The State Of Being A Cubs Fan, April 2014 Edition

Jonathan Daniel

It's an off day, so why not stir up a little controversy?

Perhaps you read Nick Friedell's ESPN Chicago article last weekend entitled "Why should Cubs fans continue to believe?"

If you didn't, it's worth reading, no matter what your position on the rebuild. Key passages from Friedell's article include:

I understand what the total rebuild entailed, and I knew full well that the Cubs were going to remain bad for a while, but the neglect shown toward the actual product playing at Wrigley Field is alarming.

I understand what's happening at the minor league level. I appreciate the upgrades made for the new spring training complex and the money being invested in the scouting and development all over the world. I thought the move to bring in Epstein and his band of baseball number-crunchers was brilliant, but there are aspects of Ricketts' leadership that make me shake my head.

And:

The hope is that prospects such as Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Albert Almora and others come to Chicago to save the day in the near future. The reality is that nobody knows for sure when those players will get to Chicago and if they'll be any good once they do get there.

What compounds the frustration regarding patience is that nobody knows for sure when the organization will have the revenue streams to go after big-time free agents to help the group of talented players that is scheduled to appear at Wrigley in the coming years.

Now, let me tell you what this essay is not going to be.

It's not going to be a plea that the Cubs should have spilled out nine-figure contracts to free agents the last couple of offseasons, because, well, first, they don't appear to have that kind of money, and second, the results of such contracts have been pretty mixed (I'm looking at you, Angels).

It's also not going to be a plea to lower ticket prices. Been there, done that, you know how I feel about it, no need to rehash that territory.

What I do want to say is that I'm tired of seeing the Cubs punt season after season after season. And regardless of the fact that just 12 games have been played this season, it's only April 14, there's lots of time remaining -- it's eminently clear to me that Theo & Co. intended from the get-go to punt this one, too. Their only two significant-dollar signings -- Jason Hammel and Jose Veras -- were obviously done for no other reason than to attempt to get some value out of them and flip them at the trading deadline. From the early returns, Hammel looks like he might provide said value; Veras, not so much.

The Cubs play in a tough division, so it was going to be difficult to attempt to compete no matter what management did. But each and every year, I see Andrew Friedman of the Rays and Billy Beane of the Athletics put contending teams on the field on budgets far lower than the Cubs (yes, I'm aware that Friedman has a better farm system that's helped him in this regard).

I'm going to go back to Friedell's article for a moment, where he cites quotes from Tom Ricketts that the Cubs could be a "contender" this year, and that 2014 would be a "fun" season. Friedell was asked what he'd want Ricketts to say instead:

I want him to say something like: "We're going to work hard to put a product on the field that everyone can be proud of while we continue developing one of the best minor league systems in the game."

Now this, I agree with. Completely. At least put a team on the field that makes it look like you're trying to win; here's a quote from Theo Epstein the day he was hired in 2011:

"Every opportunity to win is sacred," Epstein said. "It's sacred to us inside the organization and it should be sacred to the fans as well. They deserve our best efforts to do what we can to improve the club, and put the club in position to succeed in any given season."

I put it to you that this has not occurred over the last three seasons. This management team is asking us to bide our time while they build that great minor-league system. That's fine, but that's not what they said they were going to do when they came on board.

I acknowledge that circumstances have changed since 2011 and it might be that the resources Theo thought he was going to have when he was hired simply aren't there. The answer has been, apparently, to simply punt seasons instead of using whatever resources you can to at least try to win. Perhaps Theo thinks Chicago is just like Boston, where there was also a long World Series-winning drought. It's not.

A bit of history is called for here. Interestingly, the Red Sox and Cubs both came out of two-decade slumbers in the same year -- 1967. The Red Sox won the A.L. pennant; the Cubs fell short, though they had their best year since 1946. Between 1946 and 1967, though, the Red Sox had 10 winning seasons; the Cubs had one.

Further, between 1967 and 2002 -- Theo took over as Boston GM in 2003 -- the Red Sox and Cubs had the following postseason history:

Red Sox: Eight playoff appearances, three World Series appearances
Cubs: Three postseason appearances

You know, I think if the Cubs had been in three World Series in my lifetime, even all losses as Boston's were, I wouldn't feel the sense of urgency I feel now. As I've noted before, the current drought for the Cubs of not even getting to the World Series is now eight years longer than the World Series drought was in 1969, the year this 12-year-old kid (and so many other Cubs fans) thought the team would break all the droughts and win it all.

I hope all the prospects mentioned above turn into All-Stars. I hope Theo's plan works. Really, I do. But all those young players aren't going to be inserted into the Cubs lineup and suddenly lead the team to the Promised Land. I can't think of a single example of a team that's done that. Sure, it's nice to see Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro off to good starts; they're also part of that core and will need to step their games up to the next level.

But more likely than some magical contending team in 2015, I think we're looking at 2018 before all the young players jell together, and as Friedell wrote, it could be until after 2019 before the Cubs have real money to spend.

In the meantime, I'd like to at least see an effort to win. I don't see that now. I see a team with some bright spots, but also with some players we're going to say goodbve to in July, and that's by design. I'll repeat Theo's 2011 quote here, with emphasis added: "They deserve our best efforts to do what we can to improve the club, and put the club in position to succeed in any given season."

I haven't seen that, not in 2014, not since he's been in charge. It's time to start, Theo. Give it that "best effort," not just in creating a great minor-league system, but a winning big-league team.

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