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.
After the addition of Jorge Soler to the Cubs’ farm system, there is some changing of the guard in the top level of prospects in the organization, especially in the top five. The signing, expected to be done next week, will only add to what the team already has, which becoming less and less embarrassing as time passes. With that, here is a look at the updated top five prospects in the system…
- 1B Anthony Rizzo: His numbers in Triple A this season say it all. His 22 HRs, .357 BA, and 57 RBIs are all top notch in minor league baseball. His slugging and OPS are in fact the best in minor league baseball. At the moment, he is a major league player on a minor league roster. His defense is very good at first base. I could go on and on about Anthony Rizzo, but it starts to sound too much like a full on man-crush after this.
- OF Brett Jackson: Hitting .259 with 8 HRs, 8 triples, 26 BB, but he also has 85 strike outs in 239 at bats. He was sent down to cut down the strike outs, but has not been able to do that as of yet. He will be a major leaguer. I think he will probably be a pretty good one, and a legit third in the order hitter at the major league level. He will always be a high strike out guy. That just is who he is at this point, but if he struggles to control it in Iowa, he is going to get hammered by in at Wrigley. When he gets the average over the .280 mark, gets the strike outs down, and does it consistently, he’ll be up. Doing it any sooner than that risks putting him in Corey Patterson and Felix Pie territory.
- OF Jorge Soler: This is a high place to put a man that hasn’t even gotten into the country and taken a physical, yet. That’s what happens when you get a nine year deal. Expectations for Soler are going to be high. The potential is clearly there, and the work
ethic has been too, according to scouts that have watched him over the years with the Cuban national team. The kid can play. He is a five tool prospect, and when you get that billing, you get standing just under the major leaguers in waiting.
- IF Javier Baez: In 14 games with Peoria, he is hitting .294 and getting on base at a .379 clip. Not bad for the 2011 First Round pick. Not too bad for his first full season in professional baseball. With Starlin Castro manning short stop, something Theo Epstein gave him a vote of confidence in today, Baez could shift to the left a few feet, becoming a third baseman much the same way that Darwin Barney became a second baseman. He has the ability to be an impact hitter at the top of a line up, with good speed on the bases (7 SB in his 14 games), and is a good defender. He is still very raw, and very young (19), but has a good bat, and can defend.
- RHP Dillon Maples: Maples has a plus fastball and sharp curve. He has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter. And he is a 14th round pick that was thought to be virtually unsignable…until the Cubs ponied up the cash ($2.5M signing bonus) to sign him away from being a two sport athlete at the University of North Carolina. Most teams had him projected as a first round talent and he fell because of his signability issues, which means the Cubs got an absolute steal. He needs to develop an off-speed pitch of some sort (change-up, splitter, etc), and he needs to build command. He has an unconventional delivery, which is a little bit bothersome, but at age 20, he has a great deal of potential, which makes him the top pitching prospect in the Cubs’ system today.