30+ HR producer. Welington Castillo has a good chance to put up around 15 HRs from the catcher's spot. The 3 key long term pieces the Cubs have in place at the major league level all have good power ability as well. It's not just Soriano. Though, if/when he moves on, the OF will be devoid of any meaningful HR hitters. That's where trades/signings and the Cubs minor league depth comes into play.

  • *Zach Wheeler*...

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Remember Theo talking about "parallel fronts" , shortly after accepting the Cubs Presidency...well then came the new CBA annoucement & overspending for draft picks went out the window, so now the draft-edge goes toward the top picking teams[all else being fairly equal] Therefore, I see the Cubs being conservative on FA's yet this year until they can stock their farm with better prospects before going after impact FA's in 2014 & beyond.

  • For me, this rebuild is going well. I like the image of building waves of talent, and I think the Cubs, thus far, have done a good job of doing just that. The talent starting in Kane County this season should be the best example of the next big wave to crash on the shores of Lake Michigan. Top to bottom, there are decent to great prospects on that team.

    Though the upper levels won't be devoid of talent either. The next biggest wave, in my opinion, is the closest. Iowa has several players that could contribute meaningfully in the near future. They have adjustments to make and things to prove, but Jackson, Vizcaino, Vitters, Lake, Loux, Watkins and McNutt could all be contributing worthwhile production in Wrigley in 2014. Daytona's wave is less in numbers but has greater impact with Baez, Soler, Wells and possibly Pierce Johnson. Tennessee has a wave of their own though more question marks exist among them. Villanueva, Szczur, Torreyes, Alcantara, Whitenack and Hendricks are all possibilites.

    The waves are coming, some stronger than others, but Theo and company have done an excellent job making waves where there were only a few ripples a year ago. I like the rebuild job they've done so far.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Well said, sir!!

  • In reply to Quedub:

    I'd feel better about it if the waves had a few starting pitchers in them, the cubs are behind where they need to be there for any sort of quick 3 or 4 year turn arounds. Flipping free agent signings for pitching prospects may be the only avenue still open to them to address this, and that will be a matter of luck too since you have to hope to match finding a team with a need with a team with a SP prospect you want and they'll part with, that's drawing to an inside straight.

  • In reply to eddie35:

    I think everybody in the front office recognizes the need for front end pitching prospects, but there is only so much you can do in one year.

    However, they did manage to add Arodys Vizcaino, who before TJS was a top 30 starting pitching prospect. They added a lot of pitching via the draft as well. Duane Underwood probably has the highest ceiling of the draftees and can also be considered a top of the rotation prospect, but he is years away. Pierce Johnson has the stuff to be a #3 and could advance quickly. Barret Loux and Kyle Hendricks, two mid to back of the rotation prospects both from the Ranger organization, were also added in the past year and are a year or two away if they develop.

    They're trying man. The inability to trade Garza hurt their ability to acquire top arms at higher levels. But overall, I think they're doing pretty well. And keep in mind that there are 2-3 really solid college arms that the Cubs will have the chance to add in this June's draft. The arms are coming.

  • John,
    Great article first off. I believe it is better to combine MLB talent with prospects to get a greater return. I don't think Vogelbach with be in the Cubs organization by 2014 season and that will break my youngest heart. There are many others I don't think will be with the organization that were pick ups from the Henry era.

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