Let’s start off with the good news in regards on top overall Cubs draft pick Kyle Schwarber:
— WorldSeriesDreaming (@WSDreaming_Cubs) July 15, 2014
He seems a cool guy and this is wonderful news for him and us, since all he’s done since signing with the Cubs is kill baseballs. And of course you probably heard about the cycles that fellow draft pick Mark Zagunis and top prospect Albert Almora hit for Boise and Daytona, respectively (don’t worry, it’s all over Twitter, you can’t miss it). Meanwhile, prospects at all levels, and not just Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, are sending baseballs into low Earth orbit. It’s a really fun time to be a Cubs fan if you’re following the process as closely as we are, while the Cubs front office led by team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, and scouting director Jason McLeod work their magic to ensure that the Cubs will have waves of talent funneling into Wrigley Field for years to come. The MLB Cubs still suck, but they’re watchable as All-Stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have bounced back and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel that we no longer have to squint to see.
But you know, the Cubs have been going full #TeamTank for three years running now, and as you probably saw from Dabynsky’s blog linked in the last paragraph, they’re not going to tank much more. Because of the way the CBA is set up, this will have ramifications for the Cubs’ talent acquisition process. Here’s Dabynsky again tweeting his live thought process:
Common #Cubs complaint about “the Plan” has been that the Cubs had the most losses in two seasons and a number of people want to be less bad
— dabynsky (@dabynsky) July 15, 2014
The Mets have taken that approach. They have been bad but not terrible. And they spent on a free agent with qualifying offer this offseason. — dabynsky (@dabynsky) July 15, 2014
End result is that neither team is near playoffs this year, and the Mets have had 6.5 million less to spend on the draft. That’s a big deal. — dabynsky (@dabynsky) July 15, 2014
That’s Kris Bryant signing bonus right there. There are tangible benefits to being terrible instead of bad.
— dabynsky (@dabynsky) July 15, 2014
Obviously we had to expand that past the 560 characters Dabynsky was allowed through four separate tweets. The current system does not help teams that are wishy-washy. You either have to go all in, or you have to go full tank to ensure as much money as possible to spend on amateur talent in both the draft and in international free agency. That’s just the way it is.
HOWEVER, the Cubs are transitioning out of the full-on talent acquisition phase and look to be getting ready to open their window of contention. They will at some point have to cough up draft picks to sign big-name free agents, and they will also have a better record (we hope), which means far less money to spend on amateur talent via all avenues. This poses a problem as the CBA has pretty much taken away most of the overslot gymnastics that teams were able to do in previous years to snag best-of-the-best type talent in later rounds. The best players are almost always going early now, and there’s not enough money left over to entice strong college commits to sign after the tenth round. Again, just the way it is. The Cubs were pretty shrewd this year in implementing their version of the 2012 Astros plan, and maybe they have ways to make sure that they can still identify value at every slot. But after 2015’s draft, in which the Cubs (currently with the fifth-worst record in MLB) will likely have their last protected first round pick for a long time, Theo and friends will have far less pool money to spend due to an expected better overall record. That means barring some insane luck, talents like Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, basically those “obvious” studs who “can’t miss” (yeah, they can bust, but they have a better chance to not suck) will be fewer and farther between.
I think it’s important to consider how Team Theo plans to ensure that waves of impact talent will still come up through the system given these limitations, and given that the current CBA expires after 2016 and at some point MLB may force an international draft. If they know the trends that may arise from the next CBA (kind of like insider trading, I guess), then there might be better preparation, but for now let’s assuming everything stays status quo. The Cubs get their impact player in 2015 but will likely have less of an impact in 2016 (or not at all if they lose their first-rounder due to a free agent signing). What next?
Well, the restrictions from their last international spending spree will have been lifted, and if the talent is worthy to splurge on, the Cubs may decide to try it again, very similar to what the Yankees did this season when they said “to hell with it” and shot the moon. The talent from the previous spending spree will have been in the system for three years and we’ll get an idea of their progress in the 2016 season. The wave of talent from the 2016 spending spree (should they go that route) would similarly bear fruit in 2019 in an ideal world. There’s also the posting system, in which the Cubs can attempt to outbid the field for a talent from the Japanese or Korean systems. A pitcher like Kenta Maeda may get posted and offer an immediate impact along with whatever other pitchers the Cubs can sign on the free agent market. And we haven’t even talked about trades yet, which this front office has been pretty good at so far.
As the Cubs improve year-to-year, it will get more difficult to add impact talent at the bottom and watch it trickle to the top, but I wouldn’t put it past this front office to innovate strategies for roster construction that I didn’t even think of. Even if some avenues of talent acquisition are cut off, you never count out the Cubs front office; they have a tendency to surprise. The hope is that with additional revenues from the Wrigley renovations/expansions, they will be able to withstand any major penalties and taxes and still be able to attract the best talent, whether it be through the draft, international signings, trade, or free agency. It will be fun to watch this front office work their magic when consistent winning starts to sap some of their advantages.