Cubs' management keeping hope alive
MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs are in a major rebuilding process.
Just like the Houston Astros?
While the Astros have cleared out most anyone of experience and expense, the Cubs have put a focus into revamping the foundation since the arrival of Theo Epstein as their president of baseball operations and Jed Hoyer as general manager following the 2011 season, but they keep peeking at the present along with the future.
No, they aren't going to be favored to win the National League Central and aren't really considered to be an NL Wild Card contender, but management does maintain a glimmer of hope.
"I feel every season is sacred,'' said Hoyer. "Every season you are building something. Every season you have a chance to win. The Orioles won last year. The A's won last year. In 2010, in San Diego, nobody gave us a chance, but …''
Yes, those 2010 Padres, with Hoyer as their GM, actually spent 148 days in first place in the NL West, and they were not officially eliminated until they lost a regular-season finale to the eventual World Series champion Giants.
"There's always a chance to win, and if it becomes apparent it isn't going to happen, you can reassess your situation before the [July non-waiver Trade] Deadline,'' he said.
So that's why in the offseason the Cubs were willing to bring in such veterans as starting pitchers Scott Feldman, Scott Baker and Edwin Jackson; catcher Dioner Navarro; and outfielders Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston.
They gave Jackson a four-year, $52 million deal, and Hairston was given a two-year contract for $5 million. The rest signed one-year deals.
The only other players on the roster whom the Cubs have under contract beyond this season are Alfonso Soriano (2013-14, at $18 million), Starlin Castro (2013-19, $55 million), Carlos Villanueva (2013-14, $10 million), Kyuji Fujikawa (2013-14, $9.5 million), and Jorge Soler (2013-19, $29 million). And Soler, a Cuban defector, spent last year at the lower Minor League levels after missing two years getting clearance to sign with a Major League team.
It's all about keeping roster flexibility while giving the team a chance, each year, to stun the rest of baseball.
The Cubs and Wrigley Field, after all, are neither the Astros nor Minute Maid Park.
"In the Chicago market, we're going to get close to 3 million fans,'' said Hoyer. "Part of it is the charm of Wrigley Field. ... They all love the Cubs.''
Really, the Cubs' situation is closer to what Boston's was before the Red Sox won two World Series during Epstein's tenure as GM.
"The fan base and how much they care is very similar,'' said Hoyer. "The big difference in Boston is there had been so many close calls [between championships in 1918 and 2004]. There haven't been that many close calls with the Cubs. The Cubs haven't even been in a World Series since 1945. The Cubs haven't enjoyed a run of successes only to be disappointed.''
It's been a bleak run for the Cubs since their back-to-back championships in 1907 and 1908, the only World Series titles in Cubs history. They have been in the postseason only 13 times since. They are coming off a 61-101 record in 2012; two losses shy of a franchise record set in 1962 and matched in 1966. They have had 17 full-time managers in the last 40 seasons.
That's the challenge Hoyer has been given.
It won't be quick, nor will it be easy.
"There's no way you can speed up the clock in player development,'' said Hoyer. "We want to build as fast as we can. The key to success is to get more talent in the organization. You want to go into Spring Training every year feeling your talent base is even better than the previous year.''
Major League Baseball has steadily cut up loopholes that wealthy teams could use to speed up the fix. There has been a crackdown on the chance to add compensation picks in the First-Year Player Draft because of a free-agent loss. There is now an allotted amount each team is given for signing bonuses based on where it is drafting so teams don't overdraft a player because of signability issues.
"It's about adjustments,'' said Hoyer. "It's about being flexible.''
And for Cubs fans it's about being patient, something they have mastered in the last century.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.