Cubs’ fans have endured 106 years of futility without a championship. With all of that losing, which, most recently includes four straight seasons of sub-.500 play, what has the Chicago Cubs brass told its fan base as it gears up for the 2014 campaign? Wait until next year, or maybe the year after that. It is a common tune that Cubs management has been singing to fans ever since team president Theo Epstein was brought in to run the club following the 2011 season. It is actually a theme that the organization has been pushing pretty much since 1908.
Epstein and Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer insist that they have a plan in place, and to succeed, that plan takes commitment, and, yes, patience.
“Patience is a difficult thing… [We] want to win in the worst way, and get back to the playoffs,” Hoyer said. “We also know you only get one chance to build the right way. You don’t want to change a seven-to-10-year run by not doing things the right way. Short-term moves can make people feel good, but ultimately it takes you the wrong way.”
Building the system the right way and bringing the Chicago Cubs back to life has become even more difficult with Major League Baseball recently putting caps on the amount that clubs can spend on prospects. This includes those picked in the June draft as well as foreign prospects. While Epstein and Hoyer are singing a common tune to Cubs fans, it does appear that the organization as a whole is improving. Even with the more stringent rules, Hoyer insists that the club has made progress. Looking at the Cubs’ farm system, it is undeniable that five of the organizations top 15 prospects, as ranked by Major League Baseball, have come from trades that Hoyer and Epstein have made the last two years. Also, the regime signed four others as amateurs that look to be poised to make an impact at some point.
Hoyer says that probably 13 of the top 15 prospects will be ready to see some time with the big league club by 2015. Two of those prospects, Javier Baez and Mike Olt, may even seen significant playing time as soon as the beginning of this season. The shortstop and third base prospects actually lead the Cubs in home runs this spring with three each. Olt, the third baseman, has a much better chance of making the opening day roster than Baez, primarily because of the position he plays. Baez, at shortstop, has little chance of dethroning all star Starlin Castro at the position. It is possible that Baez will report to the Cubs Triple A Iowa club and transition to second base for them. This would give the Cubs the option of bringing him back up with the big league club in the fall to form a formidable middle infield with Castro.
As for the here and now, the Cubs plan to start ace Jeff Samardzija opening day March 31 against the Pirates. There was speculation that Travis Wood could get the nod, since he had a better year and was selected to the all star team. Instead it will be Samardzija, who might be spending his last opening day with the club. The right-hander will become a free agent in 2015 and the Cubs are rumored to be shopping the veteran for more prospects.
Looks like the waiting continues. As the Chicago Cubs once again sing the common tune of “wait until next year” to their fans, the organization says that new manager Rick Renteria will help expedite the process. Hoyer says that the manager has significant experience developing players, and that he possesses a quality that Cubs fans are all too familiar with. Patience.
Commentary by Jeremy Mika