For those not familiar with the analogy of the 800-pound gorilla, it is describing something that is so obvious that no one can ignore it, but at the same time so frightening and terrible that it is incomprehensible to acknowledge. The Cubs are now living with an 800-pound gorilla, and what they do with it will determine the future course of the franchise.
So what exactly is the 800-pound gorilla for the Cubs? It’s an idea that, for many people, seems absurd.
To explore this, we need to start at the beginning, when Cubs owner Tom Ricketts hired Theo Epstein as his Team President. In trying to build the Cubs organization from the ground up, Epstein assembled a management team that would redo the entire set-up, including establishing a “Cubs Way” to do everything from finding your locker in spring training to executing a suicide squeeze. Part of the “Cubs Way” was an idea of how to supply the minor league system, a concept called “position redundancy”. Under this strategy, the Cubs went from a “one position-one prospect” philosophy to a line of prospects at each position, with each one ready to fill in should the one ahead of them falter.
The notion of position redundancy caught the fancy of many Cubs fans. For years, they had been told that their minor league system was barren of talent (it wasn’t true, but that is a story for another time), and their top prospects had a tendency to fizzle out as they either approached or were summoned to the majors (again, there were reasons for that, but now is not the time to discuss it). Position redundancy seemed like a good insurance policy against that happening, as well as the inevitable injuries to prospects that seem to come at the most inopportune times.
And the concept seemed to work well. First up were the acquired prospects of Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks, and Addison Russell. Soon to follow were drafted players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Albert Almora. Even some inherited talent like Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, and Matt Szczur made their way to Wrigley. The results were a young core of players that helped the Chicago Cubs to the Promised Land, a World Series Championship.
But bringing home a title for the first time in 108 years did not stop the steamroller of talent from chugging in the minors. From this previous fall through spring training, the Cubs faithful have seen even more prospects such as infielders Jeimer Candelario, Ian Happ, and Chesny Young. There has even been a glimpse of some of the pitching talent like Trevor Clifton, Oscar De La Cruz, and Dylan Cease. But where was there to put them all? The Cubs roster seemed airtight, with only one retirement and a couple of free agent losses that were easily replaced.
It was as if this was a result unexpected by the front office. There seemed to be few misjudgments, especially with the position players. It was considered a “good problem” by some, usually unaware of the oxymoron they had uttered. “Great commodities to use in trades” was said by others, not knowing that recent deals had led to shortages at some positions in the minors.
In fact, the idea of position redundancy has taken somewhat of a hit, as trades of outfielders Billy McKinney, Rashad Crawford, and Donnie Dewees along with injuries to Eloy Jimenez and Jacob Hannemann have placed several outfielders above levels they were expected to begin at, to which they have predictably struggled. Trades of infielders Frandy Delarosa, Marco Hernandez, and Gleyber Torres have also created gaps in the middle of the minor league system.
Such matters are usually met with a shrug, as both the distance and the percentages have followers giving little consideration to minor league players, with the exception of the most hyped. But having a well stocked and competitive minor league system is not just a philosophical matter, it is also practical. Having players experiencing high leverage situations aids in their development, and brings them to the majors better prepared.
So how do you remedy a situation in which a prospect appears to be blocked? Well, no prospect is ever truly blocked unless that team’s front office chooses to do so. Openings on a major league roster can be made, usually by a well placed phone call.
And there is the answer to what is the Cubs’ 800-pound gorilla. As frightening as that solution is to some, it could be the only way the franchise will be able to maintain “sustained success”.
Tags: Addison Russell, Albert Almora, Anthony Rizzo, Chesny Young, Dylan Cease, Eloy Jimenez, Ian Happ, Jacob Hannemann, Javier Baez, Jeimer Candelario, Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks, kyle schwarber, Matt Szczur, Oscar De La Cruz, Tom U, Trevor Clifton, Willson Contrearas