BCB's Rob Huff suggested we all write an article about our ideal off-season with the ground rules of plausible trades and signings and a $110 million payroll. Rob did an amazingly in-depth job of laying out justification for his signings and trades, while my eyes tend to glaze over at anything that looks too "mathy." Either way, I said I was game and tried to put myself into the shoes of Theo and Jed and perused the free agent list.
Once again, my eyes glazed over at the enormity of the list, distracted by little tidbits of information like the fact that Jason Giambi, Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki are in their early 40s (like me). Giambi is thinking retirement after a poor showing with Cleveland and 19 years of MLB service. I automatically ruled out anyone over the age of 33, which was pretty much the year I started to feel deterioration of my body.
The big names are obvious and at this point speculated on to death. Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields all would be wonderful additions to any Cubs roster. I perused through the Norichika Aoki's, the Nelson Cruz's, and the Emilio Bonifacio's. I even entertained the idea of bringing in A.J. Pierzynski, but that would only be to entertain me as I got to watch Cubs fans try to root for a guy they've disliked for so long. Hey! We ended up liking Jim Edmonds!
At a loss, I asked around to friends what they would do, including Scotty Freeman of divorced Cubs brick fame. Not surprisingly, most said sign Lester, trade Castro for more starting pitching, and find some new outfielders and maybe a new catcher and third baseman. Many mentioned bringing in Pablo Sandoval and moving the "Great Cubs Hope" Kris Bryant to a corner outfield slot. Everyone was excited about Jorge Soler, kinda down on Javier Baez, and most were cautiously optimistic about the Cubs chances, but probably not for 2015.
That's when I got to thinking, maybe we're getting a little ahead of ourselves with this whole "The Cubs farm system is about to win the World Series by signing a pitcher and a bat" talk. Maybe the prospects need another year playing in the majors before we can be certain of what we have. Maybe it's not the year to spend a boatload of cash, just add a piece or two to make the Cubs watchable and look forward to 2016? Just cause the Cubs can spend doesn't mean they should. Some were even optimistic Edwin Jackson could be good again. One thing I do know is, we Cubs fans would love to see at least a .500 ball club if it means our young prospects are improving.
I ended up more confused than informed by all the possibilities and realized I actually have no business at all putting together a baseball team. Not because I don't know what makes a good player or not, but because I do not have access to the sort of information I would need to do so properly. I am talking about the intangibles that make a winning team. For example, on WGN the other day while speculating on a possible Lester signing, the host mentioned he has the reputation of being a jerk. We all remember the poison that was Carlos Zambrano who found himself on a highly paid and talented team that couldn't even win a playoff game. I'm not saying whether Lester's a jerk or not, because I don't know, but there's a history there if you Google it. Maybe Scherzer is a better choice because he and Joe Maddon are fishing buddies and both enjoy cherry PopTarts. I just don't know.
That brings me to another point. Joe Maddon is known for taking a bunch of guys you never heard of and somehow winning anyway. He seems like the perfect guy to develop this young Cubs team and I am incredibly happy about the signing. However, is this the Cubs setting us up to watch Joe Maddon work with a Rays-type roster? If it is,the Cubs might sign a name or two, but for the most part, the Cubs will try and play with the cards they already have, developing the breadth of talent that is coming up through the minors.
With all the moving parts, behind the scenes conversations, and the difficulty in managing the personalities of highly paid, intense, and often times ego driven ball players, my hope for the off season and the Cubs $110 million payroll, is that the entire Cubs brass works their butts off to do every piece of homework on the myriad of possible signings. And then get lucky with who they chose. If I was making millions of dollars doing anything, I'd work my buns off. But I wouldn't want that job. Too "mathy."
As far as things I can truly hope for this off season. I hope the Cubs can get the renovations done in time, because Wrigley looks like Stalingrad in 1944 right now. If we get some Buffalo-type snow that halts construction, we could be opening against the Cardinals at US Cellular Field, which might be the most embarrassing thing that's happened to the Cubs since… actually, I can't think of anything more embarrassing. (If you can, leave it in the comments.)
My other hope, is that the Cubs have better food, beer selection, and facilities for the food workers. The food at Wrigley is probably the worst in the majors and horrifically overpriced. The beer choices are pedestrian compared to the 24 taps at Great American Ballpark. Wrigley charges more for beer than any other team, beating the Yankees by 25 cents on a price per ounce basis, and the Cubs have a pathetic selection which does not honor the wide range of delicious local breweries we have here in Chicago. I was incredibly happy to see that all the concession stands had been ripped out. They looked old and worn, the 1994-style TV monitors you could watch in line rarely functioned, and the cramped, hot quarters the food workers have to work in is worse than my first job working the broiler at Burger King. I hope they get a better situation.
My final thought on this off season is this. Will the new video boards affect the wind at Wrigley? For example, the wind is blowing in, but now it's partially blocked by a giant TV screen. Does that make Wrigley more of a hitter's park in the cold months? If so, they might need more power. As it stands now, Wrigley alternates between a hitter's and pitcher's park depending on the weather. Also, I'm worried that people will flock to the new Wrigley to see the changes regardless of the Cubs record and I won't be able to afford to go anymore. Which to me, is one reason the Cubs will not overspend this off-season. People are going to show up to Wrigley just to watch a giant TV, which is hilarious, because that's what they were doing at home the last few years (or actually, most likely not, considering the ratings). But considering people's fascination with all things "shiny and new", the Cubs should have no problems selling tickets to The Wrigley Show no matter the Cubs record, so why spend? Keep banking the cash and wait till 2016 to overpay. Because it seems to me like everyone who has signed so far has been overpaid versus a replacement, especially Russell Martin. He's got two decent years left on those catcher knees. Tops.
Thanks for the challenge, Rob. Sorry, I failed at it. I have no clue which specific pieces the Cubs should pick up. My answer is keep with the long view. Don't sell the future for the present. Don't put your eggs in one basket. Don't put the horse before the cart. Even if Theo & Jed sign big names, the team could be just a Tommy John surgery away from another rough season. That is, unless Joe Maddon takes some guy you never heard of and turns him into a temporary star like a Joe Panik who had no clue he would be in a World Series this time last year.
I know this much, no matter what the 2015 season brings… the Cubs are gonna need some luck.
Keep Calm, and root, root root.