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Cubs Pipeline Alchemy: What qualifies as 'waves of depth'?

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Organizations develop in different ways. What’s best?

The Cubs traded Jorge Soler because they had outfield depth. Teams need to do this multiple times before they truly have “waves” of depth
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As Theo Epstein replaced Jim Hendry leading the Cubs baseball operations department, he noted the importance of creating talent internally. The term became “waves of depth.” Over the next few years, the Cubs created their best homegrown talent run in quite a few decades. It led to a parade, and a rather large party. What could be considered waves of depth?

As I began following the Cubs in the late 1960s, a few teams had already begun to accumulate waves of talent. The Big Red Machine was revving up, and the Albuquerque Dukes were already replacing talent from the 1960s Dodgers squads with newer players. However, today, I want to talk about one position for one division rival.

Bill Mazeroski had been part of the Pittsburgh Pirates for a decade by the late 1960s, and would eventually get elected to the Hall of Fame. By the 1969 season, Mazeroski had begun to wind down a bit. Fortunately for the Pirates, Dave Cash (5th Round draft pick, 1966) was readying himself to take over the spot. Cash started 19 games at second in 1969, and 105 in 1970. By 1971, Mazeroski was limited to 37 starts at second in 1971. Cash was to be the primary second baseman after the 1972 campaign. However, Rennie Stennett (international signing from Colon, Panama) arrived. Stennett and Cash both played extensively in 1972 and 1973 for the Pirates. Which led to a positive slant for the Pirates. Both had played well enough to start.

In October 1973, the Pirates traded Cash for southpaw starting pitcher Ken Brett. As Cash was traded, Willie Randolph (7th Round draft pick, 1972) was getting ready to debut for Thetford Mines (great name, by the way) in the Double-A Eastern League. Eventually, the Pirates would have another decision to make. They kept Stennett again, sending the aforementioned Brett and Randolph with Dock Ellis for Doc Medich.

Whether either of the trades were particularly wise or fruitful, the Pirates swapped two second baseman in separate trade packages. That's what I consider waves of talent.

The Cubs have traded one part-time MLB outfielder in Jorge Soler with a combination of Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward getting at-bats instead. Starlin Castro was traded as Ben Zobrist was acquired. The Cubs haven't been especially good at having home-grown talent replace better-than-average talent Until that happens, they deserve to lose ground to teams who out-develop them. The people missing that this basic tenet of long-successful franchises are a bit delusional. Having multiple players around for a decade or more is perfectly fine, if the retention is mutually desired, and other quality pieces are replaced internally. Many local writers either don't realize this is protocol for winning teams, or don't push back much with the obvious.

Eventually, players lose their edge, for one reason or another. The better organizations have a tendency to bring up quality talent from the upper-minors. When that ability disappears, so does the inexpensive depth. It isn't about "a lack of pitchers" or "not enough hitting prospects". When neither half of the Y-connection of success is working, the team has to rely on divisional incompetence. That might happen, but rarely lasts long.

It's doubtful many Cubs prospects get markedly better this season. On the plus side, that applies a bit for everyone. For people bearish on the importance of prospects, three players from over four decades ago probably won't sway you. However, until the Cubs develop second through fifth round selections as well as other teams, regardless the reasons involved, the other teams will deserve to be better.