Among my favorite baseball listens last spring, before the pandemic shut things down, was Georgia Bulldog games. The SEC team sent out Cole Wilcox and Emerson Hancock to pitch on Fridays and Saturdays, and they were worth a listen. Hancock went to the Mariners in the first round last June, with Wilcox slipping to the Padres in the third round on signing concerns. On Sunday, Wilcox was traded to the Rays for Blake Snell in a five-player deal, and Tampa Bay keeps making sausage.
Sausage-making is a disgusting thing to watch. Nonetheless, it happens, because people like to eat sausage. Since small-market teams either can't or don't want to spend on high-cost talent, they go another way.
Players of value being dumped because they're finally getting paid is disturbing. It's disconcerting for fans, sucks for the players, and isn't good for the game. Like three-hour, fifty-minute games that end 4-1. Baseball, back when, was a quicker paced ga........ Hang on a second while the batter, who just took a pitch, steps out and reloads his batting gloves.
At some point, as fans, we select one of the land masses. And, as usual, there are three choices, at least. We can want our team to do whatever is necessary to win, whatever is legal/ethical to win, or show up and put on a good show.
Certainly through the early 1980s, Cubs management was very much "put on a good show." Dallas Green tried to upgrade in the mid-eighties, but ownership wasn't interested. When Theo Epstein took over, winning by the rules became protocol. With Jed Hoyer in charge, we shall see, but I expect the same.
The old-world way of doing things was to sign veterans to extensions to keep them in one city much of their career, even after the reserve clause went away for free agency. Keeping players around past their "best by" date is great for fans. Until the player plays like he's old. Tampa Bay has flipped the old mindset on its ear, trading anyone making eight figures for quality players making six figures. It's ugly. It crushes fan morale. To an extent, though, it wins.
If a team trades "non-bargain" talent for "bargain" talent, and turns the bargain talent into "proven and desirable pieces," the sausage-making can continue forever. Wilcox, Luis Patino, Francisco Mejia and Blake Hunt are Tampa-bound. Patino could be Snell-light as soon as 2021, and won't be arbitration-eligible until 2024, likely. Wilcox won't likely debut until 2023. Mejia, a catcher, fills a team need — on a cost-controlled basis.
Have the Jason Heyward, Tyler Chatwood, Brandon Morrow and Craig Kimbrel contracts limited other Cubs moves? If you even waver toward yes, you see the brilliance of cost-accounting, sausage-making financial baseball. The entire Javier Baez/Kris Bryant free agency consideration is either created by or justified by punishments smaller market owners (like Tampa Bay's) have thrust on the baseball environment. The Rays' success in trades (through the years, not just recently), have altered the transaction mindset. (Cubs fans wanted Chris Archer, until they saw how good the players the Pirates gave up were.)
Which paints me into a corner. Every owner has a budget. The best contracts are ones with upside, which are usually pre-arbitration. The guys recently in college are the ones I draft-tracked. Would I have accepted Patino and Wilcox plus two for Yu Darvish? Probably, because cost-control.
If you want Anthony Rizzo playing first base for the Cubs the next eight seasons because he's a great dude, I won't begrudge you that. Is that optimal winning baseball, in an age where teams are given talent-based overage fees (think a checking account) for spending over certain limits? That's a different question.
Should the Cubs only seek out low-cost talent while charging exorbitant ticket prices? No. However, until they catch up with the Dodgers in talent development, something is missing.
Choose whichever land mass you want. Cheat to win. Make sausage. Keep the players around because they deserve to be well-paid in a big market. Either is fine, but realize all three sides have their pitfalls.
If the Cubs are at a budget near $170 million every spring, it leaves them leeway to add talent in July, once fans return. (If that is ownership's desire.) Add a name like Justin Verlander. Take on a horrible contract to get an extra prospect or two. It's entirely possible to revel in both being a big-money side, and not languishing near the penalty threshold every year. As usual, it hinges on crushing the league in developing talent. The two best at it now were in the World Series in October. Wishing alone won't tighten the gap
Baseball isn't how it was in the 1960s. Or the 1990s. Or in 2016. You can fight reality, but fighting reality doesn't change reality. All three land-masses have their upside. You can be a Cubs fan and condone cheating. You can be a Cubs fan, and prioritize history. Or, you can be a Cubs fan with sausage juice dripping down your arm to your elbows.