Earlier today, we posted on Facebook that at 33-52, the Cubs have only 77 games left in the season and need to win just about all of them to have a chance at the playoffs. It’s tempting to think that the Cubs might enjoy the homefield advantage in the World Series should they go on that mythical 60-game win streak we keep talking about, but despite us being in the dreaming business, some dreams have to be more grounded in reality. The reality is that the Cubs are unlikely to get to 70 wins this season, and even if they did get to the postseason (yeah right), likely do not have the personnel to make a deep run in the playoffs. So now that everyone’s bubble just burst, what do we have to look forward to?
The answer is complicated but it involves the way the new collective bargaining agreement has screwed up the timeline for the Cubs to rebuild. As of now there will no longer be Type A or B free agents, and free agents-to-be that are traded for will no longer qualify for draft pick compensation. The only way to secure a draft pick as compensation is to have a free-agent-to-be on the team for the entire season, offer him a one-year/$12.5MM deal, and hope he declines it. The only upcoming free agent who would even help the Cubs in this regard is Ryan Dempster. Matt Garza won’t be a free agent until after 2013 and Alfonso Soriano will be a Cub (or released) until 2014 (and nobody in their right mind would give Soriano that money now). That’s why talks are brewing to trade both Dempster and Garza for prospects. That way the Cubs get the prospects that are already into their development cycles and don’t have to wait for upcoming drafts.
As for this season’s Cubs, they are currently half a game behind the Astros, in a virtual tie with the Padres and Rockies, and with a slew of other teams breathing down their necks for the top pick in the 2013 draft. The Cubs hold the tiebreaker (due to previous season record) against both Colorado and San Diego, but since Houston sucked last year and suck this year too, the Cubs would need to finish worse than Houston to get the earlier draft pick. It’s going to be a tight race to the #1 pick and it’s going to suck for fans.
The Cubs coaching staff and players aren’t going to overtly or voluntarily tank in their games, nor should they. They still have to play well to ensure that they are tendered a contract next season, and they are still playing for whatever pride a cellar-dwelling team has. The front office won’t ask the staff and players to tank either, although they will likely still trade whoever can net a good prospect package in return.
There are advantages to getting the top pick in every round given the new CBA. For one, the earlier a team picks in a round, the earlier they are able to snag the best player available. In the earlier rounds the emphasis shouldn’t be on need but on getting the best player available in order to develop depth in the system because unfortunately, no matter how highly touted a prospect is, they are very likely destined for failure. That’s just the way baseball is. But getting the best player available (given scouting reports, statistical analysis, etc) reduces the chance that the draftee will fail.
The second reason is financial. There is a reason that prospects are important to an organization. They are cheaper than free agents (even with those massive signing bonuses, at least to us po folk) and they can be traded for established players later on should the opportunity arise. But as valuable commodities they also require a certain amount of money, and the new CBA has reduced the flexibility of baseball teams to spend on their draftees. We’ve already established that the Cubs are unlikely to obtain compensation picks this offseason for next draft. Therefore the Cubs will be limited to just 10 picks in the first ten rounds. They need to ensure that they retain one of the ten worst records in baseball to protect their first round pick (that’ll be easy, lulz). The protected pick is important because if the Cubs decide to splurge on an upcoming free agent like Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke, they would lose their top unprotected pick and that would be detrimental to the rebuilding process.
Because they only have those 10 picks in the first ten rounds, they have to maximize pool money and the best way to do that is to just be as bad at baseball as possible for the remainder of the season. That should not be a problem even with the addition of Anthony Rizzo. Especially when Dempster and Garza are likely traded, and other guys like David DeJesus or Paul Maholm are shipped out, the Cubs are going to get laughably bad and that may be enough to ensure the top pick.
It’s no surprise that fans are displeased with this Cubs season, but this season was never about contention. It was merely a stepping stone for things to come. In the meantime, root for the Cubs to win, but don’t be too disappointed if they continue to suck because it might be what’s best for the future.