Former Cubs manager Joe Maddon was a man with some slogans. Among them was "Respect 90," a nod to the distance from home plate to first base. As baseball staggers into the Baseball One era, a new point of respect comes into play. Soon, teams will be tightly limited on how many players can be in the pipeline at the time. Teams that best Respect 180 will have an edge on the others.
180 players sounds like quite a few, especially with DSL and 40-man roster players unlikely to count against the 180. However, with the current Commissioner in charge, a few questions still need ironing.
When the 180 is likely made official, will recent draft choices count against the 180? Assuming they do, that limits a team to 160 or so players for the late-July/August portion of the minor league season, 100 or so in full-season ball. That still leaves a rather cushiony 80 for the two AZL teams.
Until you take into consideration injured players. With four teams worth of players going at it, it's realistic, though not desirable, to have 15 or more other players out for various and sundry ailments and such. Many, if not all, of the draft choices might be forbidden from playing in their draft year. Short-season ball will be recent draft choices or free agent additions, to include international talent.
Getting the correct players to the correct levels should be a goal of spring training. This should equally apply for extended spring training, where players prepare for either a full-season ball call-up, AZL assignment, or DSL assignment in April through July. This used to include Short-Season assignment, but that's gone away. The 60 or so (depending on health) and 'the fine print' regarding injuries, pending.
The Cubs should be proactive and player-friendly, offering players in extended spring training the same wages as the lowest-paid full-season players. And, those players ought to be playing in games. Certainly anyone around who isn't in full-season ball should be included. Beyond that, summon from the Dominican site players until 180 (or more, if Dominican call-ups don't count) is reached. (This is unlikely to work as usefully in 2021 if the MLB season is delayed.)
In 2019, MLB limited a team to two extended spring training teams, with players assigned to one specific team or another. If that continues to be the case, attempt to limit the loosely put-together schedule to teams ready willing, and able to play nine innings in both games every day. Have enough pitchers to play nine innings (or 10, or even 11) to maximize game exposure. Particularly for developing players. The DSL player who, at age 18, gets 40 spring at-bats against U.S. pitchers (before his return to the Dominican), ought to be more ready for the lower level DSL arms.
Players are often at low levels over a lack of experience/exposure. The oversimplifiction of only bad players being at low-levels is laid bare by the reality that even Kris Bryant played at the Arizona Rookie League level. Yes, for many, their shelf life is short. However, if they didn't deserve a pro contract, they wouldn't likely have been signed. Some players develop better as pros than others, and it isn't a 100 percent certainty which ones will flop. Which is why the lower minors have been a fun follow for me.
Squeezing more value out of dollars spent gets post-season wins and titles. 2020 World Series participants the Rays and Dodgers are development-excellence poster children. If the Cubs are willing to accept normal returns on development internally, they'll continue to be a step behind in October. They were at their best in October when league-minimum talent were playing well beyond what their salaries would have you guess. That should continue into the future. The player worth $30 million making $850,000 is of more team excess value than the guy worth $35 million and making $28 million.
Getting useful rookies to produce is scary. Until it works, and the player is seared into the collective fan base's psyche. And it all makes sense. Failing that, the team fails, at some point. Often for that reason. Respect 180, or lose to those that do.