I have been reading a lot of posts raving about all the young talent in the Cubs farm system, and how the Cubs have the foundation in place to build a World Series contender for 2012 and beyond through a combination of free agency and the farm system. I am not nearly as optimistic. On free agents, there simply aren't that many elite free agents going on the market anymore. And free agency remains a risky and expensive way to build a contender. On the farm system, Jim Callis recently tweeted that he likely will have the Cubs farm system outside the top 10.The teams that have recently built contenders through the farm system (Rays, Reds, Twins and Rangers) were consistently ranked in the top 5.
Starlin Castro is great. No denying that.Geo Soto is also really solid. Beyond that though, Tyler Colvin is still a 4th OF to me. He will need to make substantial leap forward in terms of his plate approach to have a corner OF bat on a contending team. Other than that, no other position players currently on the MLB team currently looks like he will be an impact player in 2012. And we are still stuck with Soriano through 2014. As far as pitchers go, Gorz and Wells are nice back-of-the-rotation innings eaters. Marmol and Marshall are good bullpen pieces. Among the older guys, we will still have Demp and Z in 2012. Neither are likely to be any better than they are now, and probably will be worse.
In the minors, Brett Jackson looks like he is a legitimate MLB starter. Upside is probably Grady Sizemore, which is a very nice upside. But, beyond him I can't say I am in love with the Cubs system, especially in terms of high-upside positional players. Josh Vitters has the highest upside of the remaining position prospects, but he is still a boom-or-bust type player and has about an equal chance of washing out as of becoming a legitimate MLB-caliber 3B. Other than that, I don't see anything to be happy about. Kyler Burke has taken a huge step back, Junior Lake is still a project, Hak-Ju Lee is a long way away and his bat might never be MLB caliber. Ryan Flaherty, D.J. LeMahiue, Logan Watkins etc. don't look like they will hit enough to be starters. Jae Hoon-Ha has an even worse BB rate than Vitters. The draft this year only produced one high upside positional prospect: Reggie Golden. Golden is years away and has high bust potential.
As far as pitching goes, I like the depth; but too many of the top options look like middle-of-the-rotation or bullpen pitchers. Andrew Cashner: still needs to develop secondary pitches and is several seasons away from having the requisite innings-load to be a starter. Barring a change in heart by the Cubs he looks to be a bullpen option for the foreseeable future. Jay Jackson: regressed mightily this season in AAA. Chris Carpenter: probably a middle-of-the rotation option. Chris Archer: needs to do some serious work on his command. His FIP indicates that a large part of his success this year could be attributed to luck. Trey McNutt: still very far away. None of these pitchers are currently projected as number 1s.
In short, I still think the Cubs are going to have to heavily rely on free agency if they want to be World Series contenders between now and 2013. I am not even confident they will be the best team in their division in 2012. That doesn't even include the usual contenders such as the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies or teams like the Braves, Nationals, Rangers, Rays and A's that all look like they have the foundations to be serious contenders in the future. I think World Series contention anytime in the next 3 years is unlikely.
In my opinion, even within the division, in terms of probability of future success, the Cubs main competitors are looking better. I expect to hear a lot of disagreement in response, so fire away.
I think the Reds should have the best combination of young talent and mature talent for the next 2-3 years in the division. They seem to have the strongest organization moving forward.
Older MLB talent: Brandon Phillips (signed through 2012); Scott Rolen (signed through 2012); Francisco Cordero (signed through 2012)
Young MLB talent: Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, Chris Heisey, Ryan Hanigan, Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Trevor Wood, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman
Cardinals have clearly decided to go with a scrubs-and-stars approach. It hasn't worked this year, but with 4 players likely to be at 6 WAR and above, along with 3 intriguing younger players; the Cardinals should also be strong at least through 2012. It should be noted although they had a nice draft, their farm system is considered to be relatively weak.
Older MLB talent: Albert Pujols (through 2011 but likely to re-sign); Matt Holliday (through 2014); Chris Carpenter (option through 2012); AdamWainwright (option through 2012)
Young MLB talent: Colby Rasmus, David Freese, Jaime Garcia, Jason Motte, John Jay
Minor league talent (admittedly fairly weak): Shelby MIller, Darryl Jones
Recent draft class: Zach Cox, Tyrell Jenkins, Seth Blair
Pirates: Before you laugh, they are stockpiling young talent. I don't see them as contenders anytime soon, but threw them in here just as a demonstration of how other teams have young talent similar to the Cubs. The fact that they are spending more than the Cubs in the draft right now should be alarming.
Young MLB talent: Andrew McCutcheon, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez, Brad Lincoln
Recent Draft: probably got the 2 highest-upside arms in the draft in Jameson Taillie and Stetson Allie.
I am not going to bother with the Brewers or the Astros, as I think both of those organizations are in bad shape. But, let me again emphasize that this is just the Cubs division. When we talk about the Cubs as World Series contenders, that includes teams outside the division. I simply don't see a World Series in Wrigley between now and 2013. Especially with the tag-team of Kenney and Hendry leading the charge.