The Turn of the Tide: Why I'm No Longer Rooting Against the Cubs

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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  • At this point with a higher first round pick they might be able to go after someone like a Jeff Hoffman-type, if someone like that emerges in the 2015 draft.

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    In reply to jorel1114:

    It will be interesting to see what they do in this situation. They did seem to genuinely like Conforto if Schwarber hadn't been available so he may have been the pick.

    Right now, the happiest people in the world at this winning streak have to be the Rockies who had two straight hitters they loved stolen away from them by the Cubs.

    If the draft were held today, I think my early pick of DJ Stewart would be the guy but a lot of stuff still has to happen before draft day. If Stewart goes on a home run barrage he'd never make it to us.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I mentioned DJ Stewart yesterday and I have started to do some research on him. Safe to say I'm intrigued, but it is obviously a long ways away.

  • In reply to Javier Bryant:

    DJ has the plus/plus makeup the Cubs regime loves. That alone will put them very high on their list. He's probably the best college hitter, and that's who they have taken the last two years. Outstanding plate approach (more walks than K's last year), solid power, solid LF defense. It's really early right now, but the mocks have him at around the same place as Schwarber last year (12-20).....Although their so much talk about advanced metrics, etc. nowadays in baseball, the fact is that despite the lip service most teams still drool for tools, and toolbox type players with tons of projection. Their is a ton of value assigned to position as well, their are just so few that can play SS, C, CF, 3B and on down the line. The fact that Stewart plays LF will prevent him from being top 10 in this draft even if he crushes this year. Bryant was not only a special case but also had positional value from 3B.

    I would also argue that it was a weaker draft at the top than the upcoming one, so I am pretty confident that between the inefficiency related to the undervaluing of college hitters, and the lower value of his position, he will be their for the Cubs to take when their pick comes up somewhere between 7-12. Moody made the case for him right after this last draft, but being unsure about Schwarbers position (LF or C), and thinking that we would still have a top 5 choice, I thought it was still a long shot....but now with a good chance Schwarber is staying at Catcher, combined with winning more and the resulting slide in draft picks, it just makes too much sense. The more I read about him, and watch video of him, the more he seems like exactly the Cubs kind of player. Still a long ways to go until the draft...but I think it's clear what I think will happen.

  • In reply to jorel1114:

    Really !!!!! Cause without his arm injury Hoffman would have anywhere between the 2nd and possibly dropped to the 5th pick at worst. After getting his TJ surgery he still went 9th

  • I completely agree that winning is more important than dropping 5-7 spots in the draft now. I feel after the top 2-3 players in most drafts, it comes down to team preference. The Cubs aren't going to miss out on a sure thing by drafting 12th instead of 7th.

  • Thoughtful analysis, Mike.

  • Good stuff. I think it's always important to understand that context changes. We get used to some of the things Theo/Jed have said about the value of wins late in the season.

    But the context has changed. Long term players are on the field, we did talk about changing the culture, it makes the team more attractive to free agents, and it could impact the TV deal the Cubs get.

    We know as fans who have followed closely that the Cubs are turning things around, but the business side of the game likes to see tangible results.

    There is a benefit now to the Cubs winning that, as Mike said in his piece, did not exist before. We should never weigh a draft pick as having static value, the value is always relative to other costs and benefits as well as the current status of the organization as a whole..

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I am selfish and want both though. I want the long term players to play well, but I also want one last top pick before their picks are unprotected for a decade plus.

  • In reply to Gunther Dabynsky:

    I agree....I don't mind if Wada gets shelled today and we lose 7-6, with Baez, Mendy and Soler being the big factors in the 6 runs. The only starters I care to see do great are Arrieta and Hendricks. I'd like to see some consistency from Doubront and Turner, though not sure as much as I'd rather have a higher pick.

    I actually look at this period like many look at minor league stats, particularly class A. I want to see Mendy, Soler and Baez demonstrate growth and learning. If they dominate while doing so, great. If not, that is ok too.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, how about an article on the "business side", with some "gory math"? I realize that much of the data is privileged, but what about some educated guesses about the overall (non)profitability of the franchise, present and future?

  • In reply to wthomson:

    Brett did a phenomenal job breaking down the drivers of the cubs' financial position and spending capability.

  • I'll never be a 'fan' of losing to win (in the long term) - not that I am saying anybody here likes watching inept Cubs teams lose.

    BUT I understand some of the benefits in the long-term to having done so.

    The other advantage of having done so - AND having had some very adroit trading, scouting, and drafting accompany those down years - is that now instead of having to look at the Farm system and try and figure out who among those guys might be an impact talent - we have the much more interesting (and challenging for trying to sustain the future stability of the system) of trying to figure out whom among (for example) the potential SS guys fits the future team best, and at what defensive position.

    I remain a fan of the often maligned Corey Patterson - but fact is - when he was coming out of the Farm a decade+ ago,.... he was 'the' offensive prospect. A few years ago Vitters and Bjax were 'the' offensive prospects.

    Now - if a few fail to develop to their ceilings, get hurt along the way, or need to be traded to fill missing pieces,.... the system is robust enough to take the hit.

    Love It!

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I agree with you, though to be fair, when Patterson was in A ball, the combination of Kelton, Patterson, Choi and Goldblach all looked good to me (I actually wrote a weekly article on a Cubs blog at that time and interviewed them).

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    In reply to drkazmd65:

    Actually if one of our prospects falters it will do nothing but make some decisions easier. Not that I want them to falter but rather than hanging all our hopes on 1-3 prospects and if one of them falters we are doomed we have a situation where if a couple of them falter we will just shift around our proposed line-ups and defensive arrangements.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I'd rather have hard decisions.

  • I myself never wanted the team to lose. All the losing hurt like hell, but I understood there was a silver lining to all the L's. I'm happy as can be because the W flag seem like a permanent thing over Wrigley.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I guess that is the way I would put it. The passionate part of being a fan takes over for me and I never liked seeing them lose -- yet I understood the importance of it. I understood it had to happen, but I never liked it. It was as if I just wanted to fast forward to the end of the season, look up and see that the Cubs got the #2 pick. But watching it unfold was ugly and painful to watch.

    This year it's not as cut and dry. I still don't want to see them lose, but now there are benefits to winning. They may not all be measurable or have a direct impact on what happens next year but it's hard to convince me the Cubs would not get some benefit from these players developing nicely and playing well and winning can sometimes be a "consequence" of that.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The comments from Kyle Hendricks the other day that the guys won in the minors and now expect to win at this level too, made me think that maybe the losing and especially all of the turnover was necessary to flush out that additude and create the "cubs way". I hated the losing, I have said it before I was dissapointed in the major league team, I could not in my heart root for them to lose, even though i knew logically that was the best approach. I did talk myself into thinking that they would surprise to the upside in 2014, I guess it happened, just not how I had envisioned.

  • In reply to less disappointed:

    Also if they can finish 500 wothout Rizzo and Casto, I think that is a huge accomplishment. You would essentially be adding 3 huge pieces (Bryant) to the lineup next year.

  • I am loving what this team of youngsters is doing. According to baseball reference, the average age on the Cubs is 26.9 and that includes guys like Veras(33) and Whiteside(34) still. I am still very high on Olt and I hope he contributes to the success of the team in a big way when he comes back.

  • In reply to LetTheKidsPlay:

    For what its worth, the average age of the other NL Central teams are:
    Cin: 29
    StL: 28.8
    Pit: 27.3
    Mil: 28.8

  • In reply to LetTheKidsPlay:

    And it's not just the MLB team. Look at the ages on our AAA and AA teams.

    I went to a Iowa at Nashville (Brewers AAA) game in May and the difference in team ages was striking. All of the Cubs were low 20s while many of the Brewers' futures were already 27+. Example : Nashville's 3B was 27 year old Jeff Bianchi while Iowa's Christian Villanueva was 23 (since replaced by 22 year old Kris Bryant).

  • In reply to LetTheKidsPlay:

    I'd opine that that is very unlikely. I have been very disappointed in what we've seen from Olt. Valbuena is light years ahead of him currently.

  • There are other tangible benefits to winning other than it meaning long term pieces are producing at the major league level. Higher TV ratings means a bigger TV deal in the future, more winning means they are going to sell more tickets in the off season, free agents will see the Cubs as a team on a rise instead of somewhere to go collect a pay check for a few years. I hope the Cubs win the rest of their games. This team is starting to feel real 2007-2008 Blackhawky

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    In reply to Ike03:

    I don't disagree with that. There are a lot of reasons to win. I will say I think the ratings argument is a bit overblown. The negotiations will really be done over historical ratings and while recent ratings will have an impact, the new WBBM deal suggests it won't be as big as some suggest.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    The recent ratings at least give proof to the Cubs' contention that fans will come back. But you're right, it won't be a bonanza. The biggest problem is that the rights are split for now.

  • In reply to Greggie Jackson:

    The 2019-20 deal will be a can bank on it, mark this post, or whatever...The deal will be huge. Let me put it this way, if their was a way for me to put money on it, I would go all in.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    The reason ratings for the Cubs have dropped so far is that half the fans have known that the team has been in a dormant period, so to speak, waiting for the reinforcements, while the other half who don't follow player development have not been provided the annual hope of at least a mid-level free agent signing or three to give the illusion that success was right around the corner.

    I'm guess ratings did better during the up and down years in the 2000s when there was always something to root for and spurts of success. Hendry was always wheeling and dealing and it was visible to the casual fan.

    It amazes me how few people, many Cubs fans included, have no clue what a juggernaut could be lurking. But those who are aware have started to tune back in.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    RE: "The negotiations will really be done over historical ratings "

    Don't know what you mean by "historical ratings" but I completely disagree. The most important time frame for the negotiations will be the last year, 3 years, and 5 year ratings....but the negotiations will be finalized in 2019 hich means that 5 years is basically starting right now....So what happens from here on out with respect to the team and it's ratings will be a HUGE determinant of the size of the final contract....but historical rating are not even close to the whole story, networks media purchasers certainly weigh future projections...and much more than you would intuitively think. If a team has a huge following because they have been winning for a some years, but then dismantles their team and is about to rebuild, that will have a huge effect on what the purchaser will project for future revenues.....but even more importantly than all this will be the structure of the deal, i.e. The Cubs could start a new network with partners and therefore get around how much of the revenue/profit they mus contribute to MLB....just like LA did, which is why them and MLB negotiated for a different cut versus a standard pay for games tv deal. However, even that will be determined on how the team does these next 5 years because the Cubs will be able to find partner much easier, who are also willing to take less if they are a hot commodity...that's just simple logic when you have a product that is in more demand.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    I'm pretty sure Mike was just referring to the 'WGN' games in the near term.

    Your right, it is going to be huge in 2019. I'm really interested in how it is put together. There are so many variables going into it.

  • In reply to Greggie Jackson:

    Oh, if you guys are talking about the short term deal for just the WGN games to get us to 2019, then I completely agree. Sorry, didn't mean to jump in the koolaid not knowing the flavor.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    No worries.

  • In reply to Ike03:

    Ill also say this-leys start giving Tom Ricketts some credit. Hes been put thru a wringer over the losing, but hes stuck with what his baseball people have been telling him, and leaving those like Crane Kenney out of the process. Remember, the Blackhawks rise to success started when Bill Wirtz died and Rocky Wirtz took over. Same with the Cubs. When this team succeeds, lets remember Tom Ricketts contributions.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    True. Good leaders put the best people they can find in place and then trust them to do what they were hired to do.

  • In reply to AggBat:

    And whatever Theo has asked for, Ricketts was willing to pay for it.

  • I think everyone realized the team had no chane of the playoffs in 2012 or 13. That meant the amount of losing only mattered for the draft pick position and the added slot and IFA money. The draft pick and IFA signings are a result of losing a lot.

    The trades and signing flip players to deal at the deadline had nothing to do with finishing at the bottom of the standings. The acquisitions of Arrieta, Strop, Russell, McKinney, Ramirez, Olt, Grimm, Edwards was shrewd asset management, nothing more. They could have made those same moves if they were 5 games under .500 or 40 games under.

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    In reply to mjvz:

    Agreed but having acquired them does change the rules of the game a bit. While it would still be great to add a guy like Brady Aiken to the mix it isn't nearly as big a deal with Russell there since we can trade Castro or Baez for a replacement and not hurt the major league team as much.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    I'm hoping the Cubs use a combination of signing a big arm and trading for a top pitching prospect or established MOR guy to minimize what they lose in terms of player capital. Because I do think they need to add two impact arms over the next couple years.

    Baez for Syndergard would be fine, but those kind of trades (prospect for prospect) never seem to happen. And I'm not so sure about trading Castro, who seems to be a good bet to consistently repeat the season he has had this year gauging from how he has looked.

    I wonder what kind of return the Cubs could get using some kind of combination of the following players (with no more than three being shipped out): Almora, Schwarber, McKinney, Edwards, Vizcaino, Johnson, Vogelbach.

    Maybe you sweeten a Baez or Castro pot by including one of the above. So many possibilities. But I still like the idea of using money to acquire players first if the right guys are available. Everybody wants to win a trade and it's tough to see the Cubs getting equal value trading prospects for pitching talent (especially with hitters now undervalued and pitchers overvalued).

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Making the trades to pick up those guy probably wouldn't have happened if the team was only 5 games under at the time.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    They absolutely would have still occured in that scenario. Outside of Shark, no one they tradd was ever intended to be a long term asset. If they were leading the division or wild card, then maybe its a different discussion.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    I think they had preliminary discussions with Garza about an extension. But the combination of his inability to stay healthy, meh performance, wanting to be paid like a #2, and twitter antics did him in...

  • In reply to mjvz:

    It is not quite accurate to say that signing players to flip had nothing to do with finishing at the bottom of the standings. There is little doubt that if we had retained Feldman and Garza last year, we would not have finished low enough to get Schwarber, sands, Steele and Cease. and the retention of Dempster and Maholm would probably have kept us from getting Bryant.

    It was certainly good roster management, but roster management that would probably not have taken place if we had been over .500 and had a shot at the playoffs.

    The same for this year. This front office may have had the courage to trade Samardzija and Hammel even though we were in the fight for the playoffs, but I have my doubts. I don't think that they ever made a trade IN ORDER TO GET a better draft choice, but I think that the fact that they were out of the running made it easier to make the trades they did.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    He stated that he rooted for the team to lose in September 2012 because it was good for the future of the franchise. I have no problem with that, it is true. He then went on to explain the benefit of losing those games meant that it helped them acquire a big list of guys since that time, but half of them were acquired via trade and not through the draft or IFA (which are the the only avenues that are impacted by losing more).

    I guess my thinking is they never intended to compete in either of those seasons. And even if they did surprise and hover around .500 they would not have sacrficed the long term plan for a fluke season. All of those trades were going to happen anyway with the exception of Shark potentially signing long term, but that doesn't appear that the two sides were even remotely close at any point on that.

    Maybe I am just misinterpreting the article or am arguing semantics that don't matter. In the end, I think we can all agree on the theme. The losing sucked but was beneficial. The benefits of continuing to lose no longer outweight the positives of winning.

  • I agree w/ the general point for the reasons you point out, but what in your opinion is the marginal value/harm in each game won at this point if its possible to ascribe an objective value to it? Not trying not to win all-out and "trying to lose" are not necessarily one in the same IMO.

  • In reply to Good Captain:

    Should've said, "not trying to win all-out" but added an extra "not", sorry for the confusion.

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    In reply to Good Captain:

    "Marginal" is really at the core of this analysis and I decided not specifically say it. It's hard to ascribe exact numbers, but I do think the marginal benefit at this point outweighs the marginal costs.

  • In reply to Good Captain:

    The team isn't trying to win at all costs. They are using a 6 man rotation, which has been shown to adversely affect teams ability to win long term. They haven't called up Bryant. They're playing kids who are specifically there for development than what they add to the team in the present, most notably Baez.

    I think the front office has done what they can within reason to prevent this team from getting cheap wins. But that won't stop the players on the field from trying to go all out to win. And if they do it with kids, then it doesn't hurt.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Nor can anyone accuse the Cubs FO of trying to LOSE at all costs. Cutting Veres, Barney, Kalish, Shierholtz, and Lake (along with finding an EJAZ mysterious ailment) tells me they weren't into tanking in order to get a higher draft choice.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Good point.

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    In reply to DropThePuck:

    They cut Veras,Barney, and Schierholz, however, they did not "cut" Kalish and Lake. Kalish is currently on the Cubs roster and Lake may come back in September. Both are still part of the organization.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Indeed-ask yopurself today if maybe the Cubs might want to thank Ryan Dempster for his instrigence about getting traded to Atlanta. The early returns on Kyle Hendricks are far better than on Russell Delgado.

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    Still rooting for losses. Now more than ever.

    And really, things don't even need to go badly to lose. Several very good teams have lost more than they've won the past couple weeks.
    There's a enough parity in this sport that things can go very right and you still don't win.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    I'm somewhat in your camp. I want them to lose just enough games so that we wouldn't have to surrender a first round draft pick if we signed a free agent. I believe it will come down to a couple wins one way or the other, which won't impact the team's psyche going into next year. The team has gotten a taste for winning this past month and I believe that will carry over into next year. All IMHO :-)

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    Pros of losing:
    - Higher Draft Pick
    - More draft $$$
    - More IFA $$$
    - No 1st round draft pick loss by signing certain free agents.

    Pros of Winning:
    - Swag - Something to build on (Hendricks quote: "There's a lot of energy," Hendricks said of the clubhouse these days. "When I came up, there wasn't a lack of energy, but it's almost as if we're expecting to win more, I guess. ... We won in the minor leagues, so we've had that bred into us that we need to win and want to win.")
    - Better TV Ratings = better TV deal
    - More attractive to Free agents - We've lost out on a few the last couple of years, was it all money?

    Giffmo, I get what you're saying, but hoping that all of these prospects do well and we still lose is asking for a lot. If they do well, I'm cool if we win or lose. If everybody plays poorly except for a John Baker 3-5, 4 RBI day, I'd be happy with a loss. We are no longer in the have cake and eat it spot. The losses mean more than they did last year. Agree on the parity but good teams win over the long haul. Milwaukees recent slide may knock them out of the playoffs. Don't you think that sour taste bleeds into next year?

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    In reply to Break The Curse:

    I'm not convinced at all that there's really much, if any, positive or negative "momentum" going from one season to the next.

    There might be some if there were extraordinary circumstances, like Milwaukee sliding from 1st place to out of the playoffs, but that isn't even remotely close to our story this year. Even is extraordinary circumstances, I'm incredibly skeptical. Two years ago Boston had an epic collapse and won it all the following year.

    Three weeks is not much time at all, a bad stretch, in my opinion affects ZERO of 2015.

    If anything I think there's been so much positive vibes the past few weeks, that a losing stretch for the final three weeks would not even be noticed by the players. They know what we have.

    And potential free agents know full well what is coming regardless of our record this year. David Price even talked about how interesting the team is before he got traded.

    A few games gain in the standings would never be the decision point for a free agent.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    I feel a good Spring Training 2015 can (can not will) wipe out a poor September 2014.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    I wouldn't say momentum, but winning can change culture and expectations -- and perception around the league.

    This is not a great draft to pick 5th as opposed to say 10th, other than the added pool money. Just isn't any elite talent in this draft -- definitely less than last year, which was less than they year before, There are diminishing returns to losing this year in more ways than one.

    I think there is a process of an organization getting healthy and whole and I think the focus on upgrading one pick, especially in a somewhat weak draft gets far too much weight.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I still just think that every pick back is potentially a player our FO might really like being gone.

    A lost year is a lost year and at this point I think there's little to change it, good or bad.

    And if there's really no elite guys, I'd still prefer more slot money.

    And now that I'm writing this, if there's no truly elite players, that just makes me that much more sure I want the higher pick. -If there is less distance in perceived talent between the top 10 guys in the draft, then there will be more unpredictability. I'm sure there will be one or two guys that out FO identifies as favorites and if that player isn't a sure bet to go in the top 1 or 2, we could use the unpredictability to a distinct advantage.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    But the point isn't whether a 5th pick is better than the 7-10 picks. From a probability standpoint, it is. The point is that context changes and whether you should continue to play by the same rules as your environment changes or do you adapt and evolve? The real question is whether these relatively small gains/small odds outweigh the benefits that come wth progress which like it or not, often leads to winning. What is more important at this stage of the rebuilding? 2 years ago, I'd agree that that such a small gain as there seems to be this year would have been worth it. Even last year, probably -- but not to the same degree.

    Progress with the talent on the field is important, the way the rest of the league perceives the Cubs is important, the way TV stations/advertisers perceive the Cubs is important. If it helps them get a better deal, more revenue, and become a more desirable landing spot for players on the MLB team, then that is a benefit that probably outweighs the need for pick 5 over pick 7, 8, or even 10.

    You have to move forward at some point. You can't just keep repeating the same plan when the context has changed. You have to be more fluid and you have to adapt.

    Would you trade spots with the Astros, who continue to follow this plan and seemingly plan to continue to do this for the foreseeable future? Do you think anyone wants to play there? You don't think that perception hurts them?

    What about the Cubs and their efforts to land Anibal Sanchez? He was only prepared to come here if the Cubs offered significantly more money. Same with Tanaka. Perpetual losing creates it's own inefficiencies and closes it's own doors. To say there is no benefit/value to progress/winning on the field and that a higher draft pick is always more important misses the big picture. Nobody expects the Cubs to go 17-6 and finish .500, but finishing 12-11 seems plausible, even optimistic given the schedule and the injuries. That is 76 wins and at this stage, the 10th pick if everything else holds true. They are currently 8th right now, we are talking about 2 picks. If the Cubs play poorly and go 8-15 in the rest of their games, they move up one spot to 7th in the draft. Is that worth it if it potentially reverses some of the gains they have made? To get to #5, the Cubs have to lose 17 of their next 23 games and hope everything else stays equal, but if 3 key teams ahead of them are just one game worse than their current pace (plausible if we assume they choose to tank too), then it all goes for naught. The Cubs would have lost all those games for no gain in the standings. So it's not about a little below .500. it's about a collapse for the Cubs and hope the teams "ahead" of them" maintain their current paces. It would take a lot of bad performances from key players down the stretch.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    You bring up something that I was going to.

    That it's the difference between 15-7, or 7-15 at the extremes.

    Honestly: Do you think that those 6 games are the differnece in the kids making progress or not? Or the differentce in a positive perception or not?

    I think the only thing that can really be affected at this point is our draft spot. We might need some other team "help", sure. But so what?

    I don't see the benefit in winning the the 8 more games that comes with doing well vs doing poorly.

    I don't think free agents are going to say "man, if they would've won 8 more games in the last month, they'd have potential, but they clearly don't."

    I don't think the young stars will sulk over the winter about if they ONLY would've won a few more games and still come in last place.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    No, but people look at final results and that fuels perception going into the offseason. They're not going to break it down that way. People are fickle. And an 8 game swing in 22 games is pretty large. But the 15-7 isn't even worth talking about because it's unrealistic. The most realistic swing right now is trading the 8th pick for the 7th pick if the Cubs lose badly down the stretch. It just isn't worth all the fuss, the talent level difference will be marginal and largely subjective -- and the pool money isn't significant either. What you are rooting for is for the Cubs to collapse so that they can make this incredibly small gain in probability. The gain may be intangible/immeasurable, but I'd rather take that chance than move up a slot. I'd rather see the team finish well, the team go into the offseason on a high note, and do what they can to cash that in.

    Basically, you prefer the Astros plan. We can see how well that is going. I don't want to wait that long.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    And the two records, just to emphasize the swing here, isn't just 8 games, it is the difference between a .500 team and potentially one of the 4 worst teams in baseball. Just a wild guess, but if I'm a player investing my future, I will go to the .500 team with talent than a bottom 5 one with talent. The perception, whether true or not, is that one team is closer to winning than the other. Players don't think like sabermeticians, they think like Jeff Samardzija, Annibal Sanchez, Matt Garza, etc. -- even Rizzo has shown some frustration. They don't want to play on what they see as a losing ballclub. They want to see results, And if I'm Theo, I would prefer to write the sales pitch for the "better" team. If I'm Ricketts/Kenney and trying to land a TV deal or increase advanced ticket sales, it's going to be a lot easier to do that with a .500 win team. Everything comes with a cost. It doesn't exist in a vacuum where you can lose at will and everything else stays equal. If it were, then it's a no-brainer. But it isn't. If the world looked at everything rationally, then maybe you get away with that line of thinking too, but as any economist will tell you. The world doesn't act rationally.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    I think it goes without saying that we all want a higher pick and more slot money. But I prefer watching all the good that's coming out of the final stretch. When we swept the Sox last year and got the pick after them and lost out on Rodon (if we wanted him anyhow) it did suck a bit. But right now we have so much good happening with the organization that the winning culture being fostered has almost a permanent feel, and I don't want it to end. I think that in the same way a Milwaukee slide from first to out of the playoffs could have an impact next year, the winning with youth could have the same impact. I don't know for sure, I just know it feels good and I like it. Another thing to consider is that we've saved up so much money that we should be able to afford to build around our controlled studs and don't need a can't miss prospect at the top of the draft like we did before. All things are hind sight though. If we win it all in two to five years, then everything the FO did was perfect and you wouldn't change a thing.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It is rare, but I must disagree to an extent. First, we don't really know right now whether the difference between 5th and 10th will be large. Second, the cap money is quite important (as hopefully Cease, Steele and Sands will attest in the future). Finally the organization getting healthy is more about Soler, Baez and Mendy and young pitchers developing than wins -- if Wada gives up 10 runs today and we lose 10-9 (with 10 hits between the 3 above, shutout innings from Vizcaino, Ramirez, Rondon), is that worse than winning 1-0 with a Wada shutout and a homerun by Coughlan or Baker?

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Looking at the pros of winning/losing, a rational argument can be made on both sides. At this point in the season I see more long term value in the losing side of the argument. I'm still glad when the Cubs win, but I am not that unhappy when they lose. For example it didn't bother me when Valbuena had a bad throw in the first inning today allowing a run to score. If Turner had been pitching I would not have been happy because I want him to have good results and a positive attitude going into the offseason.

  • Good stuff Mike!

    I kept waiting for the proverbial "Math begins here" section... lol

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    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Ha! Yeah, I'm actually making a concerted effort to remove those and make the articles accessible to everyone. I was sorely tempted to write a paragraph and a half on marginal values, though.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Don't remove them. I think the math is a necessary part of your Econoball series. I've enjoyed reading them and learned a lot from them.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Agreed, don't remove the math, just make it more accessible which I think Mike has done well lately.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    He has indeed! He's actually come a long way for us John. I remember verbally sparring with him way back when over the draft, game strategy, prospects, etc... But then also taking up for him when he was right and let some troll get under his skin... Sorta like I did with fellzy. Hey I'm starting to see a pattern here!

    I guess that means Ghost Dawg and mjvz should be on your short list for writer candidates.... lol

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I second this sentiment. Long live Econoball.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    o/t but the moosetache is now 12/19...

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    HoosierHamlet: Anotehr hit; what say you?

    mjvzLaertes: A touch, a touch, I do confess.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    It's a little sad (from a societal perceptive) that you feel you still have to 'dumb down' (my words) to make your articles 'accessible to everyone'. I have never felt that the math/statistics you present is all that complex.

    Yes, I have more education than the average Joe. I know you could make the math bit even more complex than you do, but I already think you do a helluva job making your articles 'popular math'.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    No! Everyone has an opinion.... Not everyone has the math!

  • I have to admit my argument for losing isn't based on the difference between picking say #3 or #12 in the first round (i'm sure the FO will find someone good irregardless). I'm more concerned about the difference in draft pool money that allows you to maneuver to get lottery tickets like Steele, Sands, and Cease.

    However, I feel like once you get beyond #5, the difference in pool money doesn't seem so significant and winning would probably attract the impending FA pitchers, so I find myself rooting for the Cubs nowadays. Yes, I'm not very rational...

  • It has been a tough road since Theo dropped by. The fruit is ripenning and everyone is noticing. No contender wants to face this team which is 4 over.500 in the last 32. The rotation is looking formidable as is. There are 3 rookie starters who are going to stick.I haven't been this hopeful in 65 years Crertainly the glut of position talent is exciting, I've always been about pitching. That really looks solid. Adding a TOR RH starter will complete the path to contention in 2015. Selecting a closer is also vital. The pen has been very solid

  • look at the A's, they had to trade their clean up hitter Cespedes to get the pitching they wanted and they have suffered from it. Jedstein has built the cubs to the point where we wont suffer IF we had to move someone

  • In reply to Burns0128:

    I doubt losing cespedes is the reason for their troubles.. lowrie has been out.. jaso had been invisible since his concussion . Gray has been horrible.. cespedes not being there wasnt that signifigant imo..

  • In reply to CubfanInUT:

    Moss has been a disaster too.

    And Cespedes wasn't exactly having a great year prior to the trade.

  • Was really looking forward to Olt replacing Valaika in the line-up. But it appears I have to wait one more day...

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    The travel from KC to Chicago is a killer. Anyone would need a day to handle that.

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    In reply to mjvz:

    - Lotta stoplights on Roosevelt Rd

  • In reply to mjvz:

    I heard he actually flew out of St. Louis and became violently ill from the overwhelming stench.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Was it that or the possum he ate, because that was the only food served at the airport?

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    No. The possum line was to long. He would have missed his flight.

  • Nice article, Mike. I agree with a lot of what you wrote above. Another thing is that it is simply fun (finally) to root for this team because the players are part of the future.

    In regards to the draft pick issue, I looked at the picks from the last 3 drafts from 8-13 and there are definitely good players available there. Will the Cubs nab another one next year? Who knows. But they clearly have good scouting and will at least make a well informed decision which is all you can ask from the draft. Some guys pans out. Others don't. Even top picks. Here's a list:

    2014 (8-13): Freeland, Hoffman, Conforto, Pentecost, Mederiros, Turner

    2013 (8-13): Dozier, Meadows, Bickford, Dominic Smith, DJ Peterson, Hunter Renfroe

    2012 (8-13): Appel (didn't sign, as we know), Heaney (yes, please), Dahl, Russell (top 5 prospect now with the Cubs! yay!), Cecchini, Hawkins (Note: Giolito taken 16, Seager 18 and Wacha 19).

    Tons of good arms and bats in there. Not worried about next year's draft.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    I agree PV, it is fun to watch & root for them again! I hope we win out. The fan in me was never able to root for losing.

    I hope we are drafting dead last every year for a decade... because that means.... haha!

    Seriously though, I don't care where we draft. With our brain thrust and scouting infrastructure in place; I'm confident they can find impact talent. The extra slot money is insignificant once you get out of the top 5 picks of the draft and given the way we handled the IFA bonus pool, who cares how much we have? For example, the #8 pick last year had a slot value of $3,190,800 and the #13 pick was $2,723,300. As you outlined, there's impact talent there.

  • I completely understand the business plan that the Cubs have put into place the last 5+years but under no circumstances is it acceptable to "tank" whether you are an Owner, Front Office Employee, Coach, or Player. Nothing in baseball or life is guaranteed and the as a 40 year die hard who understands and embraces Sabermetrics, the Cubs are still a form of entertainment. I still think of my father taking to my first Cubs game or me taking him to the first two night games in 88, good baseball bonds father and sons, creates friendships, or even gets you through a Chicago winter. But the last 3-4 years the Cubs have been unbearable to watch and the talk of Cubs (except for sites like John's) have been negative, embarrassing, or worst of all non existent. Now I am as excited as everyone else about the kids coming up and watching is now interesting, but in my opinion it did not have to get as bad as it did the last several years. Cubs fans know as well as anyone, it is not uncommon for wildcard teams to win a WS so a .500 team with a correct trade or two can make the playoffs. Now I understand draft position, player flipping, and although Theo did bring in some good bargain bin FA without draft compensation and were nicely flipped, more or even better FA especially from the International pool could have been brought in with no compensation if they were more aggressive in their bids. It saddens me of the die hard fans who we lost to the circle of life the past several years who include my father, brother in law, a couple of uncles who could not even watch the Cubs or talk kindly about the Cubs, and even how many new Cub fans were never made due to the poor product on the field and the negative sigma associated with their performance. Mike I enjoy most your writing and agree with you a lot of times, my opinion may be in the minority here, but I am in the Joakim Noah's camp when it comes to tanking or losing for a better draft position.

  • In reply to Rock:

    Having a good year and sneaking into the playoffs once every 5 or 10 seasons is exactly what the Cubs have been doing for a century. I can't believe people would look at whats happening and say the process that got them to this point is unacceptable. Baseball is entertainment, if you aren't entertained then don't watch. Its like being pissed at Daniel Day Lewis for putting out a great movie every 5 years or so instead of taking a mediocre role and putting out crap movies every year. Herp derp I demand to be entertained now!

  • In reply to Ike03:

    That's the point people stopped watching, not good for business, entertainment, fan retention, or developing a new fan base. What has putting arguably a non competitive team on the field for 5+ years achieved, a very good farm system, and some exciting prospects now on the parent club but when there has been 4 wild card playoff teams who have won the world series winners in the last 17 years I would have at least used all of my budget possible to field a competitive team. The Cardinals have not drafted in the top 10 in 18 years and have made the World Series four times winning twice, the Royals have drafted 18 times in the top ten in 28 years and have not made the playoffs in that time.The Cubs could have put a competitive team on the field in the last five years but Ricketts chose to go the non competitive route for a better draft position. I think Theo and Jason have done a great job but still much work still needs to been done as rooks still need to develop. But again the losing did not have to get that bad.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Rock:

    The Team on the field was not Ricketts call. Theo and Jed decided, in their words, to focus on the long term over the short term.

    And are you denying that the Cubs are in a significantly better position with Kris Bryant than they would be without him?

  • fb_avatar

    Another one bites the dust!

    This really make me appreciate the Cubs so much more since Ricketts took over. Think about what this family took on. First off they are Cubs fans so they knew how the Trib was spending money like drunken sailors just to inflate the perceived value of the team. When they bought the team they were forced into this "debt deal" that most potential buyers said was just much to take on and backed out. Guys like Mark Cuban just backed out instead of making of what he thought was a bad business decision.

    Then after buying the team, he made no moves saying he wanted to evaluate what he had. Instead of making a knee jerk reaction and just cleaning house he had to see what was salvageable. He saw right away that he needed a real baseball man to right this ship.

    Next he hired Theo and gave him total control of the baseball side of things. This billionaire family let him make the hard decision to just strip this thing down to bare bones. He trusted that the losing not just ball games but attendance would somehow be good for the overall health of the organization.

    Now we are seeing clubs dump GM's while our management is getting ready to step on the gas! The Ricketts will be rewarded for their patience and willingness to do what other businessmen thought was just bad business. And I especially love how Theo was pretty transparent on what he said he was going to do. Theo has been second guessed and mocked by the media and meatball fans. And now both Ricketts and Theo are going to look like geniuses while we get our swagger on as fans!

    I'm as giddy as a schoolgirl that just got her first Valentine card! LOL

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    The dbacks were a mess.. it didnt seem they had a vision as to what the team was supposed to be.. just getting "gamers" isnt really something to hang ur hat on..

  • In reply to CubfanInUT:

    And they hired LaRussa to clean it up. Too bad for Tony the real genius for his sucess in Stl is now in Houston having to deal with poor ownership.

  • Good post. The only real negatives I can think of is one less year to take advantage of a means that was necessitated, in part, by the new CBA, but also of continuing to add to the depth in case multiple players are traded to acquire other MLB talent. Does this mean that the draft strategy of attacking pitching with quantity changes?

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    With such a high attrition rate, I doubt attacking pitching in volume ever really goes away.

  • In case the re-birth of the Cubs couldn't be more literal... My brother (non-baseball fan) was having a baby and when asked for name suggestions I of course said, "Theo".

    He ended up choosing Theo as the name and they gave birth days ago.

    I didn't have the guts to tell him that I thought of the name after reading this blog of course, but I thought this would be best place to share. John, I'm a first time commenter long time reader, you and this team are amazing. I look forward to the book. Thank you.

  • In reply to zswetz:

    Middle name Jed I presume...

  • I, for one, can't stand losing. It's helpful in any aspect in life to put yourself in other people's shoes. That being said, how would you feel as a player if you were continually losing, with the upside being that it will allow your team to improve for the future? Precisely why I don't watch the NBA, you can tell that players aren't giving it there all, and that management and the FO set up their respective teams to fail in order to obtain higher draft compensation. Yes, I know, apples to oranges, the development procedures for NBA vs MLB players are vastly different, but intentionally putting a less than 100% effort product on the field is a disservice to fans. To diminish the spirit of competition by a combination of less than 100% effort by players, mgmt. and FO with intent to fail is akin to being forced onto that work study group in college with that guy that showed up every third meeting, contributed nothing and then put his name on the assignment in order to get his passing grade. No thanks.
    All that being said, there is a difference in that lack of effort and the inability to field a competitive product due to lack of resources. This team isn't mentally, physically and skillfully competitive enough yet (don't jump down my throat yet) to knock off the upper tier over the course of the season. I think the end of this season (and very unfortunate that we don't have Castro and Rizzo to create the cohesive product) is very important not only for individual growth, but team cohesion. You can see it in the clubhouse and on their faces, this team is becoming just that: a group of guys that are going to pick each other up when they fail, jump up and down like the kids from JRW when they succeed, and ultimately bring the city of Chicago and Cubs fans everywhere moments to remember and smile about. Epstein and Hoyer have gone about this in the correct way, building up talent from within on a relative shoestring budget, shedding big contract players along the way to obtain future superstars without paying superstar money. I think this will go a long way towards team cohesiveness down the road, players and fans can't pinpoint bloated salaries and lack of performance (I guess we could, but in comparative analysis and in the day and age of sabermetrics, the statistics vs salary will speak for themselves). Theo and Ricketts will have to pay for some TOR help, no doubt, but lets hope it is a fiery, good clubhouse guy like Lester that you can physically see his desire to win behind each and every start.
    The value of winning, IMO, with these players in this situation (playing teams that are in the hunt) far outweighs losing. If we lose a protected pick, so be it. I'm confident enough that this FO will find creative ways to make up for it and just as importantly, they have the financial flexibility to mitigate the lack of top ten pick. Win, win, win. OK, Den-tear me to pieces :)

  • In reply to Tnighter88:

    I think there is that human element to a game that we sometimes forget. Losing wears on people -- especially competitive athletes.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Also speaks to one of my points. Losing is easier (no easy by any means) when you're getting paid very well anyways. Winning is not only "feel-good" motivation, but financial motivation as well. We don't have many (any?) top salaried players at this point. Winning teams have more players with better stats. Better stats gets you more pay on better teams with more resources. The Cubbies should be one of those teams. So wins=revenue=resources. Easy, right? Ricketts motivation is the almighty dollar, by way of full stadium and lucrative tv contract and merchandise, by way of more exposure, by way of?? Winning

  • In reply to Tnighter88:

    I'm sorry, my IQ dropped 20 points reading that.

  • In reply to since1970:

    Don't worry. It's just a small sample. Your IQ will soon regress to the mean.

  • In reply to TheThinBlueLine:

    I decided to leave the math out of that response.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Some years ago I went to a Cubs fantasy camp, where I was on the team managed by Ron Santo. I asked him the difference between those who make it in MLB and those who don't, and he answered immediately with "competitive intensity". He claimed there were several players in the northwest with whom he played that had his skill level or better (hard to believe!), but that he simply refused to give up. I was also impressed with how the other ex-Cub team managers wanted to win every game, even in a fantasy camp. What I learned is that serious athletes play in an arena of competitiveness that I cannot readily fathom.

  • Ok, I know.

    I want the Cubs to win. I don't want them to finish in the bottom 10 (this year). If we finish 4th in the Central in front of Cincy without Rizzo and Castro . . . the Reds may just blow it up and send up some pitching.

  • Something else that needs saying, IMO, is that we are obligated to make our best effort to beat these teams in contention. There will be a day soon that we will have that expectation of other teams who are out of the playoffs in a lost season. Ricky surely is thinking that way and so should we. Not only that, the players we put out there daily surely see this is as an opportunity to get involved in the playoff atmosphere regardless of our own standing. I would be ashamed of any player, coach, or manager who was of a mindset of, "hey, we're out of it, so we might as play like it".

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