I was among the most vocal in hoping for the Cubs to lose for a draft pick two years ago. They, of course, did just that and wound up with 100 losses and the second pick in the draft. In this stretch, a series in Colorado September 25-27 became one of the most important events in recent Cub history. The Cubs were swept. The Rockies finished with the third worst record in baseball that year by 3 games. If the Cubs had won two of three games in that series, the Rockies — who also loved Kris Bryant — would have had the second pick.
This year, however, I find myself pulling for this team to win.
Some of the reasons for this have been covered in articles and on the boards for a while. Simply, that 2012 team contained two guys who were long term pieces: Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Jeff Samardzija, who we thought at the time would stick around for a while, had been shut down in early September. The majority of that roster was AAA filler who have since fallen off the map entirely. The September 16th lineup, for example, contained Joe Mather, Darwin Barney, and Dave Sappelt. Tony Campana also entered that game. This is in addition to older players David DeJesus and Alfonso Soriano who everyone knew were short timers on the North Side. I haven’t even mentioned the rotation and bullpen. This year’s team contains multiple people that will either be big or small pieces on the contending team: Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront, Luis Valbuena — the one real find in the 2012 waiver wire pickup of the week — Chris Coghlan, and our collection of power bullpen arms. This is over half the 24 man roster. If they can’t play at least .500, adding big pieces to it isn’t going to matter much.
In a sense, this can be thought of as the cost of losing. When the 2012 team lost, there was no damage to future teams because most of the guys on the team weren’t going to be here in the future. When the 2014 team loses, that represents a real cost to the future because it means players we want to win with are not winning. Note that this ignores any benefit that may come from a swagger the team gets when they win.
However, we haven’t really considered the benefit to losing. Consider where the organization was in 2012. Our minor league system had started to rebound, but all of these players hadn’t yet been added:
- Kris Bryant
- Jake Arrieta
- Addison Russell
- Kyle Schwarber
- C.J. Edwards
- Mike Olt
- Neil Ramirez
- Justin Grimm
- Pedro Strop
- Eloy Jimenez
- Gleyber Torres
- Billy McKinney
- Jen Ho Tseng
- Corey Black
- Carson Sands
- Dylan Cease
The list is printed this way to emphasize the volume of talent that has been added to the system since September of 2012. It’s also worth noting that at the time our top prospect, Javier Baez, had already been identified as having one of the highest ceilings in baseball but matched it with a very low floor. The system badly needed more talent. In that situation, the value of losing to gain the highest pick possible was quite high. The Cubs increased their benefit from the picks by taking very safe players to maximize the likelihood of getting impact players. This allowed them to rebuild the system quicker than if they’d picked in the mid-to-late teens. As the Cardinals have shown, you can get good players there. But it requires a lot more luck than if you pick earlier.
But, now, the situation has changed. Yes, you could always use more prospects and there are no guarantees that ones we have will pan out. But the system is so strong that we can survive with a pick in the 8-12 range in a way we couldn’t two years ago. To put it another way, as strong as the system has become, the relative impact of one more elite prospect will be much lower than it was two years ago.
So, if we think of the value of winning as the benefit minus the cost, the value of wins today is higher than it was two years ago as benefit has increased and cost has decreased.
However, another aspect of value is time. In 2012 winning was further away. Adding a player who was 2 years away was adding someone that would be a piece to the team the front office expected to compete. Now, anyone the Cubs add will be reinforcements down the line. I’m clearly not saying that we can strip the system bare now, but the importance of someone who won’t be ready until 2017 is somewhat limited to a team that plans to compete in 2015 and 2016.
It’s been a long road. But we’re moving into the phase where it’s better for the team if the Cubs win. And the players are obliging us on that.
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