Chicago Cubs' Rebuilding Project Already Showing Good Signs
It's difficult to stay patient with a rebuilding project. It is painful to watch a franchise disassemble, selling off former fan favorites and riding on the hope that newly-acquired prospects will blossom into stars.
It takes a methodical, long-term approach, with patience, and some luck to effectively rebuild. It appears the Cubs are on the right course so far, and they are benefiting from some of their biggest assets playing well.
The Front Office Is Willing to Sell
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
At the end of last week, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported unnamed Cubs team officials indicated "everyone but starter Jeff Samardzija is available."
Following this report, Theo Epstein came out dispelling the fire-sale hysteria, clarifying that the Cubs had no intentions of specifically dealing SS Starlin Castro and that Castro "is the type of player we're looking to build around."
Epstein went on to qualify that statement with "I never understood why there would ever be an untouchable" and by doing so "all you're doing is limiting your opportunity."
Without a cited source for Nightengale's report, the validity may be in question, but Epstein's follow up was the perfect response for the Cubs present situation. Most fans will agree, they don't want to see Castro go anywhere, and with Epstein feeling the need to reassure the public that the front office doesn't plan on trading him, he likely won't.
It seems the clear focus of the Cubs front office is to identify and keep the cornerstones of the future and shop the remaining talent. As a fan, you can't ask for much more.
There are a lot of players on the Cubs that are far more valuable as trade bait (see following slide) than they are as members of the long-term solution. In order to truly rebuild, those moves will have to happen, and it's imperative the Cubs executives be willing to make them.
Trade-Able Pieces Are Performing
Brian Kersey/Getty Images
The biggest catalyst for a rebuilding team is high-performing veteran talent.
Some of Chicago's seemingly most tradeable players have been putting up fantastic numbers, not only making them easier to move, but also more likely to command elite prospects in return.
After a mediocre 2011 (10-14, 4.80 ERA, 1.45 WHIP) Ryan Dempster's stock was slipping as a viable MLB starter. At first glance, his 2012 seems unimpressive (0-3), but Dempster is enjoying a career resurgence, posting a 2.90 ERA and 1.15 WHIP through 59 innings.
He would be an excellent pick up for a team looking to add some experience and depth to the middle of their rotation.
Alfonso Soriano's time in Chicago has been marred by performance that has not justified his 8-yr, $136 million dollar contract. While a Cub, Soriano has only managed one 30+ home run season, something he achieved four times prior to coming to Chicago.
After a slow April and March that saw Soriano hit .237, with a .250 OBP and no home runs, #12 has had a hot May, batting .290 with .353 OBP and seven home runs, drastically improving his trade value. While the Cubs would likely have to eat some of Soriano's contract to deal him, moving him would help stock the farm system with prospects.
While Bryan LaHair doesn't have the same name recognition as Dempster and Soriano, and has little MLB service time, he is still one of Chicago's most trade-able assets.
At 29, LaHair still has several solid seasons ahead of him, however long-term he is much more valuable as a trade piece. His .313 average, .399 OBP and 10 HR coupled with his $482,500 salary for 2012 makes him a bargain for a team needing a first baseman or an outfielder.
No Rush in the Minor Leagues
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
It's hard not to look at Anthony Rizzo's AAA numbers and want to see him in a Cubs uniform immediately. His time in Iowa has seen him post a gaudy .357 BA, .420 OBP and 17 home runs. He looks MLB ready.
As difficult as it may be to patiently watch Rizzo feast on Pacific Coast League pitching, Theo Epstein has made it clear the front office is going to stick with Rizzo's development plan.
In an interview late last month, Epstein told the Chicago Tribune "we're not going to rush him" and that "we're going to wait until the time is right, with his development being the primary factor."
While it is difficult to wait, it is ultimately the right decision.
After putting up similar numbers (.331 BA, .404 OBP, 26 HR) while in San Diego's farm system at AAA Tucson in 2011, the Padres brought him up to play with the major league club. His 2011 campaign in San Diego was disastrous.
In 153 plate appearances, he posted a .141 BA, .281 OBP, .242 SLG and only one home run. With the current focus on rebuilding, there is no sense in rushing his development.
His minor league numbers aside, Rizzo is only 22 years old. Few prospects are capable of progressing through the farm system as quickly as Starlin Castro did.