CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs’ front office personnel have been selling their plan for the future so much over the last couple of years, they are getting pretty good at it.
They may have been at their best Friday as season ticket holders gathered at the Bank of America Theatre to hear business and baseball presidents Crane Kenney and Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer make their case once again.
And once again the message was patience.
“It takes great courage to be patient,” Epstein said early on in his presentation to the audience.
Some will call it ironic and some will call it much worse that a fan base that has waited 105 years is asked to wait longer. But the plan the front office has in place will be played out no matter the outcry. And when Epstein sells it as he did on Friday, it’s hard not to believe in it.
But even if you are the pessimistic sort, make no mistake this plan isn’t stuck in neutral waiting for the fans to return on their own. It’s moving forward, as evidenced by the numerous videos shown to the audience.
It’s safe to say these weren’t of Donnie Murphy hitting home runs, but of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Albert Almora. And there was CJ Edwards on the mound and of course shots of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro at their best. You probably know the former names better than you do the rest of the players on the major league roster, and that’s just fine with Cubs brass.
“What’s new now if you look at a two-year window looking forward as opposed to a two-year window looking back is now we’re actually going to start breaking in a lot of our core prospects,” Epstein said to a small contingent of media after Friday’s presentation.
“[We’re a] couple of years away from reaching fruition. We’re going to be as aggressive as we can, given our situation. We clearly need to get better, but we’re not going to do anything at the expense of an increasingly exciting future.”
Even the Cubs are a little surprised as how bright that future looks right now. No arms have blown out and no major prospects have struggled to the point of wondering if they can play the game, at least not yet. That’s surprising because baseball has a way of weeding people out at any and all levels despite their draft status or baseball pedigree. That’s probably going to happen for a few players, but the Cubs have worked hard to fortify themselves.
Epstein pointed out they’ve traded eight veterans over the past couple of years totaling approximately four years of “control” by the organization. In return they’ve acquired 14 players with a combined 78 years of control. It didn’t hurt that his next point was that of the 50 players on the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals rosters during this World Series, 35 were homegrown or acquired using homegrown players. His final point is evidence that shows players peak at age 27. Add that all up and you have the Cubs’ reasons for their plan.
So the Cubs are preaching patience through youth, and exercising it in the front office, as well. They say that’s not easy, but it’s the right thing to do.
“In our situation where we have to make every asset count, every dollar count, we don’t want to get in our own way with our development plan. You have to look at the possibility of trading significant assets to acquire someone and then reward him with a nine figure contract is not as appealing as keeping your core prospects and then at the right time adding that impact piece from outside the organization. Then you have the best of both worlds.”
In other words, it’s just not time yet to pull the trigger on anything they might regret -- before it’s even time to regret such things. In a way, it’s kind of what Epstein meant when he was being “self-critical” on Friday of the signing of pitcher Edwin Jackson last winter to a 4-year, $52 million deal. Maybe it came too soon or didn’t fit with the current plan.
It’s easier to understand if it was the final piece to the World Series puzzle instead of an out-of-nowhere signing for semi-big money. That kind of signing comes when the team is really ready to win. So a nine figure deal simply might not be worth the risk right now though Epstein was quick to point out every avenue to get better is always being explored. The risk versus reward on big money players, though, is especially being considered now.
Even new Cubs manager Rick Renteria made it to the presentation. Not in person, but in a video made on the eve of his official announcement he got the job. He was passionate and positive in his plea to fans. It’s probably one reason he got the job. The Cubs want the positivity happening in the minors -- Epstein mentioned players in the Arizona Fall League bonding after games -- to filter up to the major leagues. He likes the youth of this team, and it will make or break his plan.
“We wish there was a free agent market for young players,” he said.
There isn’t, so patience will have to do.