The Chicago Cubs are in the midst of a season-worst seven game losing streak. They are a season-worst 12 games under .500. They are eight games out in the NL Central, and in last place.

It’s fair to say that reasonable Cubs fans did not expect the Cubs to compete for a playoff spot this year. Indeed, were we being honest with ourselves, we probably would have guessed that this kind of start to the year was more likely than any kind of pleasant surprise.

Where did our reasonableness go? Our rationality? Did we forget that this was a deeply flawed roster and that turning it over would take considerable time?

Perhaps it’s time for a reminder that this roster is deeply flawed. Turning it over and becoming competitive long term will take considerable time. As new President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said back in January: you can’t turn an ocean liner on a dime. He saw the pains that lay ahead for the Cubs, and we’re living those pains now. Consider yourself reminded.

With that reminder in place, you’re hopefully in the right mindset to consider that, although this season sucks, there is an upside to the awfulness of the 2012 Chicago Cubs. Actually, there are several upsides, ranging from obvious to subtle.

A Higher First Round Draft Pick Slot in 2013

The most obvious impact of a terrible season in virtually any sport is the corresponding move up the draft board the following year. That benefit is felt most pronouncedly in the first round, where the highest impact talent is typically selected. The Cubs are looking to build a long-term foundation, and adding top young talent is the most important piece of that puzzle. Picking in the top five of the Draft is a great way to do that. As things stand, the Cubs have the second worst record in baseball, and don’t look likely to slide out of the top five picks next year. They could even land that top pick if the dominoes, eh hem, fall correctly.

A Higher Second (and Third (and Fourth (etc.))) Draft Pick Slot in 2013

This may not seem like a distinct benefit to sucking, but it is. Not only does a poor record ensure you an earlier pick in *every* round of the Draft (which, on a cumulative basis, is a huge bonus, above and beyond merely picking one of the four or five best players in the draft in the first round), but CBA-driven changes to 2013’s draft order will make that difference even more helpful.

In recent years past, the space between the first and second rounds of the draft were packed with “supplemental picks,” increasing the distance between the final pick in the first round, and the first pick in the second round. That served to decrease the value of high picks in the second round. Starting in 2013, because of changes to the free agent compensation system, there will be fewer “supplemental picks.” Although there are an additional six lottery picks after the first round (and then another six after the second round), there should still be fewer picks between the first and second rounds than there are now. Consider that there are 26 supplemental picks tied to free agent compensation separating the first and second rounds in 2012, 17 of which are tied to Type B free agents, a classification that will not exist come 2013. In other words, when the Cubs pick in the second round (and subsequent rounds) in 2013, the pick should be slightly higher than it would have been were they in the same slot in 2012.

More “Pool” Money to Spend in the 2013 Draft

One of the most dramatic changes to the Draft effected by the new CBA is the limitation on spending. In short, each team will have a “pool” of money to spend on its first 10 rounds’ worth of picks (which pool is the sum of the slot recommendation for each of that team’s picks). After the 10th round, teams can spend up to $100k on each pick, but anything over $100k counts against the pool. If a team goes over the pool, the penalties are swift and steep (for example, if a team goes over by more than 5%, it loses a first round draft pick). Thus, the larger a team’s pool, the better talent it can theoretically draft and sign. The higher a team picks, generally speaking, the larger its pool will be.

Consider: the slot amount for the top pick in 2012 is $7.2 million (the slot in 2011 was just $4 million, but the top pick, Gerrit Cole, signed for $8 million). With a slot amount that high, there is theoretical wiggle room to save some money to be put to use on other picks (though I’m sure it will be a battle to convince an agent to tell his player to accept less than the slot amount). The slot amounts drop to about $1.5 million by the end of the first round, so the range is significant, and the numbers keep sliding as you move through the next round. So, if you’re picking late in the first round, you’re going to have far less overall money to work with when trying to sign all of your picks if you took some “overslot” types.

More International Signing Bonus Money to Use in 2013

The new CBA also limits the amount of money teams can spend on internationals free agents. During this signing period, which kicks off in July, teams will have only $2.9 million to spend on international free agents (lest they be subjected to spending/signing limitations the following year if they go over). The number is the same for all teams. But next year, the teams with worse records in 2012 will have more money to spend on the international market, a la the Draft. The worst team in 2012 will get about $4.8 million to spend internationally in 2013, while the best team in 2012 will get just $1.7 million. That huge range (relatively speaking) means that the teams with the worst record in 2012 will have a significant advantage on the international stage in 2013, the first year that such an advantage will exist.

(And, yes, this impending limitation is why folks are modestly freaked out about the utter silence surrounding Jorge Soler. If he doesn’t sign before July 2, his signing is subject to the $2.9 million cap (that’s a team’s total spending cap, by the way – Soler was rumored to be getting more than $20 million by himself). That could cause serious problems for a team like the Cubs, who were once thought to have the inside track, but who might not want to blow their cap to sign Soler (given that, if they don’t blow their cap this year, their cap next year is likely to be among the highest in baseball)).

A Clear Plan at Mid-Season With Respect to Trades

Not all of the upsides of sucking in 2012 have to do with amateur talent. Teams floating around .500 are going to have a tricky set of decisions come July. Do we decide it isn’t going to happen and sell off, even though we’re ever-so-close to being in the race? Do we go on a buying spree to try and tip the scales in our favor, to the detriment of the farm system? Or do we stand pat and see where things stand come August, hoping that we could pick up a piece or two (or deal a piece or two) in a waiver trade if necessary?

The Cubs, if they continue to suck, will not have to face these questions. The path will be more than clear: if a player has value on the trade market, and isn’t certain to be a contributing piece in 2013, that player can be shopped. Aggressively.

Young Players Will Not Be Blocked

The benefit here is pretty simple: to the extent the Cubs would like to get some young guys some playing time in August and September – like real, legit, long-term playing time – there will be no “competitiveness” impediment to doing so. Without the absolute need to win games (just a preference to win them), it’s no big deal to give Junior Lake a week’s worth of games at third base, or to let Chris Rusin start a few times. Further, if guys like Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo are up and struggling, the team can stay committed to them without worrying about their performance on a day-to-day basis.

Everyone is on the Same “Development” Page

Relatedly, if the Cubs are completely out of it by mid-June, the organization doesn’t have to deal with awkward promotion decisions that are tied to the competitiveness of the big league team. Imagine in an alternate 2012 that there are a couple injuries in the infield, and the Cubs, desperately clinging to a Wild Card spot, decide to bring up Josh Vitters just in case they need him. Then he rides the pine for two weeks, heads back down to Iowa, and his confidence is totally shot. With a team that is plainly not competitive, these kinds of decisions can be avoided, and prospects can be treated exclusively in a manner that best serves their development, not a manner that best serves the marginal winning percentage of the big league club.

In sum, there are reasons that sucking 2012 isn’t the worst thing in the world for the Chicago Cubs’ organization. It’s hard for fans to stomach, but at least some tangible good can follow.

It’s important to remember that none of the reasons for our excitement back in October and November have gone away. “The plan” is still very much unfolding. I don’t know how many times many of us said that the near-term was going to be painful, and that living the day to day of it was going to suck, but we said it a lot. And we were right: this sucks.

But this is also a part of the process. Suffer through it. Take the suck for no more than it’s worth. Stick with it, and we’ll all be rewarded in time. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.

  • RicoSanto

    Trade Garza to Detroit for Smyley, and Castellanos.Then Trade Demp to the Yanks for 1 of the 2 Betances or Buenlos(names Wrong) and another great prospect..Sign Samardza 6 years 50 mill,Maholm or Wood for your Number 5, and one of the top 4 starters (FA).Now for 2013 you have 1.Hamels.2.Samardza 3. Smylie 4. Betances 5. Maholm.

    • Can’t think of a cool name

      I don’t the Tigers trade Smyly for garza straight up. He’s pitching in the majors now and looks like he’s actually doin g better than Garza, although after only 8 starts.

      • Njriv

        I hope they don’t trade Garza, if they do I hope its in the offseason, because we are not fully sure Samardzija can produce like he has been for a whole season.

  • True(ly) Blue

    Great and thoughtful analysis Brett. Lots to chew on. I hope that Sv moves Castro out of the 3 hole. Campana 1, DeJesus 2 LaHair 3, Sorry 4, Stewart 5, Castro 6, Barney 7, Catcher of the day 8, and pitcher 9. Then cross your fingers and have a couple of Manhattens.

  • Njriv

    What is the deal with Chris Rusin? Is he a legit prospect that can actually make the big league rotation or what?

    • Brett

      Depends on whom you ask. For me, his absolute max upside is a back-end starter for a few years before maybe being successful as a long reliever in the pen. I think Luke is higher on him than I am.

  • Cheryl

    Good article Brett. you brought us back to reality. As for the discussion about Castro, at first I saw no possibility of a trade, but now there may be a good likelihood. He is trying to correct flaws in his defensive work but his willingness to not be a patient hitter leads me to revise my thoughts about him. In order for Theo and Company to get good prospects they have to be willing to part with Garza, Dempster and Castro. It looks like that is a real possibility. As for Soler, it seems less and less likely he’ll end up with the cubs.

    • P hertz

      So wrong….so very wrong. You shoulda been a weather person.

    • TWC

      Cheryl’s morphed back into her die hard persona for the day…

  • Carew

    How, and why, in the world did Castro’s name brought up in trade rumors? He’s still young and improving (i do wish he had a better eye, but other than that). When you got his talent at his age, you keep him.

    • Jeremy

      It came from the Buster Olney blog post thing. It’s an awful idea. Trading a 22 year old all star SS for prospects would set this team back years. He’s pressing and still learning how to bat 3rd he just needs time.

      • Carew

        Really Olney suggested it? He’s usually decent bout this kinda thing..

        And I completely agree with you

  • Hawkeye

    Trading Castro is utterly ridiculous. You don’t trade a 22 yr old all star shortstop he’s basically a prospect himself.

    • Cheryl

      That’s what I thought in the beginning. But I’m not so sure of that anymore.

    • Drew7

      I think Castro’s value with this team really depends on whether or not he can develop power like most think he can. As of now, he is a young SS with great range and a great hit tool, but he doesn’t get on base enough to be elite.

      Knowing Castro will never be a guy patient enough to get on base a ton, what I hope for is a line of, say, .310/.345/.460. Given the fact that, at 22, he does have a good chance of an increase in power, I’d say thats very realistic.

  • Edwin

    Trading Castro isn’t a bad idea, depending on what they can get for him. He’s their most valuable trading chip. He’s young, cost controlled, and talented. He’s a very good player. But he’s not so good right now as to be untouchable.

    • Jeremy

      I disagree. The fact that he is young, cost controlled and already an all star SS gives us every reason to keep him. He hasn’t even hit his prime yet. For a team looking to rebuild, you need to keep all the young producing talent for cheap that you can get. Sure he probably is a valuable trade chip and would get us two or three top prospects but that’s the problem, their prospects and unproven.

      • Drew7

        I’m not saying they should trade him, but the fact that hes an All-Star is a bad reason. Every team gets a rep, and it’s a popularity contest that says nothing about a player’s ability.

        That being said, I think trading him now is a bad idea because of your other point: he is young and hasnt shown us what he can eventually become. So, when I talk about trading him, it wouldnt be this year.

        Now like I said before, I think he needs to show, over the next couple of years, that he can hit for some power. Even with his lack of a batting eye, an decent increase in power makes him an elite SS; no increase in power, in terms of total production, makes him JJ Hardy (assuming a continued improvement defensively)  – a good player, but certainly not untouchable.

  • TSB

    1. determine who your best young players are
    2. trade them for prospects
    3. if the prospects become your best young players, trade them for different prospects
    4. thus you will always be just a year away from the World Series
    Trade Castro (and for that matter Garza)? give me a break.

    • Jzwizard

      What ever you say there Billy Beane

  • Cheryl

    Castro is a valuable player But the problem that the cubs have is they need a lot more valuable players and don’t have much to offer in the trade area. Castro at times seems like he will develop into a great player, but that won’t happen this year. Batting him third isn’t helping. Should the cubs trade him? I agree with Edwin, it depends.

    • Drew7

      I dont think its about trading him to help fill multiple holes. Where I agree with these others guys is the fact that, if you take that approach, the chances of being successful arent good. If you want to trade him, then trade him because you dont think he will become the player you need him to be.

      Again, I’m bullish on Castro and think he will be an elite SS, so I’d give him a couple of years to show it.

  • True blue

    The thought of trading Castro is absurd. You build around players like Castro for the next decade. Young, talented under team control is exactly what we are looking for. I believe you have lost perspective if you are considering it.

    Theo and company should be ashamed of themselves for giving us this team to cheer for. You didn’t have to start from ground zero. I am not a Jim Hendry basher. He was the GM of the Cubs during my favorite years to watch them. Sure there were mistakes but he always tried to win every season. To purposely field a big market team that will lose 100 games is a disgrace. I am praying that I do not have to endure watching a team this bad next year. I am a season ticket holder for all 82 games and have loved the Cubs every since I can remember baseball. It is getting hard for me to attend games because they are so bad. Even my sons who love baseball and the Cubs at the ages of 14 and 15 don’t want to go anymore. The clock is ticking. The fan base isn’t what it use to be.

  • http://It'searly Mike F

    First Soriano sticks out like a sore thumb. The only thing he holds up though, theoretically is Rizzo, but I don’t think he is really holding up Rizzo, it’s pretty clear it’s money, time and wanting to make sure he doesn’t repeat last year. Oh, and in the meantime, maybe Brenly can talk enough like tonight to get some team to take at least some small portion of his salary. That said, if they allow him on this roster next year, then shame on them for not making this situation better.

    Garza and Dempster have to be moved if you want to get better. This isn’t football, the maturation process and success rate for baseball is much longer, especially in the case of HS players and the success rates are infinitesimal in comparison. The only way to jump start this, is get something for those who can bring back high returns.

    Finally, is it really absurd to listen to offers for Casto? I’d say probably not. If you’re certain, he will make plays like tonight combined with refining his strike zone, showing discipline and will develop some power, probably not wise to consider trading him. Look I’ll admit it’s a fine line and we’d have to know exactly what you would get in return. For Castro, I’d personally have to get an incredible arm, a bat and a player who could be an outstanding defender, and even then, it comes down to is this what you get or is there more. We have a body of work, and the work is mixed. I think he’s better defensively, but as an offensive player, he’s demonstrating no discipline whatsoever and he has yet to show me that he has any knowledge of what it takes in terms of doing the little things that make a great ball player. I understand he’s young, but at some point he either is or isn’t. I think they were smart to lay out the listen on anybody. And if someone makes an offer of 3 high quality prospects, why would they refuse to listen. His value maybe as high as it ever will be. And if that’s no the case, for Castro to get to the next level, he’s going to have to learn discipline and demonstrate he understands how to do the little things that win games. He’s talented, but he’s very undisciplined.

  • Cincycubfan

    Are people on here really suggesting trading Castro? Come on now the kid has struggled lately but that’s because he’s just a KID. Some of you act like he’s a 30 yr old veteran when he’s really only a 22 year old KID who only came to the majors so young because the Cubs needed a face for their team. On most other teams he would most likely just be reaching the major leagues! Think about how much harder it has been on the kid to develop at the majors instead of being able to develop his skills at the minors the past two years.

    Why in the hell would the Cubs trade a 22 yr old SS who led the league in hits last year for 2 or 3 unproven prospects? Makes no sense to me.

  • Matty

    Brett- Matt Spiegel just detailed your “positives to the Cubs sucking” article on 670 the Score. Good pub.

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  • Chris

    First of all i agree that trading Castro is ridiculous. The Cubs probably value him more than other teams so they probably wouldn’t even get an offer that would be acceptable in the first place. So in order for him to get traded it would have to mean Theo and Jed are just trying to get rid of him which does not fit with their philosophy. It would be one thing if Castro was 26 or 27 and about to get really expensive but he is 22 and dirt cheap so from a cost standpoint you wouldn’t be saving anything either. I also think it would be a big PR blow because he has become sort of the face of the franchise and after trading him you would be left with just a bunch unproven prospects to be the face of the team. It is one thing to get rid of guys like Garza and Dempster but you cannot completely dump any bit of major league talent, you have to leave something for the fans to root for. I promise you that Castro will not be traded because as I said there just isnt any reason too.

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