In some parts of Cubs fandom, panic has set in after a 3 game sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team many thought would be contending with the Cubs for National League dominance.
This panic immediately followed the celebration, hopefulness, or maybe just a sigh of relief after a 7-2 homestand in which the Cubs bats seemed to be breaking out of their early season slumber.
The Cubs are now set to play the hapless San Diego Padres and one of the following things will happen.
- The Cubs will lose the series, fall to .500 or below, and the panic will reach a new level
- They will win the series and everything will be right with the world again
- They will win the series and doubts will remain as some will say the Cubs can only beat bad teams
Such are the ups, downs, and renewed doubts of the 2017 season so far. You didn’t expect this to be all sunshine and giggles from here on out, did you?
Ok, truth be told, so did I.
But the level of panic in some parts of the Cubs fandom has been beyond what I have expected. I’ve seen talk about trading core pieces like Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, and even Addison Russell for young pitching. It’s suddenly easy to forget that the Cubs have won 200 games the past two seasons, going to the NLCS in 2016 and winning it all in 2017 with this very same core. Do we really want to start trading it away before the all-star break of the very next season?
I am about to say something now that might not be all that popular. Winning the World Series one year doesn’t mandate that you dismantle part of that core in an attempt to win it the very next season.
It’s okay if the Cubs don’t win it all in 2017. Really.
That’s not saying that they won’t. I still have high hopes that they will do what only three other NL teams in history have done — and that is repeat as World Series champions. In fact, like all of you, there will be immense disappointment on my part if they don’t.
At the same time there is no shame if they fall short this year and I don’t want the Cubs to try to do something rash at the expense of the long term. This team wasn’t built with a two or three year window in mind. They were built to sustain success indefinitely. so let’s not lose that perspective.
That is not the same as saying they shouldn’t try to improve this team at all. That would be foolish. They’ve already taken the first step by calling up young players like Eddie Butler and Ian Happ. Those two have provided a spark and have played as well as any veteran they could have brought in from the outside. Yet, we have also seen that it is not enough. While they have ignited the team at times, it’s ultimately the foundation of this team that needs to carry success over the course of a long season.
So what about bringing in veterans — particularly starting pitchers?
Among others, the Cubs have been linked to starters such as former farmhands such as Chris Archer and Jeff Samardzija. They’ve also been connected to crosstown lefty Jose Quintana as well as Sonny Gray, a long time favorite of both this front office and the last.
The price for Archer would almost certainly be prohibitive, likely costing the Cubs a core MLB player and at least a couple of top prospects. The price for Quintana may not be much better, especially when you consider that the White Sox are averse to trading with their intra-city rivals. They have to make a deal they feel they can absolutely win. To me, that makes Quintana overvalued at this point, at least to the Cubs.
Sonny Gray presents obvious risks because of his 2016 forearm strain and while he is pitching about as well as he ever has this season, there is a possibility that strain leads to something a little further up his arm. If the Cubs give up young talent and Gray has to go under the knife, then the Cubs will have taken a step back not just this year, but for 2018 as well.
Jeff Samardzija is probably the safest acquisition because he has had a healthy history. He is also cost-controlled because of the 5 year deal he just signed last year. Samardzija’s stats look ugly at 1-6 with a 4.50 ERA, but a 3.29 FIP (2.89 FIP) suggest he may be undervalued, even if we account for the $18M he is making this year. But that salary along with his age (32) is what will potentially make him available at a fraction of the prospect cost as the other names mentioned above, which significantly lowers that risk even more. Of course, Samardzija is not a fresh new name, he’s not in his prime, and he left a bad taste in some fans’ mouths for having the audacity to seek market value rather than take a hometown discount deal. But he did not leave a bad taste with this organization, so I wouldn’t discount a reunion.
Let’s say all goes well in any of these potential trades. We have to consider very simple but relevant questions: Will any of these pitchers be the difference maker this season? Are the Cubs issues stemming solely from their rotation? And if players like Schwarber and Russell continue to struggle and the Cubs’ defense doesn’t play at a high level more consistently, will it even matter how well any acquisition does? And on the flipside, if Schwarber and Russell start hitting and the defense once again plays at the highest level, will they really need to bring anyone in at all or will they suddenly start winning as they’re already constructed — just like everyone projected them to before the season began?
That’s a lot of questions but the answer to all of them is basically the same — you make the move that benefits this team not just for 2017, but for 2018 and beyond. A quick fix answer based on short term results can easily backfire. The Aroldis Chapman trade notwithstanding, the Cubs need to make trades like they always do, by balancing long term goals with short term goals.
The Cubs have their title and so that burden is somewhat alleviated, though you wouldn’t necessarily know that if you follow Cubs fans on social media. The 2016 season was a golden opportunity not just because of the chance to break the historic drought, but because the Cubs were the best team in baseball and legitimately one piece away from a championship caliber team — and they didn’t have to trade from the core to do it. I am not sure they’re one player away right now, at least not until that core starts clicking again on a consistent basis.
So yes, the Cubs should try to win this year. As the well worn Theo adage goes, opportunities to win are precious. What I am saying, however, is that the Cubs shouldn’t make a trade in the hopes that whomever they acquire will be the key to salvaging the 2016 season. The players with the best chance to turn around the Cubs season are already on the roster. Any acquisition has to be made with the thought of that player being a complementary piece on a title-level team, not with the mindset that one or two players are going to suddenly transform a struggling team into a champion. They shouldn’t use one key part of their MLB team to fix another, as the 2014 Oakland A’s did when they traded a much needed hitter (Yoenis Cespedes) for a much needed pitcher (Jon Lester).
In the end, the Cubs have an identity as a deep, versatile team that grinds out ABs, hits for power, and gets solid to great pitching from top to bottom. That is the philosophy that has worked for them the last two years. It’s pretty much what worked for this group in Boston. It all has to be working together for the Cubs to have success.
I want to see the Cubs become that team again before they think about trying to solve several different problems with one high risk move. The good news is that I think a lot of these problems can be fixed internally and once that’s done, the Cubs can think earnestly about adding that final piece or two.
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