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Year 2 Many: My Dissatisfaction with the Chicago Cubs

July 21, 2013

By Ross Mitchell

Recently I made the observation that the Cubs had once again become a “watchable” team.  This sparked debate from friends, colleagues, and former teachers who are now friends.  Some remained skeptical, some were cautiously optimistic, and some had the audacity to question my loyalty as a Cubs fan.  Before I go any further, allow me to clarify something; I am a Cubs fan.  I am a Bears fan, I am a fan of every Chicago sports team with the exception of the White Sox, and I hold no ill-will toward the South Siders.  When Chicago does well, regardless of the team, I’m happy.  But, when I analyze a team or make an observation or write an article such as this, I don’t formulate my opinions on what I want to see.  I develop them based on what I do see.

Anyway, my statement that the Cubs have returned to the status of “watchable” is due to more than their recent-yet-mild success.  They still lose more games than they win, they are still comfortably under the .500 mark.  But they are competitive.  I can watch a full nine innings without wanting to bang my head against a wall, most of the time.  The debate then shifted into the future of the Cubs franchise.  It was then when I stated my dissatisfaction with Cubs President Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer.  Which is when I was asked the question.  “Why?”  Why don’t I like the Epstein Regime?

It’s something I’ve touched on multiple times but never really gone into full detail.  The follow is the answer.  The following is why:

First let me state that I am well aware that Jed Hoyer is the general manager of the Chicago Cubs.  That he is tasked with the major and minor league rosters and for putting a winner on the field.  But let me state that I’m also aware that it is Theo Epstein who calls the shots.  And while his responsibilities span well past just the baseball aspect of the organization, the Rickett’s family didn’t hire him to not be directly involved with constructing the roster.

My discontent with the Epstein Regime goes back to the introductory press conference when Mr. Epstein stated the organization would “build the team through the minor league system”.  Of course the front-office would go about improving the roster through free agency and trades, but it was made it very clear that the primary organizational objective was to develop the strongest farm system in all of professional baseball.  And by doing so, in time, the Cubs would be perpetual contenders at the major league level.

In a vacuum, there’s nothing wrong with the aforementioned statement.  In fact I support it 100%.  I understand that every team needs a strong farm system and essentially the Cubs were operating with a Bronze Age philosophy in terms of scouting and player development.  Speaking on what they have done to change certain fundamental principles on which the Cubs organization operates, specifically regarding scouting and acquiring new talent via overseas and through the draft, I commend the efforts of the Epstein Regime.

But at times it seems like the front office is concerned with adding prospects even at the detriment of the major league roster.  They are so fixated on what will happen five years down the line that I feel as if they simply ignore any opportunity to win three years down the line, or sooner.  How often have we heard about a Cubs signing, “The Cubs signed Player X to a one-year deal.  Hopefully at the deadline they can trade him to a contender looking for help for prospects,”?  If Player X is good enough to help another team win this year, why doesn’t that apply to the Cubs?  True the Cubs are still developing their core, but the core as of right now is Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardzija, and Travis Wood.  Are you telling me Nate Schierholtz has no role in the Cubs future?  Kevin Gregg?  Matt Garza?

What’s ironic about this whole situation is building a champion through the minor league system is not at all how Mr. Epstein won in Boston.  He won because he inherited a team that had a $125 million dollar payroll in an era when there weren’t $125 million dollar payrolls.  He won not because he is a sabermetrics guy, or due to an influx of prospect which he drafted on the major league roster, but because of Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, and the rest of the “Idiots”.  In fact when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, there were only 6 players on the roster originating from the Boston minor league system, one of which was Nomar, and we all know how that story ended.  In 2007 there were a few more players from the Red Sox farm system including Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Clay Buchholtz, but it was essentially the same core as in 2004, only now the payroll topped $150 million.

(Also don’t forget the 2004 offseason and how desperately the Red Sox tried to trade for Alex Rodriguez when A-Rod was still considered to be the best player in baseball. Eventually the Yankees eventually swooped in and the rest is history)

For all the pub the Epstein Regime gets for building the minor league system (and they have made some promising additions such as Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Junior Lake, and Javier Baez), the Cubs have virtually nothing in the minor leagues in terms of pitching.  Keith Law recently submitted his Top 50 prospects throughout baseball during the Future’s Game at this year’s All-Star Weekend.  The Cubs had 4 players on the list, not one pitcher.  According to MLB.com, of the Cubs top 20 prospects, only 4 are pitchers.  Which leads me to the following:

In the past two seasons the Cubs have had Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Travis Wood, Jeff, Samardzija, Scott Feldman, and Paul Maholm (amongst other pitchers).  I name those six because a rotation of any five is arguably the best in the major leagues.  So why does it seems like the moment the Cubs traded for Garza, they have been desperately trying to unload him?  Now, in 2-3 years when everyone assumes the Cubs prospects will be ready to compete for a championship, when Baez and Soler and Lake and Castro and Rizzo have a few campaigns under their belt, wouldn’t it be nice to have a staff that’s 5 deep?  Wouldn’t it be nice if, heading into a win-or-go-home series, the Cubs can send Garza, Wood, and Samardzija to the mound?  True they may still have Wood and Samardzija, but are those two good enough to get the Cubs into the postseason, let alone make a run?  And what if either gets hurt?

What if one or two of the “can’t miss” prospects, does in fact miss?  Sending a proven commodity such as Garza to your opponents for something that “could be” is never a wise strategy.  It’s like being on a game show when the host shows you a car behind Door #1, a trip to Hawaii behind Door #2, or the mystery box behind Door #3.  You just don’t roll the dice there.  Yes it could be a million bucks, but it would be a dirty shoe.

Now I know I’m highlighting the negative.  To be fair, the Epstein Regime has made some good moves.  While I initially hated the Sean Marshall for Travis Wood trade, both sides have benefited thus far.  Trading Andrew Cashner for Anthony Rizzo looks like a steal, and electing to play Rizzo at first instead of paying Prince Fielder $20 mil a year may end up being the right and more economic move.

(Speaking of economics, I won’t even get into the renovations the Wrigley nonsense.  Or when Theo Epstein himself says the Cubs need these renovations to win.  You’re trying to make a buck.  And I don’t fault him for that, but don’t say the success of the team depends on a scoreboard in left-center field.  Because you sound like an idiot)

But we also can’t ignore the signing of Ian Stewart, or Edwin Jackson currently making $2 million per win this season, or Kyuji Fujikawa, or Scott Baker.  Nothing signings that seem to be the mantra of this organization.  Players who haven’t been relevant for years suddenly being marketed as “contributors” while the “real team” develops.  Essentially the Epstein Regime is telling a fan-base that hasn’t seen their team win a title since Teddy Roosevelt was in office to “wait”.

(Nor can we ignore how absolutely infuriating the Matt Garza situation has been handled.  I just don’t understand how the Cubs can be so content with trading him while they sign Edwin Jackson to a 4-year, $40 Million contract.  There’s no justification for it.  It’s yet another poor decision in series of poor decisions)

Which brings me to my next point; I don’t think Mr. Epstein respects Cubs fans.  I think he thinks he’s smarter than everyone else.  I think his mentality is “I’m from Boston.  Everybody knows Red Sox Nation is a better fan base and a better baseball town.  Cubs fans aren’t as passionate, they’ll support the team no matter what.  They’ve been waiting this long, what’s a few more seasons?  And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll go elsewhere.  No big deal.”  Again, he’s trying to convince us that the Cubs need money from the city of Chicago in order to put out a winner.  Not that he’s the team president and the Ricketts family likely told him that he needed to do everything in his power to get this deal done, but because somehow, someway the new restrooms at Wrigley will help Starlin Castro once again hit over .300.

For those of you screaming, “What’s he supposed to say?”  How about he says nothing?  How about he says it will make the experience better for the fans?  The renovations are cosmetic.  They’re designed to make money.  Which would be fine if they spent the money if free agency.  Speaking of which…

There is a strong possibility that Epstein is afraid to pull the trigger on a big-name free agent after the way his tenure in Boston ended.  This scares me to death.  The Carl Crawford and John Lackey deals are still scrutinized as two of the worst contracts in recent memory.  And by the 2011 season Mr. Epstein was shelling out cash to anything that looked good more frequently than a Wall Street stock broker in 2007.  The Red Sox blew a 9 game lead in September after going 7-20 to finish the season.  Mr. Epstein lost his job because of the collapse.  His dream job.  And he looked dumb.  For someone who prides himself on being the smartest man in the room, for someone with a reputation of being a “wiz-kid”, for an academic, looking dumb is the equivalent of a power-pitcher losing his velocity.  And in the interest of fairness, I will give the Epstein Regime a pass for this past offseason due to the fact that A) the free agency classes were less than stellar and B) the Cubs didn’t have the money to spend.

But that leniency only applies to not inking the big names with big price tags, not for the players the Cubs did chose to bring into the organization, and not for the reason they were signed.  Because the next time The Epstein Regime signs a player to a long term (or even multi-year) contract, with the intention of having that player contribute to the Cubs “eventual” post-season run, and not to trade for prospects (or international money), will be the first time.  And now that the Cubs have been granted seemingly everything they’ve asked for in the Wrigley renovation deal, now that they have an influx of revenue, the excuse of not being able to “afford it” is no longer acceptable.

For me, this offseason is make-or-break for Mr. Epstein and company.  Everything I just said criticizing their philosophy, their efforts, and most importantly their results, will be either proven or proven wrong based on what steps the Cubs take from December to February.  If it’s another offseason of “wait for the kids to grow up”, then everything I’ve just listed is validated.  Year 3 of the Epstein Regime just cannot be another throw away season.  Year 3 cannot be sacrificed for Year 4.  It can’t be spent on rebuilding.

(I’d also like to point out that the St. Louis Cardinals lost Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols and the very next season were one game away from going back to the World Series and are currently the best team in baseball.  So maybe rebuilding isn’t as arduous of a process as we are being led to believe.  And yes, the Cardinals were a better team to begin with, but come on).

Contrarily, if the Cubs do decide to sign or trade for a player (or players) that address immediate needs, so the major league team can win games in 2014 and beyond, then I’m wrong.  And I’ll no problem admitting it.  I’ll have no problem apologizing and eating crow and receiving the jibes and insults I would so rightfully deserve.  Understand, I want to wrong about this.  I want the Cubs to win the free agent race and win the NL Central and win the National League Pennant and win the World Series.  But I just don’t see that happening, not when the message coming from the top is, “Wait ‘Til Next Year”.

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