The early analysis from both the Chicago and national media regarding the likely makeup of the 2012 Cubs is baffling. Hasn't anybody been listening to Theo?
For the most part, the collective refrain has been: "The Cubs finally get it. They know they have to build from within. And Theo is no good at this free agent thing anyway, so the Cubs are going to rebuild from the ground up."
Because of this, and probably because predictions on where free agents will land tend to be bias toward all the teams that are already good signing all the available talent, we are led to believe that the Cubs are going to re-sign Kerry Wood and punt this offseason.
Fat chance. The Cubs have no minor-leaguers, with the possible exception of Brett Jackson, who are likely to make an impact in 2012. For that matter, it's unlikely there will be much more talent ready and waiting to take the field with the big club in 2013. In addition, they stand to lose the heart of their order from a 71-win team in 2011 with the departures of Aramis Ramirez and perhaps Carlos Pena.
So what makes the likes of Paul Sullivan, Phil Rogers, David Kaplan, Bruce Levine - I could go on and on - think that Theo & Co. are just going to sit back and lose 100 games the next two years in the hopes that a bumper crop of young talent is going to magically appear?
The Cubs will be more patient next year for sure. Theo will demand grinding at bats and hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo will have to commit to increasing the team's on-base percentage and pitches per at bat numbers, as well as lowering the team's percentage of pitches swung at out of the strike zone, if he wants to keep his job.
But remember, Theo said he was approaching his new job on two fronts. One to build the organization's scouting and player development at the minor-league level, the other to improve the Chicago Cubs in the short term.
This will be done through free agency. Some possible scenarios:
1. Starlin Castro will not be at short to start 2012 in the interest of run prevention. He will be at third, where he has a chance to be more productive overall than Ramirez was in 2011.
3. Jose Reyes would appear to fit with what Theo wants in most respects from prospective free agents. He's in his prime, makes the Cubs more athletic, and fills the void left by the obvious move of Castro to third. His character is another issue.
4. There is almost no chance the Cubs won't sign a free-agent pitcher. Right now, Matt Garza, who is really a No. 2 starter, will have to do as a No. 1. Assuming Carlos Zambrano is gone, that leaves the Cubs with a No. 3 at best in Ryan Dempster and a bunch of guys battling for the No. 5 spot. Since teams just don't trade pitching, and noting what Theo said his criteria is for free agents, the only candidate that fits from the 2011-12 pool is Edwin Jackson. So perhaps he's the Cubs' No. 2 in 2012.
5. Theo will not mess with Andrew Cashner as a starter next season. Too risky. So he goes to the pen, perhaps even as a closer if Carlos Marmol can be dealt. Re-signing Wood is a no-brainer. Samardzija could be in the pen or the rotation. My guess is he's the No. 5 starter if a new pitching coach can help him develop a consistent arm slot. So look for Theo to find another reliever off the scrap heap to fill out what could be a decent group in 2012 (of course, Mike Quade seemed almost cocky about his bullpen heading into 2011, and we know how that turned out).
6. So now, you have a lineup with 1. Castro; 2. Barney (though he won't be around for long if he doesn't increase his on-base numbers); 3. Reyes; 4. RF; 5. Pena and probably a platoon partner; 6. Geovany Soto (Theo will like him because he's patient); 7. Alfonso Soriano (he's not going anywhere); 8. Marlon Byrd/Brett Jackson.
7. So who's in RF? It's up to Theo to figure this out. The free agent signings proposed here are very realistic given what's coming off the payroll the next two years, but while I think people have their head in the sand about the paltry projections for the Cubs' likely free-agent activity, expecting them to do more than sign Reyes, Jackson and Pena is equally unrealistic. So expect the RF spot to come from a trade including Carlos Marmol and maybe even a prospect.
Will all this happen? Of course not. But I'm willing to bet it's in line with the kind of plan Theo & Co. have for 2012 as opposed to this mysterious do nothing and wait for the talent to develop scenario that so many seem to be anticipating.