Full disclosure. I’m a White Sox fan and I’m going to talk about the Cubs.
It’s no easy task to be analytical about the “other” team when you live in my town without the “other” fans assuming you have an agenda. But, let’s see if I can do this without ruffling too many feathers.
Cub fans have experienced a special brand of hell during the twenty-first century, not that the twentieth century was too kind to them, either. For example:
- 2003: The Cubs were a mere five outs away from advancing in the playoffs and getting a chance to break the curse. But, then… Steve Bartman (and company). After that, Alex Gonzalez and his .984 fielding percentage committed an error on an easy ground ball. Next thing you know, the Marlins scored eight runs in the inning. The Cubs lost the game and then they lost game seven.
- 2004: One year after the Cubs failed to break the supposed curse, the Red Sox broke their curse and won the World Series.
- 2005: The crosstown rival White Sox broke their 87-year World Series drought.
- 2006: The Cubs’ hated rivals, the Cardinals, won the World Series.
- 2007: The Cubs won the N.L Central, but were swept by the Diamondbacks in three games. Meanwhile, their former brothers in curse-land, the Red Sox, went on to win another World Series.
- 2008: The Cubs led the N.L. with 97 wins and looked like a formidable playoff team. They took a 2-0 lead into the fourth inning of game one of the LDS, but they never led again. The Dodgers swept the Cubs in three games, stretching the Cubs playoff-game losing streak to nine games.
- 2011: The hated Cardinals won their 11th World Series since 1926.
- 2013: The Red Sox won again — a third World Series in 10 years.
Unlike the past, the Cubs and the former Red Sox GM, Theo Epstein, have chosen to go a new route towards breaking a World Series drought that predates the fall of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. The Cubs have embarked on a plan to tear down the team to its foundation and rebuild it – players, scouts, and coaches. So far, so good. Baseball America, for example, rated the Cubs system twelfth in 2013, fourth in 2014, and first in 2015. Four of those former seedlings are now playing a prominent role on the big league squad. They have struggled at times, but that is normal part of the process.
Possessing a great minor league system has a three-pronged affect. The obvious result is that prospects move to the major leagues and (potentially) contribute. In addition, if an injury were to occur, plenty of talent exists to, at least, “stop the bleeding,” Lastly, and maybe most importantly, it gives the team plenty of commodities with which to create trades and be a little more particular when shopping the free agent market.
So, they are guaranteed a World Series win, right? No, of course not.
The 2003 Cubs had everything the current Cubs hope to have, notably Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, and Kerry Wood, who appeared ready to dominate the league for many years; it never materialized. Simply put, you never know. Prospects fail, injuries occur, pitchers falter, bullpens are fickle, and there is no guarantee a team can win a playoff round just because they’ve built a good team.
That is why I think the pickup of Dan Haren from the Marlins is a good one for the Cubs. The Cubs don’t have a realistic shot at winning the division, but the second wild card spot is more than a realistic possibility, even after their recent debacle against the lowly Phillies. The 34-year-old Haren cost the Cubs very little in terms of money or prospects. He has veteran experience and might win a few games the Cubs otherwise would have lost. In a tight battle, two or three wins might be all the Cubs need to play in the one-game playoff. In other words, Haren gives them a shot this year without affecting the Cubs’ plan for the future.
With the stockpile of talent down on the farm, the Cubs have plenty of ability to move players and build a team when it is ready. The young players are producing for the Cubs, but they have also have reminded fans many times that they are, indeed, rookies. “Going for it” this year would have included faith in many rookies, which is not generally a good idea. You can’t rush crops – they grow at their own pace. Sometimes, you have to wait.
As a White Sox fan, I can honestly say to the team that plays on the “other side” of the city – be patient. Trust the plan, Cubs fans. You might not want to hear this but, if it doesn’t’ work out this year, there’s always next year…
…and that’s been the plan all along.