This past weekend has been a whirlwind for the entire Cubs franchise and fanbase. Two starting pitchers, including the player with the most current longevity on the roster, were sent in one stunning trade. It was a classic deal between a win-now team and a team looking to stockpile for the future.
You know, the kind of swap the Cubs once made when they acquired Aramis Ramirez in 2003, for example, or Rich Harden in 2008. Both of those trades helped propel the Cubs to division titles. In the first case, none of the players sent to the Pirates meant anything to their future. But the Cubs shipped Josh Donaldson to the Athletics as part of the Harden deal, almost as a throw-in; other players in that trade were considered better prospects at the time. Now Donaldson is an MVP candidate and a key part of the A's team that is trying very hard to win the World Series this year or next, the very reason their general manager wanted two Cubs pitchers who had superior first-half records to presumably help put them over the top.
Only time will tell whether Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, Dan Straily and the ever-present PTBNL will help a future Cubs team make the playoffs. But I am now viewing this trade as a real demarcation line for Theo Epstein & Co. In trading Jeff Samardzija -- it should be noted, not one of Theo's "guys," not that there's anything wrong with dealing such players, many GMs do the same thing -- Theo has put a definitive mark between "then," "now," and "the future."
"We certainly hope this is the last year that we’ll be obvious sellers at the trade deadline, and nothing would make us happier than to be in the situation Oakland is in."
"We hope we’ve improved our future," said Epstein, who cited the "extremely deep group of potential impact position players" while acknowledging that prospects are never guaranteed propositions. "We have our work to do on the pitching side, but I really like our pitching infrastructure. I like the way we’ve crafted our pitching staff in recent years. And we have a lot of resources, both in terms of money and potentially in terms of players to go acquire the pitching we need at the right time. "I really feel there’s light at the end of the tunnel."
And you know what? I agree with him. This is now totally Theo's team. The only players on the 25-man roster who were in the organization at the end of the 2011 season are James Russell (now the senior Cub in terms of consecutive service, having debuted April 5, 2010), Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, Junior Lake, Blake Parker and Welington Castillo. Just four other players on the 40-man roster predate Theo & Co. taking over: Chris Rusin, Arismendy Alcantara, Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson. Some of those players might also be dealt before the deadline; others (Castro, Castillo and Alcantara in particular) are viewed as part of the future core. Still others (Vitters and Jackson) could be DFA-worthy soon.
This isn't unusual for any baseball executive. Dallas Green did much the same thing when he took over a completely moribund organization in 1982. The difference then, of course, is that the Cubs in 1981 were still being run as if it were the 1950s. They needed literally everything updated and done differently. For Theo & Co. it's mostly been about building a farm system from the ground up, and the major-league roster has been an afterthought the last couple of years. You know that I've complained about that at times, particularly this year when it didn't seem as if they made any sort of real attempt to put a winning team on the field.
WIth this trade, Theo has drawn another figurative line in the sand, only this time it's behind him. Having now remade the 25- and 40-man rosters as well as acquired much minor-league talent through the draft, international signings and trades, it's now up to that talent to make this team a winner.
This will now involve spending money, swapping some of the prospect haul for major-league players, or both.
The Cubs have only about $30 million worth of contracts on the books for 2015, and that includes buyouts to a couple of players likely to be gone. Even with some of the younger players currently on the roster eligible for arbitration, the Cubs could have north of $60 million to spend on Jason Hammel contracts.market, and that doesn't even include the money that Epstein said was being "rolled over" from this year's budget into 2015, nor the $5.5 million of savings the Cubs got when the A's took all the money from the Samardzija and
So it's time to show us, Theo. Time to go out there and pick up players that can help bring a contender to the North Side. I'm not expecting contention in 2015 -- this team looks like it's headed to another slide. I am excited to see Kyle Hendricks join the Cubs rotation, perhaps as early as this week in Cincinnati. That would be one of the first minor-league products of a Theo trade to make the big-league squad, Hendricks having come over from the Rangers in the Ryan Dempster deal. Other young players, both drafted and traded for, ought to be on the 2015 25-man roster, particularly Kris Bryant, who appears to have "superstar" written all over him.
I'm not quite "all-in." Not yet, anyway. But a corner has been turned. This trade energized me, despite excising 40 percent of the rotation for the third straight year. It's a deal that ought to help both teams -- the A's now, the Cubs two or three years from now, just like swapping Harden for Donaldson (and others) did for the A's by 2012, and now trying to win it all this year. It's time for Cubs management to start getting aggressive and trying to win.
It's getting toward time to win, Theo Epstein. Now go do it. I've been skeptical. If "The Plan" works, I'll be happy to say I was wrong and give him all the credit he'll deserve.
(Editor's note: the "praise Theo" meme of last week got, uh, just a little overdone. Please try to keep it to a minimum in the comments; I'd like to hear your real reactions to this and thoughts for the future. Finally, too many large images in the comments really slow the pages down. Please keep images small, both in photo size and file size, and that's particularly important for GIFs. Thanks.)