At the risk of repeating myself, the Cubs were a mess. They had huge spending that brought them to the dance exactly twice. After that, they had huge spending that didn’t do them any good.
With games starting out today and a 5-2 loss in the opener at Cubs Park, the emerging theme is again that the Cubs should have spent some money to be respectable while they build the farm. The reality, though, is that they couldn’t have done both under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. With the most pool money going to the worst teams, the only way to build a top notch farm system is to be bad in the majors.
But, I’ll bite on the notion that the Cubs could have spent this winter to be decent. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that the Cubs had gone on a spending binge this winter.
Hypothetically, let’s work under the notion that the Cubs had signed Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Masahiro Tanaka, and resigned Matt Garza. That means coughing up second and third round picks in June for Cano and Ellsbury. Tanaka and Garza only cost money. Assuming the Cubs gave the same contracts to those players, they would have committed $598M to four players, stretching out over a span of ten years. And this season’s line-up would have looked something like:
And a rotation of:
That’s not perfect, and there are some variables to it, but that’s the gist of it. And you know what? It’s not bad. It could have a winning record. It might compete for a playoff spot. But it’s not good enough to overcome the Cardinals this season. It’s not as good as the Dodgers, either. I would argue that this is about the seventh or eighth best team in the National League. Respectable. Theo would have gotten the checkbook out, though. Could anyone argue with nearly $600M?
Realistically, the only thing the irresponsible spending would have done was block prospects and waste money. Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Jorge Soler all would have been affected by these signings. How many of you that are calling for the Cubs to spend big were booing the ever living daylights out of Alfonso Soriano for not being worth the money? The Cubs would have added three of those contracts if they had done what I proposed. Ellsbury, Cano, and Garza are all going to be in their mid to late 30s when these deals expire. They won’t be the same players they are now. And Ellsbury and Garza come with some significant risks on the injury front.
At this point in the rebuild, things are getting more interesting. The first wave of prospects is upon us. Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, and Mike Olt could all be in Chicago this summer. Kris Bryant is probably a year away. Almora probably a year and a half. The fourth pick in this year’s draft could be a college player who is advanced enough to help in the not too distant future. That doesn’t include C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson, and others.
2014 is a wash before it starts. That ‘s reality. We knew that was going to happen, though. The good news is that next off-season is when free agency should prove valuable. With the list of potential starting pitchers in free agency next winter remaining fairly strong (depending on who gets extended next, that is), a couple of signings could make the Cubs a lot more interesting in a hurry. And they would be good additions, filling a few targeted weaknesses, as opposed to a roster full of bad contracts and aging veterans.
This process is long for everyone who watches this team everyday, and has been long for everyone who has watched them for the last five years without going to the playoffs. In the end, though, it’s worth it. The teams who win do it with their own talent. That’s the way of Major League Baseball now. The days of buying a champion and an elite farm system are gone. To be a consistent winner, it takes a few years of pain. It would be a failure to not see this through at this point, even if it means the Cubs have a better chance at flirting with 100 losses this season than a playoff berth.