The Less-Than-Ten-Percent-of-Season Reality Check

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The Chicago Cubs are now 3-10.  They have scored 46 runs in those 13 games, which is good enough to put me on pace to win my bet with Anno but not much else.  This Cubs team is simply not very good.  I think most of us realizes that the Cubs won’t do very well this season due to the rebuild, but it’s only human to wonder if the Cubs will ever win again, or whether the front office will fire somebody or demote this guy or that guy and bring up Cubs legends like Randy Wells and Tony Campana.  Let’s try to put some of this in perspective.

Why aren’t the Cubs winning?!

Well, as I said above, they just aren’t that good.  They weren’t projected to be good, nor built to be good.  Part of that is because of the rebuild, with statements to that vein from President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein.

“There are things we can do, smaller moves that we can make and probably make over the course of this season to try and put together a club that can be more competitive,” Epstein said. “We’re also looking for the best long-term interest of the organization. You have to keep the big picture in mind sometimes.”

When Theo was hired and brought in top guys like Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod and a host of other people who we hope have functional baseball brains, the plan was to turn the franchise around, starting from the ground up.  They had to restock a nearly barren farm system, change the way coaching and player development was set up throughout the organization, and improve infrastructure.  None of that is going to happen overnight.  To do this, they had to try to build trade assets and to identify which pieces to keep around.  They also needed to try to accumulate as many draft picks as possible to accompany their sixth overall pick in this year’s draft.  The new  collective bargaining agreement won’t help them very much in terms of spending overslot to try to convince draftees to sign or give up football etc., but there is a plan in place even if they haven’t told us about it yet.

In the meantime, it’s annoying, but fans have to be patience.  There was very little chance for this team to contend because it wasn’t built to contend.  It was built as a stopgap to let money run off the books and to buy some time to improve other aspects of the team.  There are many things that go into a baseball franchise, not just the marquee product at the major league level.  That is the perspective fans should work with.  I’m reasonably sure that everyone in the Cubs organization from the owners down to the ushers knows this, but they’ll keep putting on a smiling face because to do otherwise is depressing.  That’s why they won’t make any kneejerk moves like when Jim Hendry was in charge, and yank a struggling player out of the lineup in favor of the latest random trade or overhyped prospect.  And they most likely will not fire Dale Sveum because this is a 70-win team at best, and might not even get there after such a bad start.

Why can’t we demote Player X?  He sucks!

The simple answer, even if it frustrates everyone, is that it’s too soon.  Barely two weeks of the season has been completed and players often find themselves in a slump.  Some players, like Bryan LaHair, are on fire, but I highly doubt he’ll be batting .360 the entire season (considering he strikes out a third of the time).  Other guys, like Geovany Soto and Marlon Byrd, are slumping badly, but they won’t be removed from the lineup for various reasons.

One reason is because they have a good track record and have been known to be productive even if you don’t believe it.  They are more likely than not to break out of their slump.  The Cubs will probably give them another couple weeks to get on track before they gradually decrease playing time.

The other reason is, if you are dead set on getting rid of them, you have to hope that they do get on track so that they can be traded.  Soto especially has trade value as he plays at a premium position (catcher) and is relatively good at it.  Soto is under team control up through 2013, and that also carries value in trade.  He also has shown he can hit for power and get on base at a good rate, which is special for a catcher.  Therefore he must play more to get out of his funk so that he can be traded for maximum return.  The same is somewhat true of Byrd, who can theoretically play all three outfield positions (not just center) and has an inexpensive contract.  He’s already paid for that contract with his play over the past two seasons and whatever they can get back for him is gravy, but you would like to get the most back for him as well.  That’s the point of a trade–not just to get rid of a player you don’t like or want, but to get something of value back.

The third reason is built into players’ rights and transactions.  Soto and Byrd (and Alfonso Soriano and most everyone else on the Cubs now) have more than three years of MLB service, which means they can refuse an assignment to the minors.  Unless the Cubs want to release them, which is very unlikely, they stay on the 25-man roster.  So you might as well root for them to stop sucking.

Why aren’t they calling up Prospect X?!

Because of service time, most likely.  As the link shows, Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo can be delayed enough to obtain an extra year of club control prior to free agency.  Don’t expect to see Jackson until May, or Rizzo before July (particularly if LaHair doesn’t completely suck).  If you think about it in business terms, if your team is going to suck anyway, prospects aren’t going to magically take a 70-win team to 85 wins just by pure awesome.  If that happens though, thank Jim Hendry for getting Jackson and Theo and Jed for having the foresight to get Rizzo into the system because they’d be Hall of Famers.  Since there’s little difference between 70 wins and 79 or whatever (neither will get you to the playoffs anyway), why not wait a few weeks or a couple months, and get that extra year?

The other reason is because of development.  Recall that Jed Hoyer promoted Rizzo a bit too soon in San Diego and he kind of sucked in a limited sample size.  The service time issue is most likely the biggest reason as both Jackson and Rizzo seem to be ready for the big show, but they can use this rationale as well.

“Those guys are continuing their development at Triple-A,” Epstein said. “There are things they are working on that they need to continue to improve. We’re also not giving up on [major league] guys after a homestand and a road trip. Guys need time to get into the rhythm of a season and show what they can do.”

If you analyze this further, it means that the Ricketts family is behind the rebuild, because otherwise they would have forced Theo to buy up Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, sacrificed draft picks in the process, and increased payroll to super-Yankee proportions.  Deliberately building a shitty team is a fireable offense in most situations, but the Cubs are in a very unique position where nothing is good.  The new Cubs front office didn’t build the team so much as they let what Hendry left them stay the course until money comes off the books.

Based on all these factors, the best advice I have is to put all this in perspective.  Realize that the Cubs are going to suck for the near future until the pipeline of talent is established.  In the meantime, enjoy it for what it is…a bad team that will hopefully be more fun than depressing to watch.  It’s a lot easier to stomach if you have no immediate expectations, and who knows, maybe this team surprises all of us and I get to eat my words.

 

One thought on “The Less-Than-Ten-Percent-of-Season Reality Check

  1. I think after 40 games we will have a much better idea about the 2012 Cubs. This club could easily be 7-5 but just didn’t get any breaks. Breaks go both ways & the Cubs have yet to win a game they should have lost. It’s not too late to turn it around.

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