Are the Chicago Cubs Headed in the Right Direction?
The Chicago Cubs continue to be one of the busiest teams in baseball this offseason. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer seem determined to get the Cubs back on the winning path and ultimately improve on 2012's very forgettable 101-loss campaign.
Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted on Thursday that other teams have been complimenting the Cubs on how they have been building from the ground up.
The team has been wise to sign free agents to very reasonable one-year deals this offseason. Scott Feldman and Scott Baker were both low-risk signings that can potentially bring a high reward, as was signing Nate Schierholtz and bringing back Ian Stewart at third base.
In a year when the free-agent market was relatively weak, the Cubs managed to quietly address many of their needs. They didn't panic after the dismal 2012 season and try to make a big splash in the free-agent market to overcompensate. They are meticulously building this team using a Moneyball philosophy.
These moves should keep the Cubs competitive until some of their top-tier prospects are ready to be called up to The Show. And while the Cubs did make some signings that were under the radar, they also managed to land big-time Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa.
However, with all of the players that are being signed having some sort of injury history, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times cleverly coins this new version of Moneyball as "Medicine ball." He goes on to note how almost every significant acquisition that the team has made in the past 12 months has been after the player is coming off of some sort of injury. All of the players have significant upside, but due to the injury risk, the Cubs are able to get these players at reasonable prices.
Maybe Epstein is onto something.
Moneyball was a philosophy that used sabermetrics to uncover undervalued players, which Billy Beane used to fill out the rosters of those very good Oakland Athletics teams of the early 2000s. There is much more to Moneyball, but that is the basic idea.
"Medicine ball," Epstein's newer version of Moneyball, is actually genius.
With all of the advances in modern medicine today, Epstein may be setting a trend in targeting players coming fresh off of injuries who feel like they now have something to prove. These players will be more likely to sign team-friendly contracts in order to be given a chance to play somewhere and prove that they are still the players that they once were.
These players may not always be able to regain their form from before the injury, but they bring something of value to the team. They all provide upside. That is a Moneyball philosophy.
Take Scott Baker, for example. Here is a pitcher coming off of Tommy John surgery, which was once considered a death sentence for a pitcher's career. Not anymore. These days, the surgery has been so perfected, and the rehab process is so intense, some doctors say that pitchers can come back even stronger. But is it true?
Are the Cubs headed in the right direction?
According to Dr. Michael Krueger of Hardin Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, yes, they can. He states in The News Enterprise that players take nine to 12 months rehabbing the injured area, spend some time working on their mechanics, and they can come back even stronger.
The rigors of an everyday baseball schedule won't always allow players to take care of their bodies like they should. It leads to wear and tear and the body breaking down, which ultimately leads to injury. After learning about their injuries, it also leads them to understand why it happened and how to further prevent further injuries in the future.
Epstein will continue building his team from the ground up, taking advantage of sometimes-ignored players who bring value. Injured players are often times the most ignored players of all. It seems that Epstein has identified this as an area where he may be able to gain an advantage over other teams that may not be willing to take the risk on an injured player.
He has shown that he won't shy away from taking a chance on players coming off of injuries. His latest signing seems to be supporting that claim. According to MLB.com, the Cubs have reportedly come to terms with Korean relief pitcher Chang-Yong Lim. Lim is another pitcher who is coming fresh off of Tommy John surgery.
Whatever you want to call what Epstein is doing, other teams are taking notice. They have some solid prospects waiting to break into the show, and Epstein has been creative in trying to fill holes in the meantime. The Cubs are definitely headed in the right direction.
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