With the 2012 amateur draft completed and Cuban prospect Jorge Soler now in the fold, the Chicago Cubs have begun the long journey towards rebuilding. It is time for Cubs fans to start walking with them.
By now you've heard the news that the Chicago Cubs have signed Cuban defector/outfielder Jorge Soler to a nine-year, $30 million deal. Smarter, more educated, better-connected men will be able to break down the value of the toolsy Cuban. (By the way, if anybody ever called me toolsy, their left eye would experience my hit tool firsthand.) But I prefer to look at today as a seminal moment for Cubs fans, a group that seems to be observing the simultaneous destruction/reconstruction of its baseball team with all the patience and understanding of a just-unfrozen Brendan Fraser in Encino Man.
It is time for your Come-to-Jesus moment, Wrigleyville: There is no fast-forward button on suck.
Soler represents yet another step in the process, and a great one, of the as-yet unfinished rebuilding of Mt. Wrigley. According to scouts, he would have been a top-five pick were he in this year's draft. He also represents the last of MLB's uncapped international signings for the foreseeable future what with the new CBA rules that kick in on July 2nd. Along with Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs now arguably have three top 50 prospects in their farm system, along with some solid young depth built through the last two drafts. On all these fronts, the signing is a reason to celebrate.
But none of this is a reason to get antsy, or to seek results now. Soler is a kid. An unknown quantity. A gamble. And unless he can also pitch, play 3rd base and occasionally sing the 7th inning stretch, he is merely a small piece of the puzzle in the long climb back to the playoffs. But with only a skim of Twitter, we see those that are convinced the Cubs can contend as soon as Wednesday evening with the latest move their beloved team has made.
Folks, the current Cubs roster is so bad, so built to fail, that it would be funny if it were happening to somebody else's team. They are so bad that the star player seems like he'd rather be playing Doodle Jump than shortstop. They are so bad that Alfonso Soriano
is one of this season's bright spots. They are so bad that Kerry Wood
retired rather than ride out his last year of professional baseball on the planet earth. Unfortunately, this is happening to my team, to which I've committed an unhealthy lifelong emotional attachment. To call this season funny would be like saying I had a laughing fit due to the searing pain caused by a recent bout with diarrhea. I, we, are not enjoying this.
But we are talking about the creaking machinations of our most ancient and storied pastime. A game that in and of itself requires a .12 blood alcohol level to seem even reasonably well-paced in today's society. I think it is time we all accept that a Major League Baseball team has to be constructed around a surge in talent from its farm system, built up and anticipated for several years, that is then bolstered by a few deft trades, a free agent or two and ultimately, a bobblehead giveaway. So let us tighten our collective belts, accept a few realities and prepare our deafening rabble for the years to come, because it is wasted on today.
1. Stop breathlessly waiting for this year's promotions of Rizzo and Brett Jackson
. At present, the Cubs are 20-40. If they manage to stay just this sucky, their final record would clock in at 54-108. After the eventual trades of Ryan Dempster
, possibly Matt Garza
, and anyone else who will bring back more than a bottle of Popov, I'd say 115 losses seems feasible. To borrow an NBA term, the Cubs are tanking, and they're doing it Bobcats-style. Yet still, the clamoring masses call for the promotion of Brett Jackson and Rizzo, players who can only shed valuable future years of pre-arbitration eligibility and drag the Cubs out of contention for the #1 pick in next year's draft. If you want to see them that bad, I hear Iowa is lovely this time of year.
2. Besides Garza, the Cubs are not going to get much back for Dempster, LaHair or whatever other Cub you've decided should be traded away to acquire Team A's top three prospects plus the rights to Albert Pujol's first-born son. The new CBA says that if a team trades for a player mid-season who then leaves as a free agent at the end of the year, that team no longer gets draft compensation. So get ready for BREAKING NEWS: CUBS TRADE RYAN DEMPSTER TO ANGELS FOR BACON-WRAPPED HOT DOG AND TWO FISH TACOS TO BE NAMED LATER. Because that's how it's going to go down.
3. I am an eternal optimist. As a Cubs fan, I have little choice. Now then, anybody who expects Soler, Baez, Almora, Rizzo, Vitters, Jackson, Castro, Castillo, et al to roam Wrigley Field together is in line for a good screaming from yours truly. One look at the Cubs' recent list of can't-miss prospects should tell you all you need to know about the certainty of major league scouting. You plant as many seeds as you can and then see what bears fruit, which is why the draft is approximately 4,683 rounds. Here's more or less how the Cubs most recent draft went: Almora, arm, arm, arm, arm, arm, arm, arm, arm, arm, arm, arm, arm, arm, a catcher, arm, arm, Dale Sveum's son, arm, arm, arm. If even five of this year's drafted pitchers make the major leagues one day, it is a massive victory. So at least until some of these kids hit double-A, please just pretend they are walking lottery tickets. And much like the lottery, let us respect the massive difference between hope and expectation.
4. On the subject of tools, projectability, and 20-80 scouting ratings: UGH. I do my level best to not use these terms, much as I would try to avoid diagnosing a friend's illness with the cold certainty of WebMD. (Pain in your knee? KNEE CANCER!) Much as I've learned these terms and what they mean, must we use them as though we are a legion of cigar-crunching, car-renting, toilet-wrecking baseball scouts? I'm a guy who watches games, just like you. "This guy's good, he hits the bejeezus out of the ball." That guy's not, he often misses. Let us question the content of his character." See how fun and simple life can be?
As we adapt and wait over the long Chicago baseball winter of 2012 and 2013 (and yes, probably 2014), let us take the opportunity to grow along with the new regime. No longer must we think of the Cubs as an on-off switch (HOLY SH*T WE SUCK!, HOLY SH*T WE DON'T SUCK!). We as fans need to change along with our franchise, by learning what it means to have high expectations that must be patiently nurtured over time.
To assist in this transition, I have written a new bleacher chant that I'm hoping will catch fire the way "Go Cubs Go" did in the 2000's:
WHAT DO WE WANT?
REALLY GOOD BASEBALL!
WHEN DO WE WANT IT?
2015 WOULD BE NICE, BUT IN HOWEVER MUCH TIME IT TAKES TO ADEQUATELY DEVELOP THE FARM SYSTEM WITHOUT RUSHING PLAYERS UP AND ONLY MINIMAL SUPPLEMENTATION THROUGH FREE AGENCY!
Rinse and repeat, friends. It's for our own good.