We continue to think about how the Cubs will build the next great contender. The disconnect relates to what the time table is for contention (is it next year? The year after? 2020?) and what the strategy should be (stay the course vs. buy all the free agents). I think there should be an in-between strategy, similar to what the Cubs have done over the first two seasons of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s tenure. The team should be built to contend if possible without sacrificing the overall plan, which is to build a sustainable winner from within. That’s easier said than done.
The good news is that the Cubs are inching closer to that point where it does make sense to spend some to fill in various gaps in the major league roster. With the minor league system rounding out, there are also avenues to explore trades with the organizational depth assuming you are of the camp that doesn’t believe the Cubs need to spend indiscriminately. At this point we have to ask a bunch of very difficult questions, questions that I am very happy that people smarter than I am are handling right now.
Over the past week or so we’ve been exploring the possibility of trading for assets like a) Max Scherzer and/or b) David Price in order to shore up the rotation. There are also some random rumors of trading a guy like Nate Schierholtz flying around, which would temporarily weaken the outfield in advance of whenever the Cubs decide to call up assets like Jorge Soler and Albert Almora.
At the same time, if the Cubs traded for a big boy pitcher like Scherzer or Price, does it make sense to trade Jeff Samardzija? Samardzija, as we’ve discussed before, is a horse, and has the kind of stuff that can rocket him to #1 pitcher status if he ever gets it together. A trade would signal that the Cubs don’t have the confidence that Samardzija will reach that potential, or that they don’t think he is going to be worth the contract he will eventually ask for either as an extension or in free agency. Is it worth it to keep him until midseason in the hopes that he accepts that extension (hopefully one that isn’t nuts)? If they keep him, will the Cubs be content snagging a compensation pick rather than the decent package of prospects that we expect in trade? As you can see, these are very hard questions to answer and anything that the Cubs do now can be construed as “wrong” when they could eventually work out in the team’s favor.
Over the same span that we talked about trades, we’ve also explored free agent acquisitions, from the random reclamation pitching project to the Japanese phenomenon known as Masahiro Tanaka, if the NPB and MLB ever figure out a happy medium with that posting system. There are of course the position guys, chief among which are premier outfielders like Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury, both of whom will cost a draft pick. It makes sense to throw money at guys who don’t carry draft pick compensation, but the Cubs’ second-rounder (first round pick protected) is probably worth at least $1.2MM in pool money, and that could seriously impact whom they can sign with the fourth overall pick in the first round and who else they can sign in the first ten rounds, where the slot restrictions will most heavily factor in. Tanaka in particular is an unknown, both in terms of how his talent will translate, and also whether he will even be posted. As for the outfielders, as John Arguello said on Cubs Den, they are going to be on the wrong side of the aging curve and we’re not actually sure whether the 2014 or 2015 Cubs CAN contend just yet.
Baseball is not linear. The Cubs can choose to make several trades with their newly formed minor league depth. They can also use some of their payroll flexibility to spend on the appropriate free agents to fill gaps. I’m being purposefully wishy-washy here because it really can go either way. The Cubs have reached a crossroads where they can keep building towards a later season (while still appearing competitive in 2014), or they can give it a legitimate shot and go all in. This is the stuff that makes the offseason so exciting, and disappointing, for all baseball fans, not just Cubs fans.
There is an intrinsic confidence in this Cubs front office. Just because they don’t approach a situation a certain way doesn’t mean they aren’t working towards a greater goal. This is something I wrote about when Theo was first hired, and it’s still true today. Eventually they will get to the point where they will spend to fill in the gaps and finalize a contending team. That day may not be today…but it is coming.