As the first portion of the off-season winds away and we move into Thanksgiving, a seemingly pervasive attitude among some fans is that the Cubs are losing on their quest to be competitive for the first time in the Theo Epstein era. Stemming from losing Russell Martin to the Toronto Blue Jays and not signing a free agent, yet, fans are beginning to grow panicked after only a few short weeks.
The current front office has been nothing, if not disciplined. They punted on three seasons to accumulate as much cost-controlled talent as any team in baseball. They shipped out everything that wasn’t bolted down, including Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano, Jeff Samardzija, Ryan Dempster, and others…all in the name of talent acquisition and payroll flexibility. As difficult as it has all been to watch at times over the course of these three seasons, it has all led us to this point. The Cubs have a lot of money available to spend. And they have the pieces to make trades if free agency falls flat, as it so often does. That doesn’t mean, though, that the Cubs should allow their strong position to be an excuse to be reckless.
Russell Martin was going to Toronto. There is nothing the Cubs could have done about it, within reason. The Blue Jays threw money and years at an aging Martin. Any smart team was going to see what the Jays were doing and bow out gracefully, as the Cubs did. They clearly set a valuation on what Russell Martin could bring, both as a catcher, and as a veteran leader who exhibits all of the qualities that the Cubs were looking to add this winter. As a catcher, it should be noted that Russell Martin, historically, has not been much better than Welington Castillo, offensively or defensively. Martin’s track record is much longer than Castillo’s, but both had 2014 seasons that were anomalies. Martin is a career .255/.349/.396 hitter when his career best .290/.402/.430 2014 is removed. Castillo is a career .256/.324/.400, but improves to .269/.341/.407 when his career worst 2014 is removed. In many respects, it is probable that the Cubs wanted Martin for what he brings to the clubhouse as much as he brings behind the plate. Losing him, though, should not be considered a failure when there is a similar player on the existing roster at a fraction of the cost.
Latest on Lester: Solid east coast non-team source told me Cubs being very aggressive (135+). Team has been in radio silence… Won’t talk.
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) November 26, 2014
Just to be clear on Jon Lester. Good source says #Cubs made significant offer. 2nd source says $ not big factor for Lester. May be less.
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) November 25, 2014
Three MLB sources this afternoon tell me Lester likes Cubs and Chicago a lot but all 3 would be surprised if he didn’t go back to Boston.
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) November 25, 2014
If the Lester stuff highlights anything, it’s the fact that there are a lot of factors at play, and it isn’t always all about the money. Lester said it himself at the end of September when he told Lester told CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman that, “I am not about signing the biggest deal. For me it is about the happiness of my family.” While it appears the Cubs are very much in the running to sign Lester, they may not have the last word…
Which bring us to contingency plans…
The trade market is ripe this winter. The Cubs, though, have to think long-term if they are going to spend some of their young talent currency for major league ready talent. Players like Phillies’ ace, Cole Hamels are prime targets. The Cubs could realistically trade Addison Russell or others to acquire the ace they seek. In fact, Theo said, in a way, that trading prospects is a real possibility. If the deal makes sense for the Cubs, it would seem that a blockbuster deal could happen. It’s important that the deal makes sense, however. Trading for players without long-term control or aging players on a decline with bad contracts has all the makings of disaster. And it should be avoided. You have to give something of value to get something of value, but it is imperative that the front office ensures real value, first.
What we know is what the front office has told us. First, it’s not going to happen overnight. While adding Joe Maddon has happened and winning the division next season has been talked about, it’s also been said that the process of making significant improvement to the team is going to happen over this off-season…and next. That’s welcome news, for a lot of reasons. Last time the Cubs made a basement to penthouse leap was 2007, where they spent a massive amount of money on players, hired Lou Piniella, and mortgaged seasons to win in 2007 and 2008, at all costs. It failed, and the Cubs had a rapid decline. Continuing to be smart about adding young players through the draft and international free agency, while making targeted trades and free agent acquisitions is the way to prolong success.
The process has been slow. It’s been painful for us, as fans, and for the organization. But it had to be done. The light at the end of the tunnel is shining brightly. The Cubs are going to make moves that are going to make waves. Exciting times are here again. But it would be a mistake to expect the Cubs’ front office to piss away all of the positive culture change they’ve brought. It is similarly a mistake to demand that they piss it away. Teams who seek immediate gratification just about always regret it. Along the same lines, no team is entitled to anything. These are all business transactions. Everyone is trying to do the best they can for themselves, whether that be financially, for their families, or for their organizations. The Cubs have a chance to set themselves up for a period of success that hasn’t been seen in Chicago in generations…
As long as they continue to stick to the plan.