In an off-day exercise that will become increasingly important as we approach the end of the season, I want to take a look at where the Chicago Cubs currently sit in the overall standings. Well, “reverse standings” is more accurate, since the playoffs aren’t in this team’s future for 2013. Instead, all that matters is where the team finishes relative to the overall records of the rest of the league.
My position on losing – and, given that I’ve been covering the Cubs at BN since the Winter of 2008, I have had to have this discussion every single year – is that it sucks. I don’t like it. I don’t like watching the Cubs lose, and I can’t bring myself to actively root against them while watching a game.
That said, I recognize that, in the grander scheme of things, if the Cubs aren’t going to seriously challenge for the playoffs, the benefits of losing 90+ games probably outweigh the slight benefits of winning 75 games instead of 70. Those benefits include a better draft pick in 2014 (including a larger draft bonus pool), a larger international spending pool in 2014 (all of which the Cubs can use, even if they are subject to penalties), the ability to focus on young player development/evaluation, and a variety of other things I wrote about in May 2012 as I looked ahead into a sea of awful.
Because the Astros, White Sox, and Marlins are sufficiently awful that I can’t envision a realistic scenario where the Cubs pass any of them in losses, I’m not going to focus today on the very “top” of the reverse standings. Instead, I’d like to focus on the range in which – again, assuming the Cubs are going to pile up losses either way – you’d like to see the Cubs settle by the end of the year: the bottom ten teams.
Why does being in the bottom ten (the “playoffs” of the reverse standings!) matter? Well, if you pick in the top 10 picks in 2014, your first round selection is “protected.” In other words, when a team signs a free agent who has been extended a qualifying offer (i.e., the best of the best free agents), that team loses its first round pick the next year … unless that team picks in the top 10 picks. In that instance, all that is lost is a second round pick.
Now, I don’t foresee the Cubs going aggressively after too many top free agents this offseason, but if there is even one whom they really like (Jacoby Ellsbury?), then having a protected first round pick is a great benefit. The prospect of losing the 11th overall pick in the Draft is a much more ponderous consideration than losing the 10th pick in the second round.
So, let’s look at where things stand:
1. Houston Astros (39-80)
2. Miami Marlins (46-73)
3. Chicago White Sox (46-73)
4. Chicago Cubs (52-68)
5. Milwaukee Brewers (52-68)
6. San Francisco Giants (52-67)
7. Philadelphia Phillies (53-67)
8. Los Angeles Angels (53-66)
9. Minnesota Twins (53-65)
10. San Diego Padres (54-66)
12. New York Mets (54-64)
13. Toronto Blue Jays (55-65)
14. Seattle Mariners (55-64)
After the Mariners, there are a collection of teams that could plausibly fall into the bottom ten, but it doesn’t seem realistic that the would pass the Cubs. While the Cubs currently sport the fourth worst record in the league (thanks to a losing streak and some untimely wins from the Brewers, the two teams are tied), as you can see, a huge number of teams are bunched up together behind the abominable trio at the top.
On a glance, I could see the Twins, Padres, Mets and Mariners moving “up,” and the Giants, Phillies, Angels, and Blue Jays moving “down.” Which is to say, the former group of teams, I think, are probably going to continue to be quite bad, while the latter four are probably better than they’ve been showing.
If things play out in that way, you’d probably see the Cubs settle into the five to eight range (there’s no way the Cubs are losing more games than the Brewers – you can book it), and their pick would remain protected. It would take a fairly serious winning stretch for the Cubs to “fall” out of the bottom ten records, but it remains something worth watching.