Michael Bowden, Alex Burnett, Shawn Camp, Rafael Dolis, Kyuji Fujikawa, Kevin Gregg, Matt Guerrier, Kameron Loe, Carlos Marmol, Blake Parker, Zach Putnam, Brooks Raley, Henry Rodriguez, Hector Rondon, James Russell, Eduardo Sanchez, Pedro Strop, Hisanori Takahashi, and Carlos Villanueva.
That is the list of everybody who’s appeared in a game for the Cubs out of the bullpen thus far. And that pen has been much maligned. For a lot of reasons. The 24 blown saves advance that perception, even though many of those “saves” were blown in the 7th and 8th innings, and not the 9th. In all actuality, the 9th inning hasn’t gone all that bad for the Cubs. When the Cubs get to the 9th inning with a lead, they are 45-4. For comparison sake, they are 1-58 when they enter the 9th trailing. And overall, the bullpen has been much better of late. Since the additions of Strop, Guerrier, and Parker, the pen has been solid, and it has not regressed since Guerrier was lost. With Russell, Parker, and Strop, the Cubs finally have a bridge to Kevin Gregg in the 9th, who has gotten the job done in spite of how interesting it may be.
Looking forward, the Cubs figure to have James Russell, Blake Parker, Pedro Strop, and Carlos Villanueva back in the bullpen next season. Villanueva may be in the rotation for periods, but it seems like he is best suited to be in the pen, and fill in as a spot starter. That leaves three openings for next season’s bullpen. Matt Guerrier may be invited back after rehabbing from forearm surgery. The Cubs also have some players who can fit nicely into relief roles in the system already. Brian Schlitter has been dominant at AAA Iowa this season, racking up 17 saves without blowing one. And Arodys Vizcaino should be back from his elbow issues the last couple of years. The plan is, tentatively, to send him to play in fall and/ or winter leagues, to get him back on the mound, which would serve him well in rehabbing this off-season. And he may end up as a starter at some point, but a cautious approach with him, and letting him get innings in a bullpen role would be a way to bring him back at the major league level without running up 150-175 innings in his first year back. Filling the last slot with Hector Rondon, who has a good arm and a year of experience could make the Cubs pen much better, assuming everyone stays healthy and pitches similarly to how they are now.
Projected 2014 Opening Day Bullpen (assuming no outside moves are made):
While this exercise is highly speculative, the point is simple: the Cubs have the arms to improve the bullpen within the organization. And every one of the players in my projection has been in the major leagues, including Schlitter, who appeared in seven games all the way back in 2010. They have some depth, too. If the Cubs can figure out what is wrong with Henry Rodriguez and get him to throw strikes, he’s a viable option. Matt Guerrier has already expressed interest in returning on a minor league deal, and at this point, there is no harm in that. Eduardo Sanchez was a once promising reliever with the Cardinals, and is young enough to recapture his form. Kyuji Fujikawa will return at some point next season from Tommy John Surgery. And most importantly, maybe, Carlos Marmol, who couldn’t finish games at the end of his Cubs’ career, and Shawn Camp, who got beat up a lot this season will not be returning.
The pen is already better right now than it was for most of the summer. And there is talent in the organization to improve it further next season. With any offense at all, the Cubs might actually flirt with a winning season, which would be a positive step in the rebuilding effort.
On July 29th, the Cubs returned home for the first time since the All-Star Break, seven games under .500, and without Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano, who’d both been dealt on the west coast road trip. Things looked good. They’d won the trip against the Rockies, DBacks, and Giants, in spite of moving Garza and Soriano. But some warning signs were there…
First, they weren’t scoring all that much in San Francisco. They scored six runs in the series. It’s not like they were lighting the world on fire. They were just less futile than the Giants that particular weekend. And the Giants hadn’t been playing all that well, anyway. The Cubs were playing an equal, in spite of what that banner from last October might have said. The Giants simply aren’t all that good this season.
Coming home, they got a series with the lowly Brewers. Who are in the division. Which, this season, automatically means inexplicably losing at least two of the games. Lo and behold, they drop three of the four, all of which were in typical 2013 Cubs fashion. Pedro Strop gave up the only five runs he’s allowed as a Cub in the first game. They dropped both games of a doubleheader, blowing leads on a James Russell home run allowed in the first game and a Kevin Gregg blown save in the second, with a third strike call that wasn’t and a soft line out to short that wasn’t helping them blow the lead in the ninth inning.
After the Brewers, they got the Dodgers for four. As of today, the Dodgers have won 40 out of their last 48. In case you weren’t sure, an .833 winning percentage is freakin good. They’ve been killing everybody lately. It would have been a surprise if the Cubs won more than once in the series, and it doesn’t come as any surprise that they didn’t win at all. The Dodgers are a buzz saw right now, and the Cubs were a thin sheet of plywood at that point. Sure, they could have scored some runs in the last two, but it’s not earth shattering news that they didn’t…they haven’t been scoring all that much all season long.
The road is a little more kind to the Cubs. Splitting six games with the Phillies and Cardinals is a good result. In spite of their record, the Phillies still have some talent on their roster, and the Cardinals have been toward the top of the standings in all of baseball since Opening Day. Winning half of your road games is a good thing, so no complaints there.
Getting the Reds, and Mat Latos when you get back home isn’t the house warming gift a struggling offense wants or needs. And Latos was nasty on Monday night. So they got shut out again by another good pitcher. They got to Homer Bailey a little bit, which was nice to see, but Bronson Arroyo, who’s pretty solid, and loves to stick it to the Cubs for whatever reason, shut them down again.
I give you that nice summary of the painful last two and a half weeks to tell you this…all of those (with the exception of the Brewers) are pretty decent teams. The Cubs just aren’t. Not after trading away another 40% of the rotation and the clean-up hitter.
“What I want to avoid is the middle ground. It’d be nice to make the playoffs or get a protected draft pick. We’re not hiding that. There’s no glory in 78 wins instead of 73. Who cares?
We’re going to see where we are and take a real cold assessment in the middle of the season. If we have a legitimate chance to push for a playoff spot then 2013 can become our primary focus. If we think a playoff spot’s not in the cards, there will be no concern for appearances or cosmetics whatsoever. We’ll continue to address our future and trade off some pieces that would keep us respectable.’
And presto…the team who didn’t have a chance for the playoffs this season made their cold assessment, looked to the future, moved some parts that could keep it respectable, and it’s gotten ugly against some better than average competition. And we’re bitching about not scoring any runs? WE WERE TOLD THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN SIX MONTHS AGO! If you thought the Cubs had a chance to win the division or compete for a playoff spot, you were one of three things: on the team and have to believe you’re not going to suck just to keep your own sanity, a big time optimist, or delusional. I had the Cubs, as they arrived at camp, hanging around .500. (I also had the Pirates finishing dead last in the division, so take it for what you will) I made that prediction early because nobody for sure can never tell who’s going to stay or go, or get hurt. And, the team that broke camp, actually played well enough to be near .500 every month except for April (10-16) and thus far in August.
The moral of the story here is simple…It is ridiculous to be on board with the rebuild and bemoan that the team isn’t all that good during the middle of it. It’s even more ridiculous to be critical of how ugly it is when we were told explicitly by the guy who was going to decide on who to move and when to move them that it was probably going to happen. None of this is a surprise. If it is, you haven’t been paying attention.
I now return you to waiting for Javier Baez to hit another home run in AA.
Theo Epstein spoke today, and like all times when Theo has something to say, it’s generated some buzz.
“A million here, a million there, that’s what we can afford. We’re not in position to throw around hundreds of millions of dollars in free agency. But if we can do it in that (international free agency) market, we might as well try to monopolize it as best we can.”
That line from Theo has started the “mid-market” talk among fans and media, alike. Patrick Mooney put out a great piece which explicitly called the Cubs just that. Then again, knowing the Cubs’ history of flushing money down the crapper and how the landscape of baseball is changing with the new labor agreement, is that such a bad thing?
At the risk of repeating myself, the way the Cubs are going about their business is the best way to do it. Free agency is not going to produce a team that goes from the bottom of the division to the top after just one winter, like the Cubs managed to do between the 2006 and 2007 seasons. There are no quick fixes. So spending “a million here, a million there” on international free agents and by acquiring a load of talent to retool from within is the last best option. Minor league talent is currency. Teams can develop and field that talent when it reaches the point major league ready (unlike the Cubs have…see Patterson, Corey; Pie, Felix) , or they can use it to acquire established players…which is the “new free agency.” Teams who are selling off veterans like the Cubs have the last couple of seasons are essentially teams of free agents who can be had if the price is right.
Drafting and development hasn’t been a strength of the Cubs in the past. Bleacher Nation had a piece yesterday that should make the former front office want to huddle in a corner and cry. You think the team we’re watching is bad? Take a look at that roster. It makes me cringe. The good news is, the article BN referenced is linked, showing all 30 teams…including the Red Sox, which was led by Theo Epstein. In a weird, mid-market sort of way, a number of the major pieces of what made the Red Sox good over the second half of his tenure were homegrown…like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholtz, and Jonathan Papelbon while players like Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez were used as currency to obtain other useful parts.
The era of big market supremacy has passed. In all reality, it never really existed. Even the Yankees in the ’90s were mostly homegrown with some complimentary free agents sprinkled in. It is time to embrace the “mid-market” philosophy of spending wisely and developing players…because it works.
Almost immediately after the game yesterday, Julio Borbon was designated for assignment. In the ninth inning, Borbon made a Grade A Stupid Play, bringing TOOTBLAN to a whole new level.
“That, obviously, was an unfortunate thing that happened. It is a point that we just can’t keep having those things go on, and he’s had a few of them himself. So it was time to make an adjustment to the roster and see if somebody else can do the job. Those are things that are controllable. You don’t have control over swinging at a slider in the dirt. Nobody’s wanting to do that. Those are physical things. Things you have complete control over is knowing the game and thinking ahead, understanding the ramifications. In that situation, you mean absolutely nothing at that point. You can literally stand on second base and not do anything, and everything will be perfectly fine.”
When I read that, I have to admit, my BS detector went nuts. While Dale is correct when he points out that there have been multiple instances of Borbon running himself off the bases, he would also be correct if he said that about every Cub this season. If he wanted to send a message about poor play, why does David DeJesus have a job? He was completely brutal yesterday, and he’s had a number of concentration lapses that have directly led to runs scoring as an outfielder.
The answer is simple…Borbon was the 25th man. He was probably on his way out the door soon, even if he would have hit a walk-off grand slam yesterday. At some point in the near future, Ryan Sweeney and Brian Bogusevic are going to be coming back. The Cubs have also been mighty left-handed this season. At least for the time being, Donnie Murphy, who was added to the roster today, is a right handed hitter who has hit pretty well at AAA Iowa.
My guess is, he’ll be on the first bus back to Des Moines when either Sweeney or Bogusevic return. And newcomer Cole Gillespie will likely get the boot, also. Dale and the front office just happened to fall bass-ackwards into an opportune time to send a message to Junior Lake (who’s run into his share of stupid outs in just a couple of weeks), and the other youngsters who are watching the big league club from the minor leagues. And he was right to do it. It just doesn’t mean that what he said was the whole truth.
In just about two days time, the non-waiver trade deadline will come and go. The Cubs, who have been more active than any team in the month of July, will see a considerable slow down in activity with the passing of the draft, the initial international free agent signing period, and the trade deadline. That leaves them with an ample opportunity to take care of what may be the most vital piece of business they have left before next season: Extend the contract of Manager, Dale Sveum.
As Theo Epstein’s hand picked successor to Mike Quade, Dale Sveum has done everything the Cubs could have imagined…and more. He deserves to go into next season with some job security, and the Cubs should go into this off-season, where they will surely try to add players who can help the major league team take the next step toward respectability, with stability in the manager’s office.
Although his 109-156 record isn’t outstanding, it is also not his fault. He walked into a complete overhaul of a roster of albatross contracts, aging veterans, and young players who really weren’t major league players. To make matters worse, the front office either traded or shut down major portions of his starting rotation…in both 2012 and 2013. The bullpens he’s had to work with have been largely unproven young players or veteran retreads (*cough cough* Shawn Camp *cough*), and it has shown in the win-loss column.
Dale Sveum was hired to do two main things: Keep the clubhouse together and develop young talent. He’s done exceedingly well on both fronts in his first two seasons.
On the player development front, the biggest feather in his cap is the coaching staff he’s put together. While he may have had Rudy Jaramillo and Pat Listach as hold overs for either part or all of last season, the additions of Dave McKay, David Bell, and Chris Bosio have all been successful. Dave McKay helped turn Alfonso Soriano into a serviceable left fielder. After years of being afraid of the wall and hopping around like a wounded bunny rabbit, Soriano had the highest UZR among NL left fielders last season. It’s amazing what a little coaching will do after Soriano admitted that he hadn’t gotten any outfield instruction before last season, from either Quade’s staff or Lou Piniella before him. Anthony Rizzo is another success, as Sveum, the former Brewers hitting coach, brought his hands down, shortening his swing, and making him better than the .141/.281.242 hitter he was with the Padres in 2011. The anecdotes serve as evidence of a whole: the Cubs are a vastly improved defensive team from the years before Sveum. And the approach at the plate is starting to get better, too. Nothing happens over night, but the results are starting to show up. In spite of all of the player movement, trades, and lost veterans in the clubhouse, the Cubs have a winning record since May 26 (30-25). While the sample is small, the results matter. Even with major bullpen issues and a complete inability to hit with runners in scoring position, the Cubs are playing competitively. The steps in the right direction are adding up.
The clubhouse is the other place Sveum was asked to thrive. As a former top prospect, he can relate to the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and soon Javier Baez, et al. He can also relate to the 25th man on the roster because that’s where his career ended after a devastating leg injury. He knows the weight of expectations and he knows the plight of the role player who is tasked to sit and wait for his name to be called, and the need to be ready. He relates to his players because he’s been there and done that. And while he took some undeserved criticism for his loyalty to Shawn Camp from fans, it was not his job to get rid of Camp. It was the front office’s. Having his player’s back, especially one who he’s had history with, was the only move he could make that doesn’t send the alienating “as soon as I see trouble, I’m going to turn my back on you.” message. That’s a terrible image to portray to the rest of the team. The fact that Dale said it was tough to see Camp go may have made fans cringe, but it probably made the team smile a little bit. When veterans like Matt Garza hang around after being shut down with 2 1/2 months left in a 100 loss season, it says as much as there is to say about a clubhouse…especially when Garza admitted if it had been Quade’s clubhouse, he would have gone home. And being able to sign quality free agents like Edwin Jackson after a 100 loss season doesn’t happen if the player thinks the manager is a bum who can’t manage a clubhouse. Think about it. Has anything obscenely negative come out of the clubhouse during Sveum’s tenure? For a team with the win-loss record the Cubs have had, you’d think there would be something. Especially in a media market like Chicago. But it’s been remarkably quiet. Which means the bad stuff is being handled where it should…in house.
Dale has been charged with over-seeing a complete rebuild, which couldn’t have been fun, couldn’t have been easy, and couldn’t have happened in any worse a place than Wrigley Field, where every year is “THE YEAR” to a group of people who only watch the game and read the box score in the paper each morning. The reality is, last year, this year, and probably next year are not “THE YEAR.” But the team is heading in the right direction in spite of the instability among the player personnel. That is a credit to Sveum, and the right thing to do is ensure that he never gets to “lame duck” status in the last year of a contract with a team, who next year may be able to win consistently for the first time in his tenure.
Besides. He got shot in the face and laughed it off. How cool is it to have a manager like that?
For the third time this season, the Cubs lost a 1-0 game today. This was the first time it happened to Travis Wood (The first two happened to Jeff Samardzija). Wood has been excellent all season long, and today was no exception. The fact that he went six shutout innings and didn’t take a loss (like Shark did in his two 1-0 losses) is a small moral victory for him, but in reality, if you lose a game 1-0, regardless of who allows the run, or why the run scores (like today’s passed ball), some of the blame goes to the offense, and the other part of the blame goes to the opposing pitcher. Remember, the other guys get paid, too.
Apparently, a lot of the blame for today needs to be directed at Starlin Castro for not hustling on the single by Alfonso Soriano in the fourth inning that resulted in Castro being thrown out by Yoenis Cespedes at the plate. Since the Cubs lost today by a single run, I would argue that it all be placed solely on the 23 year old who is being accused off dogging it.
On second thought, maybe, and this is me just brain-storming here, but maybe Starlin didn’t break it off second to make sure the ball was going to drop. Or maybe he slipped on the dirt. Or maybe the A’s broadcast duo who accused Starlin of “half jogging” are morons and all of the replies Buster got for his tweet are biased based on the audio of the clip. From what I saw on video (which is a horrible way of judging whether or not someone is at full speed), Starlin did turn it up some when he rounded, but it’s not like he can go full speed making a hard left turn. Nothing suggested to me that he was dogging it. Cubs’ Manager, Dale Sveum didn’t seem to think it was an issue, saying after the game via Carrie Muskat, “I thought he was [going to score]. It seemed like a no brainer right off the bat. I don’t know what happened there.” If Sveum, who’s been pretty blunt about whether Castro, or anyone else, is playing the right way in his first year and a half as manager, didn’t say “he was dogging it until he got to third,” I don’t think there’s much of a story here.
In his own post game comments, via Carrie Muskat, Starlin said, “The guy made a great throw. I thought I’d score easy. I never stopped, I never said to myself, ‘I’m out.’ I ran hard right away to second base. I was surprised I was out.” I think Starlin said it best. The guy (Cespedes) made a great throw. In fact, it was a frozen rope right to A’s catcher Derrek Norris that beat Castro by a couple of steps. If the throw had been anything but that perfect, Castro would have scored. This should be chalked up to not knowing the guy in the field because this is the first time they’ve seen him. You can watch all the video and read all of the advanced scouting you want…sometimes it takes being gunned down by a cannon arm to know just how good an arm is.
That, of course, won’t stop Buster Olney from putting a quarter in the masses who want to see Castro shipped out for being a space cadet and any other unfair labels they want to place on a kid, who in just over three full seasons (527 games), has 611 hits. Like I said in a previous post, Starlin Castro moves the needle. That is to say, he also gets a national reporter on a flailing network some mindless response on Twitter…in this case by rubbing two sticks together and yelling fire.
The roster move we were promised to add a position player today was made…and it was a big one. Carlos Marmol was designated for assignment. While the celebration on Twitter was wide spread and the sentiment was overwhelmingly about this being long overdue, most fans are missing something vitally important: Carlos Marmol was the most dominant reliever for about a four year span in the game.
Jed Hoyer said the move was made because Marmol had become a distraction, and “kind of a side show,” from Gordon Wittenmeyer. That’s very true. But it is also not Marmol’s fault. He became a distraction because of us. He became a side show because of us. As fans, we made him an event in his last year and a half with the Cubs. So when he says, “I would say that the lack of support from the fans was part of the reason of the mental block that I suffered recently,” I refuse to blame him.
Between 2007 and 2010, Carlos Marmol was the gold standard. He pitched in 59, 82, 79, and 77 games, respectively in those seasons, with an ERA of 2.54. His slider was nasty to the point of untouchable when everyone in the building knew it was coming. He was a rally stopper as a set-up man. He would come into games in spots where giving up only one run would be a nice way to limit damage and shut it down. In 2007, he had an ERA+ of 325!!!!! That’s ridiculous on every level. He averaged 12.9 K/9 between 2007 and 2010, with a mark of 16.0 K/9 in 2010, which was his first year as a closer.
Jed Hoyer is absolutely right when he says that we should “look at his Baseball Reference page and remember how good he was when he was at his best.” (From CSN’s Patrick Mooney) He was really, really good.
What is most embarrassing is that we’re going to celebrate Marmol being designated for assignment, and likely released. We should be celebrating what he gave us. He was thrilling to watch. Electric in the 7th and 8th innings on two division champions.
Carlos Marmol is proof of what athletes are. They are commodities. They get used and discarded indiscriminately. Hopefully, Carlos catches on with another team. And I sincerely hope he never walks back into Wrigley Field. He deserves better than the cascade of boos that will be showered upon him.
Oh yeah… Brian Bogusevic had his contract selected from Iowa to take his roster spot.
In 2011, the Cubs and Cardinals shared something in common. Both dreamed of 2012 with Albert Pujols in the line-up. Jerseys,
shirsies, and Cubs’ gear with the signature 5 on the back started appearing. And then Jim Hendry gave him a hug. And we all leaned forward. And then Hendry got fired and Theo Epstein got the job to lead the front office after spending mega-dollars in Boston. We all thought it was a sure thing that the Cubs would sign Pujols or former Brewer, Prince Fielder. And then the Cubs traded for Anthony Rizzo. And the dreaming was over.
The start of a rebuild was upon us. None of us thought it was 101 losses bad. We didn’t think we would be waiting until 2015 to be realistic contenders. That is, however, where we are. And it is exactly where we should be.
My favorite conversations are with the people who talk about “winning now.” We should buy free agents to win now while prospects develop so that we have a good major league product while we develop a minor league product. The reality, though, is that logic is flawed. Because the evidence suggests that it fails just about 100% of the time.
The New York Yankees are the poster-children for throwing money at flaws. In fact, the Yankees have spent, since 2001, roughly $2.375 BILLION on payroll. They have appeared in the World Series only three times (2001, 2003, and 2009), and have only won once (2009). They spent about $792 million per World Series appearance. Meanwhile, the Cubs have spent about $1.294 billion on payroll for three PLAYOFF appearances, and no World Series berths in the same time frame. Every year, the Cubs are in the top half (even now) in total payroll and have had among the highest in the National League over the last 13 years.
The teams who are winning are those who draft their players, develop them, bring them up, and learn to win at the MLB level. There is a reason the Rays are one of the most stable franchises in baseball now, in spite of having to let players like Matt Garza, Carl Crawford, James Shields, and likely soon will let David Price walk out the door. They do their work on the draft and turn their talent into contending quality major league teams. The Giants have done the same thing with home grown Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Buster Posey, et al winning two of the last three championships. The Cardinals refused to pay Albert Pujols more than he was worth. They set a number and a length for him, and refused to budge. He went to the Angels, and his legs stayed in St. Louis. Meanwhile, he has eight years left on his contract. He’ll be a player who can’t run, can’t be traded, and has to be paid until 2021. Sound familiar? A certain left fielder has drawn the ire of Cubs fans for failing to live up to his deal, and Pujols has an even worse contract.
Like it did with the Rays, the Phillies when they won with a core of Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins (all home grown), and the Giants, it will take time for the Cubs to roll the snowball of building talent into a top down organizational juggernaut like the current Cardinals (who have the best record in baseball and one of the best farm systems to pair with it), but it is the right direction.
In the coming free agent class, there are no game changers to make the Cubs instant contenders. That is just another flaw in a completely unsustainable plan. Robinson Cano is the only potential free agent who could make an impact on a line up, and it is highly unlikely that he leaves New York. Shin Soo Choo is a nice piece, but he isn’t pushing the Cubs into the category of making a deep October run. Jacoby Ellsbury is a good player who may finally be healthy, but he is nearing the wrong side of 30, and has an injury history that makes him a salary liability. And if/ when the Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Brett Jackson, Kris Bryant group gets to Chicago, they have an old player with a big contract blocking them. The pitching isn’t much better in the coming off-season. The most accomplished free agent pitcher to be is already on the Cubs’ roster in Matt Garza.
Losing games isn’t any fun. It’s easy to understand the frustration of watching the team lose games they could win, sink to the bottom of the division in May, and sell off veteran pieces for players who may turn into nothing. But throwing money at free agents and trading every nice piece in the farm for a chance at one year is how the Cubs got to this point in the first place. They are much better served developing their players, bringing them to the big league level, and trading prospects only when the return is a player who can be useful for sustained success. Money is best spent in the manner the front office has shown that it is going to spend it…on its own core pieces. Keeping young talent in-house for mutually beneficial deals is a very good way to spend money, and the Cubs’ position as a big market team should be able to allow them to hang on to their players, and not have to purge them when they have out-performed their contracts.
An unfortunate side effect to doing it the right way is that it takes time. And it will. Anything worth doing, though, is worth doing right. Doing it right takes time, and good things come to those who wait, and all those other things we were told when we were kids. They’re all true.
Last night during the broadcast of the Cubs’ 5-2 loss to the Cardinals, ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian made what I thought was an interesting, but relatively benign comment about the Cubs’ rebuilding process…
To which I said…
Basically, my intention was to say something positive about the process that the Cubs are locked into the middle of. Last season wasn’t easy to watch, even though I stand by what I have said before, which is that I had more fun watching the Cubs last year than I did in any year since 2008. That has been surpassed this season, even though, admittedly, it is frustrating to watch these young players lose games they very well could (should) win. This season, in addition to last season, are steps. They are building to a product that will compete with the best of the best. To see the foundation being laid last year and some of the framing of the future team being added and constructed is exciting for those who understand what is going on.
From my perspective, it’s tough to relate to the fans who are clamoring for Dale Sveum’s job because the Cubs aren’t winning enough. Or for the front office to be scrapped and started from scratch less than two years after they got started. It is plainly obvious those fans don’t pay attention to much more than the final score. Last week, after the Pirates got done smacking the Cubs around in two of three at Wrigley, their manager, Clint Hurdle had good things to say about the rebuilding process. A rival manager does not have to say good things, unsolicited, about the opposition. The fact that he said that while watching his team slap around the young Cubs is even more telling. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the Cubs’ farm system fifth best in baseball before the season, which is a dramatic improvement over just one year earlier. And there have been anecdotes like the one last night about an opposing GM, front office personnel, or scout saying good things about the process the Cubs have embarked on.
Actually, just about all of the negativity is coming from media and fans who thought that bringing in Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod were going to make the Cubs a World Series champion over night. That’s an unrealistic standard for any front office, especially considering the condition they found the Cubs in…which was a complete, unmitigated disaster. It takes time to fix years and years and years of neglecting the total organization. What the Epstein- Hoyer regime has done is nothing short of remarkable, and the organization, as a whole, is in the best shape it’s been in since the ’90s. Even when the Cubs were winning five years ago, their farm system was a mess. They mortgaged the future (which is now) for immediate success. Blaming Tom Ricketts is silly (stupid) for the decline because it was inevitable, regardless of who the owner was. The team was aging veteran players with big contracts. And there was no young talent to replace it. That was the plan. Be as good as possible to raise the value of the team while it was up for sale. Future be damned.
What the Cubs have, finally, is stability. The team is not for sale. The front office has been given the freedom to make the moves necessary to build a team that can compete, year in and year out, from the owner, who from the looks of things, is not inserting himself in the baseball operation. It may take some time for the Cubs to get there. And there are no guarantees about what the future holds. Nobody is stupid enough to guarantee the Cubs are going to win it all in a set time frame. There is too much uncertainty in this game to do it. The reality, though, is that when (yes, when) the Cubs are winning 90+ games each year, they have a better chance to get into the playoffs, and a better chance to get to the World Series and win the World Series on an annual basis.
And THAT IS EXCITING to think about. Even if it’s just a light at the end of the tunnel.
It is undeniable that Starlin Castro is the player who gets the most attention on the Cubs’ roster. There is good reason for that. A $60M contract extension will do that, especially when you’re 22. 594 career hits at time in his life when a lot of kids are just finishing college will also do the trick. The man is a lightning rod for fans to pin their hopes for a future championship on.
He is also a man for fans to beat down. And he gets beat down because of the media attention that is placed on him. More specifically, the intense scrutiny that comes with every mistake he makes. We can all still hear Bobby Valentine talking about how his head wasn’t in it on that play on Sunday Night Baseball two years ago…admit it. CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney says it best when he says that Starlin “moves the needle.” As in, he draws eyes to the screen, to the paper, and clicks to the websites.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the coverage a lot of the beat writers and the talking heads provide of the Cubs. I think they do a pretty solid job of keeping a pretty uninteresting team entertaining through a tough rebuilding process. That’s their job, and they do it well. Things like this, however don’t help a young player with the weight of 105 years on his shoulders…
On his ninth inning drive to left field, it is true Starlin admired his work. He did not run out of the box as hard as he could have. And I hope it was discussed on the plane to New York tonight between Castro and Dale Sveum. It can’t be with a veteran leader because Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus both made stupid base running mistakes today, too, and they should also have a conversation with their manager, and it should be less cordial than the one with the 23 year old. To be fair to Starlin, he CRUSHED the ball. The wind made it a double. That ball was going to be a walk-off home run in the ninth inning, the double it turned out to be, or an out. No amount of busting it was going to change that. It sure did put some heat on a kid who is hopefully breaking out of a slump after a good day today, though. Yes, he did have two errors (one of which was a really tough play, and the throw drew Rizzo off the bag when it was going to be close anyway), but his bat came to life a little. He looked like the Starlin we saw in 2010 and 2011.
I like David Kaplan, so don’t mistake this as an attack on him. That’s not the intent. He is a passionate fan who calls ’em like he sees ’em. It’s good stuff. But his Twitter following is roughly 100 times what mine is, and his soap box is television. To an extent, and this is just my opinion, you either have to call all of them or none of them. Alfonso Soriano made a total bonehead play in the 8th, getting thrown out at second on the most routine of base hits right in front of him. After the walk and base hit immediately following his mistake, who knows what happens, but Schierholtz scored the tying run when he could have been the go ahead run after Soriano scores in front of him. Castro’s play in the ninth could have been avoided if Soriano, a 37 year old veteran ball player didn’t make the king of base running blunders.
In the 13th, David DeJesus jogged on down to first base on a routine ground ball and stopped short of the bag. None of this is a big deal, except that the Gold Glover, Brandon Phillips bobbled it and he could have made it a close play at first, or even gotten into first had he hustled. As John Arguello pointed out at the time, though…
This is not to say we shouldn’t be upset or even criticize Starlin Castro. The point is actually much more simple that that. We shouldn’t unfairly criticize Castro. His defense is still a topic of hot conversation, even though he is on pace for the fewest errors in a season of his career, even after his two today (Nine errors in 64 games, which is a pace of roughly 23 for the season…Javier Baez has 26 at last glance at Daytona. So no, he’s not better at short right now, meatballs). My point is that we shouldn’t hammer the kid when he does something inconsequential like today. And we absolutely should hammer all of the players when they don’t hustle, make stupid mistakes, or drop routine fly balls that they can get two hands on and catch, which would save a run (Looking at you again, DeJesus).
Then again, maybe I’m just saying all of this for hits on the blog.