Actually, I have no idea what the plan is, and judging from the confusion and frustration in the Cubs blogosphere and among our own followers, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. I proposed a likely scenario towards the end of the last article where the Cubs are attempting a stealth rebuild effort, which if you’re paying attention is not really all that stealthy. The only major acquisitions so far are David DeJesus, his smoking hot wife, and Ian Stewart. The Cubs don’t seem to be very aggressive in free agency and haven’t done much more than hire a new coaching staff, new scouts and other front office guys, and set up Christmas trees in front of Wrigley Field. So what’s going on?
Intermission and a public service announcement
Every now and then something unrelated to the Cubs comes up that Cubs fans and all others should take notice of. A story of a mother assaulting her daughter has been circulating and is very disturbing in and of itself. What’s ridiculous is that it was because of a football game, specifically, the Green Bay Packers’ loss to Kansas City this past Sunday. Now as Chicago-area fans we are naturally supposed to support the Bears and hate Green Bay, but this isn’t an indictment of Packers fans (we have Cubs fans following us who prefer the Pack and that’s cool), but of stupid fans. Stupid fans like the ones who beat up Brian Stow, or say really really dumb racist and inflammatory shit on the internet or in person. It’s okay to be a passionate sports fan and feel a bit of pain when your favorite team loses a game. It’s not okay to be a dumbass. Please, friends of World Series Dreaming…don’t be a dumbass.
Back to the plan…
When Theo Epstein was first introduced as the new face of Cubs baseball operations, fans cheered him and felt hope for the first time since the end of the 2008 regular season. Obviously he couldn’t bring a World Series to the Cubs just yet (the season was done and the Cardinals had won) but the expectation was that he would work towards that goal starting at that point. Theo said a few things that are important to note from that conference:
“I firmly believe that we can preserve the things that make the Cubs so special and over time build a consistent winner, a team that will be playing baseball in October consistently and a team that will ultimately win the World Series.”
As for how he’d do it:
“I do think we can be honest and upfront that certain organizations haven’t gotten the job done. That’s the approach we took in Boston. We identified certain things that we hadn’t been doing well, that might have gotten in the way of a World Series, and eradicated them. That’s what we’ll do here.”
Oh there’s more:
“When I got to Boston they hadn’t won in 86 years. We didn’t run from that challenge. We embraced it,” Epstein said. “We decided the way to attack it was to build the best baseball operation that we could, to try to establish a winning culture, to work as hard as possible and to bring in players who care more about each other and more about winning than the people around them thought or the external expectations, the external mindset. That’s something that is going to be important to us here as well.
“We’re going to build the best baseball operation we can. We’re going to change the culture. Our players are going to change the culture along with us in the major league clubhouse. We’re going to make building a foundation for sustained success a priority. That will lead to playing October baseball more often than not. Once you get in in October there’s a legitimate chance to win the World Series.”
Epstein vowed to build a better scouting and farm system for the Cubs.
“We won’t rest until there is a steady stream of talent” going to Wrigley Field from the minors.
“We’re going to have to grind our way to the top,” he said.
The part that the fans are most excited about (or were, anyway, before the flaccid free agency period):
“Every opportunity to win is sacred,” Epstein said. “It’s sacred to us inside the organization and it should be sacred to the fans as well. They deserve our best efforts to do what we can to improve the club, and put the club in position to succeed in any given season.”
To summarize, Theo said he’d get rid of all the bad players, personnel and philosophies and implement new, winning personnel and strategies. He never once said how long it was going to take although they would do their best to improve the club. Improving the club does not mean he guarantees a playoff berth in 2012, but there are mechanisms in the background that can be streamlined to aid the pursuit of that goal. He prioritizes building a farm system, which is what all the trade talk seems to be leading towards as the Cubs are reportedly shopping all their assets, including Matt Garza and Sean Marshall. Building a team is much, much more than just the major league roster. It would behoove us to pay attention to how the minors and player development are progressing over this next year even if the MLB club is floundering.
I’m sure that fans will continue to complain about the lack of activity on the major league front, and probably call for Theo’s head when the team is out of contention by July. But the team would also have saved tons of money, amassed a couple of draft picks from the departure of Aramis Ramirez and (possibly) Carlos Pena, while the minors are revamped to produce players who play solid defense, know how to run the bases, and will actually get on base and produce runs in different ways. That’s something to look forward to. With the moves this offseason, the Cubs have improved their defense, which will in turn help their pitching staff. Starlin Castro will get the help he needs to stop throwing the ball into the stands or the dugout. Hopefully the base coaches will help the baserunners stop with the TOOTBLANs already. The Cubs may not score as many runs (unless they throw money at Prince Fielder) but they’ll potentially make less stupid outs, and prevent more runs. That’s an incremental improvement that will translate into wins, with a little luck. That’s a bit of rationalizing on my part, but given what’s transpired so far (or not) this offseason, that’s the logic I’m going with.
Remember old action shows like “The A-Team”? They used to go into impossible situations where they’d be outnumbered and outgunned. Maybe Hannibal gets captured. Maybe B.A. gets shot, or Murdock crashes the helicopter, or Face gets slapped around like a pansy. But invariably they’d find themselves in a toolshed with a bunch of spare parts and build a tank out of milk crates and Crisco (seriously, bad guys, why do you keep locking them in with acetylene torches?). That’s what seems to be happening with the Cubs right now. They have to take a bunch of busted milk crates and gradually turn them into a contender. As Theo himself said weeks ago, we’re going to have to grind to get to the top. With the mess he’s been left with, you will excuse me if I’m going to give the guy with two World Series rings the benefit of the doubt that he’ll eventually save the day. Just a matter of how long “eventually” is.