Important to maintain perspective as Cubs struggle to find 2016 form

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.

Now…

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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  • I agree with you John no need tp trade off half the team. But it is concerning that they can't seem to beat anyone with a pulse.

  • In reply to kansascub:

    They can beat any team in this league, they just haven't done it consistently. Talent hasn't gone away. These position players are still in their prime and the pitching hasn't been terrible, espeically with Lester, Hendricks, and Butler pitching well of late.

  • I do think that the Cubs are about at the point where they'll have to make a tough decision re this season: are we determined to contend or do we just do as well as we can with what we have continue the rebuild, possibly with free agent signings. IMO, the rational choice is the second one. I think it's still too early in the organizational rebuild to go all in this season with major deals. Last year all the stars were unexpectedly in the right positions.

  • In reply to markw:

    Pretty much what I am saying. There is no imperative to go all in for the 2017 season if it isn't working. And if they are going to turn it around, it's not going to be Sonny Gray that does it -- it's going to be Russell, Schwarber, Contreras and other players that are already here that will turn this team around.

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    Thank you John for a thoughtful and timely article. We have to have some patience. As you have said, this team has won 200 games over the last 2 years, reached the NLCS in 2015 and WON the WS last year.
    I think what's confused me is that the defense has fallen off so much. The hitting will come back, but maybe not this year. Mike Schmidt hit .196 in his 2nd year and the Phillies kept him in there. He was 23. The next year he hit 36 HRs and 116 RBIs. Schwarbs could easily do the same. Most of our players have not even hit their prime yet. What if we don't win this year--would we take what the Giants have done (3 in 5 years) or what the Blackhawks have done (3 in 5 years)--I think of course. The last repeat team in the NL was the Reds in the 70's. Let's not blow this team up in either trades or even comments. Theo and our FO was the best last year and have not suddenly become ineffective. As much as I can't stand to quote a Packer, Aaron Rodgers had it right--Relax. That's what I'm trying to do.

  • Great perspective John, and I couldn't agree more. I think a little World Series hangover is to be expected. To me, when you see so many of the Cubs core pieces under performing, and then look at the standings and see they're only 1.5 games out of first, that's pretty impressive.

    I'm confident that as the hangover subsides and the weather heats up, those players will regress to the mean and we'll see the Cubs start rocking and rolling on their way to another playoff run.

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    Thanks. I am thinking (or at least hoping) that is exactly what will happen.

  • Let enjoy last year for what is was. Trading our very young prospects
    for a pitcher over 30 yr and controlled for less that 3 yr is is not
    a good trade. Lets see what they do in the draft to see in pitching
    is on the way in 2-3 yrs Panic in not word Theo uses

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Agreed. Theo not going to panic and not going to deal long term for shot unless it's an exceptional situation like last season.

  • Let enjoy last year for what is was. Trading our very young prospects
    for a pitcher over 30 yr and controlled for less that 3 yr is is not
    a good trade. Lets see what they do in the draft to see in pitching
    is on the way in 2-3 yrs Panic in not word Theo uses

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    In reply to emartinezjr:

    Personally I don't know that I want to trade for a starting pitcher over-30 with MORE than 3 years of contract remaining.

  • Great piece, John.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the spirit of your message but I have a couple questions, if not minor contentions. I'll start by saying that allowing yourself to be held over a barrel by TB or Hahn for one of those two guys is not smart move for either the short or long terms. That being said, I think the SP situation , both short & long terms, is something that needs serious attention. Everybody is hoping that Arrieta & Lackey right the ship but, even if they do, they'll both likely need to be replaced after this season. I think we'd all agree that Epstoyer doesn't want to find themselves *having* to replace 2/5ths of rotation next offseason. I'm not a proponent of trading a core piece from MLB roster but you have to be flexible with the likes of Happ/Candelario/Cease. As eternally grateful as I am to this administration, they haven't done a very good job of drafting/developing SP talent & that bill is starting to come due.

    I think it's also worth noting that there are other teams(LAD, NYY, HOU,BOS) coming fast with similar profiles( strong farm-built cores, select FAs) as the Cubs. It's important to not be reckless but to also understand the window we're in right now.

    One question that I have for you is do they run the risk of guys like Jeimer and Almora losing some value, as they're stuck in a form of purgatory? One could argue that they're both ready to be playing everyday in the majors and I wonder if there is some time decay to their respective trade values, as teams can't fully evaluate them at the big league level?

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    I do think they need to replace long term pitching and they need to do it with depth, but I do think they should be careful not to overpay for it because of the struggles this season.

    The Cubs window is not two years even with those teams. It's about a 5 year window presuming they replace Arrieta and Lackey. There are always going to be good or rebuilding for the future can't worry about that.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    For those wanting to replace 2/5ths of the starting rotation--and there is a good argument to be made there so I am not going to dispute that--the Cubs will also have $30-40M to do it. If they can sign a back-up catcher for a couple million $ then we also have the funds we are paying to Montero. In short there will be CASH available. And not just for FA signings. Sometimes the prospect cost goes down if the Cubs are willing to take a somewhat inflated contract.

    As you mentioned, John, Samardzija might be an interesting option. There are peripheral stats that indicate he hasn't been as bad as his W-L record and ERA portray, again, as you point out. IF the Cubs decide to acquire him the Giants may be more than happy to removed that cash from their ledger and the Cubs might get a dependable innings-eater. Even better of Bosio can work his magic. It wasn't that long ago and the Cubs had Samardzija and he was pretty good. It isn't outside the realm of possibility that he could resurrect his career again.

    My main point, though, is don't discount the amount of Cash the Cubs will have if Arrieta and/or Lackey leave.

    It is also possible that Arrieta's value will drop significantly with his struggles sine the middle of 2016.

    But, as you said, John: The Cubs don't have to sell out because they "have to" win this year.

  • If u look at the cup half full, they did as well as any team could ever expect against Kershaw. Bodes well against the Pads.

  • Lee Corso says "not so fast, my friend".

    This team is scuffling with RISP.

  • Although some see Lester and Aroldis transactions as Cubs willingness to "spend big", I see something different. To me they are limited strategic moves. Unlike 2008, this team doesn't have a 1 or 2 year expiration date. I don't see TheoJed wiping out the top 3 or 4 farm assets just to have a chance this year. I think there would be a slight possibility of a Schwarber and a minor piece for an Archer but Kyle would have to come on strong to have that kind of value and even then, I'm not so sure Tampa would go for it.

    Cubs have a fairly big starting pitching problem for the next 2 years. I suspect the plan is to spend money in free agency off season (knowing new TV revenue is coming in 2 years) and taking our chances this year without a franchise altering trade now that we have one in the bag.

  • Last year the team was so good and their one need was so obvious that the trade for Chapman seemed almost inevitable. And really, for me at least, it was a painless trade. I'm curious what Hoyer/Epstein do this year. I still see the Cubs winning the division easily, even without a trade.

  • I wouldn't call giving up Torres "painless". He's a top 5 prospect in the game. I understand why they did it but giving up like assets like that for a rental isn't a winning strategy , long term. We did win a WS but Torres will be a real good one....

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    Not to mention it would be really nice to have Torres' value right now to trade. Had no issues getting Chapman and probably don't win WS without him, but the point would have been trying to pay less for him. Heck, the Indians paid less for Andrew Miller as far as I'm concerned.

    I wouldn't take that trade back, but it would really be nice to have Torres as a trade asset right now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    If we had Torres, Russell or Baez would be the trade asset.

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    Being redundant, when will he be good and if so where will you play him? Will you complain when they trade Baez so that Torres would have a place to play? Russell? IMO it was a good trade.

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    I asked John the other day if he saw any of our arms coming up this year and contributing and he mentioned a few--maybe Alec Mills and I can tell think of the other. Our prime pitchers are at least a year or two away, but it looks then that we should have a number of them coming at one time, from Underwood to Cease to De la Cruz et all. By then our oldest, Rizzo, will maybe be 30. There's a very bright future for this team both with pitching and position players.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    I mentioned Frankoff as a short term fix. Longer term there is Clifton and then Hatch and Alzolay and maybe De La Cruz, though I think he's behind those two in development.

  • I think Underwood is past expiration date, in terms of being a potential rotation piece. I'm more optimistic about our system's P than I've been in some time but not sure any of those guys would be able to slot into the soon-to-be-vacated #3 & #4 slots in the rotation. John, I'm very open to being persuaded I'm wrong on that count:)

  • Which of our SPs in the minors are cant miss major league pitchers?
    in 1-2 yrs

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    None of them are can't miss guys. All have significant risk.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    emart LOL realy? LOL

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    Emartiezjr has been here forever. I may not agree with every position he, or anybody, holds, but I admire his devotion to our prospects. Typing LOL, especially twice, at someone's opinion seems disrespectful to me. I have wide margins of disagreement with my fellow fans here at times, and we debate. If you have a different view, let's hear it.

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Agreed. If you don't like the question then either ignore it and move on or answer it respectfully to show why you think it's wrong.

  • Which of our SPs in the minors are cant miss major league pitchers?
    in 1-2 yrs

  • Great article as always John.

    FWIW the Cubs were only 5 games above .500 entering play on July 29, 2015 (two months later than today). They finished the year with 97 wins.

    I realize Arrieta's pitching was a big reason why they rolled down the stretch that year and that they're not pitching nearly as well right now. Still, the point is to not hit the panic button in late May. 110+ games to go.

  • In reply to North Side Pat:

    Thanks Pat!

  • Unless he wants less than 5 yr and $20 million per year we should
    not sign him.

  • Unless he wants less than 5 yr and $20 million per year we should
    not sign him.

  • Unless he wants less than 5 yr and $20 million per year we should
    not sign him.

  • I'm not surprised that the Cubs are struggling, but I am surprised about the degree to which they are struggling. Schwarber doesn't look like a major leaguer right now, Russell has been one dimensional, Rizzo has been streaky and even Zobrist has struggled and seems to be striking out more this year. The starting pitching has been pretty mediocre all year, too, and I don't see Arrieta or Lackey as much more than 4s or 5s on a championship level team.

    All of the above may change and change seems to happen slowly and then all at once, so we'll see. I remain hopeful.

    That being said, all I need to do is remember the team celebrating the World Series and all is right with the world. Hard to be sad with that memory jogging around my head!

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    Finally the Schwarbenator tried to bunt. It didn't work, but once it does, that shift will either loosen up or he will just have to take his singles.

    Regardless, its a positive direction for him IMO>

  • Trading for one possibly available "name" pitcher at the deadline will not be the answer. One player will not make the difference necessary to win this division. The core kids need to step up and play better ball, that's all there is to it. They're not. Fortunately it is a weaker Central this year with St Louis and Pittsburgh no longer power houses and the Cubs treading water.

    If anyone guessed after 50 games we would have broken even I doubt you would have had many takers but with this talent we have little reason to think another team in the Central will beat out the Cubs.

    A little over 10 years ago Houston was 60-60 and wound up winning over 90 games, it may have been their WS year against the Triple A team in Bridgeport.....teams go on runs both good and bad and the Cubs will too.

    Side note: Tiger couldn't catch an Uber? Wtf

  • I understand patience, not panicking etc, but at a certain point you have to start holding people accountable for their performance. Jon jay needs to play more, Miguel Montero needs to play more. Russell, Schwarber, and contreras don't need to be penciled in every day automatically. This team is deep, but some of the worst performers are playing about every day and some of the best performers are playing sparingly. I know someone will argue that thise guys are producing because of the limited playing time and matchups, etc, but I think it's time to test that theory. Two theories I have for this team. 1. They have become more one dimensional as every new prospect comes up. They are all middle of the order hitters, they all strikeout, they all walk some, the are all sluggers. They don't seem to make a conscious effort to hit situationally and/or move the ball with two strikes. Javy and Schwarber have 1 approach at the plate. Russel isn't far behind. This team is a beer league softball team in many respects. Additionally, I'm really starting to question the positive impact of Montero and the resulting negative impact that contreras has on the pitching staff. I'm just wondering if montero caught 60-70% of the time, would we see a difference in the pitching staff. Finally, as a random aside, someone needs to check lackey regarding his horrible body languages, and mound antics. That is the last thing a struggling team needs to be reminded of 3 pitches. I feel like that behavior gets projected onto the other players and I can't imagine anyone likes playing behind him knowing he is going to show you up after a screaming line drive is hot past you.

  • I'm not optimistic about this season right now. I haven't advocated for selling the young core for prospects, but I am concerned that there seems to be a lot of regression this year. I've enjoyed watching these past few seasons more than any other in recent memory. There are times this year that it is very difficult to watch. It sounds like a lot of us are dealing with the same problems addicts deal with. We found that perfect high last year & now we are having trouble trying to get that same enjoyment from this years team. I'm not expecting a repeat of the WS, but I would like to see this team start to improve on defense & work on getting these young guys getting more consistent at the plate

  • The NL Central is so weak, the Cubs, flawed as they are, should still win it. That's probably why Theo and Joe aren't panicking.

    That said, it looks like a quick exit from the playoffs will be the result.

    We just don't match up with the Dodgers, Nats, or Rockies/DBacks.

    And any of the above will be eaten alive by Houston. They look like the Cubs of 2016.

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    In reply to clarkaddison:

    Ditto..... It's going to go right down to the wire between the cubs and cardinals with that huge 4 game series in late sept at STL that will probably determine the NL central champ.

  • In reply to Greg Simmons:

    I think the Cubs win by 5 or 6 games over Milwaukee. St. Louis finishes a few games behind them.

  • In reply to clarkaddison:

    All we need is get to the postseason. Then the hot team wins it all.

  • I don't see the Cubs doing anything out of character for a pitcher. Someone from a team who is out of it --along the lines of a Dan Straily.

    But until the hitting and defense pick back up, nothing major will happen. Per the questions John asked--if the other parts are struggling, what point is there in trading core pieces?

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