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A recent article by Dave Kaplan has been blowing up (in part because Kaplan sold it on Twitter as “Breaking Cubs news: Cubs to completely rebuild,” which is such a doubly-loaded phrase that the link would spread like wildfire even if it pointed to a picture of grizzly bears wearing eye patches (actually, that would spread like wildfire anyway…)) about the offseason plans of the Chicago Cubs.

The article offers a sobering perspective on the roster and the prospects of competing in 2012, and cites three MLB sources – including at least one executive – who all believe the Cubs should and probably will trade away many valuable pieces this Winter in order to lay the the ground work for a rebuild.

“There is no doubt that the Cubs need a major overhaul and with that comes a couple of seasons of teams that will have more than its share of struggles. However, if Theo and Jed can make astute deals for the few pieces that they do have the rebuild can get off to a very good start. In the addition, the farm system is not in good shape in terms of nearly major league ready starting pitching so if they can make some very solid deals they can reload in the minor leagues as well,” [a Major League executive] said ….

Two other sources confirmed to me today that the Cubs are not players in the Prince Fielder negotiations and are not preparing to make a major offer to land him. In fact, the same major league sources expect the Cubs to try to move most of their valuable assets before spring training and that a complete overhaul of the team will definitely happen. As one current NL executive told me it is about time that it happened. “The Cubs have never had the guts to completely blow up their roster and build it the right way. They have to have a plan for sustained success instead of always trying to patchwork a roster for a surprising season. They should have done that when Andy MacPhail took over but for whatever reason they couldn’t or wouldn’t. By the time Jim Hendry became the GM they had some young starting pitching and a mandate from management in 2006-09 to try to buy their way to a championship. It never worked out so the rebuild is the right way to go,” he said.

Other than the Fielder bit – which would be disputed by many other media members (and I still say if Fielder will take five years, the Cubs would be very interested) – this is the kind of thing most of us have been saying for years. It’s interesting to hear it from folks around MLB, but it doesn’t take much more than a Web search to know that something is rotten on the North side of Chicago.

I want to be clear on something. This isn’t about blasting Kap. His sources have been as good as any, and he certainly communicates things in a lively and interesting way. The article is well-said, interesting, and worth reading.

I just wish he hadn’t blasted it out there as though it wasn’t something we’ve known for more than a month, and let it stand for the interesting article that it was.

As to whether it is “breaking news,” I can only offer what I reported back on November 16:

According to multiple sources, the Cubs are telling other teams that they’ll listen to offers on everyone on the roster this Winter. The front office reportedly recognizes a long rebuild is in the offing, and doesn’t want to rule out the possibility of bringing in a number of young pieces this offseason in the hopes of being competitive in the longer term future.

Privately, I’ve been hearing this for some time, but because Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s public statements contradicted the idea that the Cubs will shop their more valuable pieces, I’ve taken them at their word. Now that so many other sources are confirming what I’ve heard, it’s time to take the gloves off. The Cubs might not ultimately unload all of their talent, but they’ll consider trades that build for the future ….

The return on Garza could be enormous, and the return on Marshall could be impressively large. Would the Cubs be raising the white flag on 2012 if they dealt those two pitchers? I think it depends on the return. If a few ML-ready youngsters with breakout potential come back the Cubs’ way, you never know what might happen. Couple that with some strategic free agent signings…

That the Cubs would be willing to move anyone this Winter is simply the confluence of two things: (1) Theo and Jed’s standard operating procedure: rule nothing out, leave every door open; and (2) it was going to take a herculean amount of turnover to make the 2012 Chicago Cubs a reasonable playoff threat.

The Cubs are, always were, and always should have been listening to offers on their most valuable pieces with an eye toward “the future.” I don’t need a source to tell me that (although, I’ve been hearing it regularly from sources for months). The 2011 Cubs featured a poorly-constructed roster, which would have doomed the season regardless of injuries. To date, the 2012 squad is even worse on paper, having lost Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena, having the rest of the roster age a year, and having only added David DeJesus and Ian Stewart. If the Cubs sell off valuable pieces, the 2012 team could look even worse still. “Rebuild” was always going to be a word tossed around.

But Theo and Jed aren’t in the business of throwing a season away. That’s why there are still rumors about guys like Hiroki Kuroda and signings like David DeJesus. Even if the organization moves valuable older pieces for younger players, Theo and Jed still want to win in 2012.

It’s just that they also want to win in “the future.” When those two aims conflict, the latter will win out. Theo said as much. And that’s why some Cubs fans disconnect from others when they hear that loaded word: rebuild. A “rebuild” for one organization is bound to look quite different from a “rebuild” in another organization. For the Cubs, it’s just a word. It doesn’t mean selling off everything for young prospects. It doesn’t preclude adding free agents. It means wisely making a series of moves that make the Cubs better in “the future,” and in 2012, with a deference to the former, if a particular prospective move conflicts with the latter.

Moves like signing Yu Darvish or Prince Fielder, or trading Sean Marshall for Travis Wood all work toward the same goal: making the team better in “the future.” They just happen to also potentially make the team better and more balanced in 2012. That’s why those are the kinds of moves I still talk about frequently, and why they come up frequently. For a team that wants to improve long-term, and as much as reasonably possible in 2012, those are the kinds of moves – together with dealing valuable pieces for a net increase in young, ML-ready talent – smart guys like Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer look to make. Are they “rebuilding” moves?

Call them what you want, but, again: it’s all about making the Cubs better in “the future,” and in 2012, with a deference to the former, if a particular prospective move conflicts with the latter. “Rebuilding” is just a word.

Kaplan’s piece was interesting and important, even if it wasn’t anything we didn’t already know.

  • Doug Dascenzo

    I’ve been begging since the late 80’s and 90’s that the Cubs show commitment to sticking with a plan. I think most true Cubs Fans have felt that way for a long time. Even in the Hendry years, despite winning division titles, I always felt this uneasiness knowing that the short-term success would eventually catch up with us because there was no way we could sustain it with what we had in the minors. The bad signing here and there, the regression and decline in player performance, I think a sane person would have figured what the problem was all along.

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