It isn’t debatable that the Chicago Cubs, as currently constructed, do not project to be among the elite teams in the National League. Indeed, it’s only marginally debatable that the Chicago Cubs, as currently constructed, stand a small chance of shocking the world and contending in 2013. Indeed indeed, it’s debatable that the Chicago Cubs, as currently constructed, stand a chance of playing well enough for long enough to put .500 on the table come September.
But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a good offseason.
We all know “The Plan” – focus on the long-term, focus on developing cost-controlled young players, turn short-term assets into long-term assets, generate a similarly-aged young core that all coalesces around the same time, supplement with free agents when the opportunity to win is there, etc. It’s easy to see how, even if the 2012 Cubs sucked on the field, the 2012 Cubs did not suck off the field. The moves they’ve made since the new front office took over have been clearly in service of “The Plan,” and, for the most part, have been universally praised.
With respect to the rotation, in particular, the Cubs’ efforts to add short-term pieces on reasonable deals, plus Edwin Jackson on a deal that makes him a viable option long-term, have looked pretty good to most folks. The rebuilt rotation is an improvement over the 2012 iteration, but putting it together didn’t do any harm to “The Plan.”
Grant Brisbee – seriously, always a good read – seems to agree, shredding the Kansas City Royals’ offseason pitching maneuvering by way of contrast to the Cubs. After analyzing each team’s moves, and noting the similarity in total value that each team added, Brisbee works the Royals over:
But there’s another column that makes all the difference: Wil Myerses given up. The Royals have it all over the Cubs in that category. They also take the “Jake Odorizzis given up” category, the “Mike Montgomerys given up” category, and the “Patrick Leonards given up” category.
The Cubs spent a fair amount, took some risks, and rebuilt the majority of their rotation.
The Royals spent a fair amount, took some risks, rebuilt the majority of their rotation, and decimated their farm system.
One of those is probably what a 90- or 100-loss team should try first. The other one seems like a ton of risk for a reward that isn’t as close as the GM might think.
It gets even worse with the benefit of hindsight. The Royals could have made a push for Kyle Lohse, considering their first-rounder is protected. They could have looked into Ted Lilly or Chris Capuano instead of hoping for a return to form from Santana. They could have pushed for Trevor Bauer, hoping the Diamondbacks would give him up to them for nickels on the dollar instead of pennies on the dollar. They could have done all of that, and then if they really, really needed to, they could have traded Wil Myers for another pitcher on top of all that.
Of course, the comparison isn’t entirely fair, as the Cubs probably had something of an “attractiveness” advantage over the Royals when luring free agents. But Grant’s point remains: the Royals remade their rotation at great long-term expense. The Cubs remade their rotation not only without hurting themselves long-term, they added some flippable assets that could help even further in the long-term.
The Cubs might not be particularly competitive in 2013, but they’ve been doing some good things. It could always be worse.*
*Flash forward to October 2013, when the Royals are on an improbable playoff run, and the Cubs have run out of hospital beds.