Given that the 2013 Chicago Cubs long ago passed the reasonable possibility of a playoff run, we’ve instead started to look on a regular basis at where they stand relative to the worst teams in baseball, rather than the best. Although the playoffs are the best outcome for a regular season, and competitiveness (and missing playoffs) could be a close second, depending on where you are organizationally, falling far back in the standings really isn’t all that terrible (assuming your ownership can stomach the short-term financial pain). Not only do you reap a higher draft pick in 2014, but you get more funds to spend in the Draft, as well as in international free agency.
Obligatory caution: I’m not saying I’m into actively rooting against the Cubs on a day-to-day basis. I’m saying only that losing a ton of games has its silver linings.
One of the biggest silver linings upon which I’ve been focusing is the concept of a protected first round draft pick in 2014. If a team signs a free agent who has been extended a qualifying offer (one year, $14ish million), that team loses a draft pick. Unless the team picks in the first 10 selections overall, the pick lost is a first round pick. If the team picks in the first 10 selections, they lose their second round pick instead. Thus, if you want your team to pursue top free agents – and the Cubs have been linked to Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo already – it would be handy to have a protected first round pick.
To the standings, in reverse order …
1. Houston Astros – 44-88
2. Miami Marlins – 49-82
3. Chicago Cubs – 56-77
4. Chicago White Sox – 56-76
5. Minnesota Twins – 57-74
6. Milwaukee Brewers – 58-74
7. San Francisco Giants – 59-74
8. Seattle Mariners – 59-73
9. Toronto Blue Jays – 60-74
10. New York Mets – 59-72
11. Los Angeles Angels – 59-72
12. San Diego Padres – 60-73
13. Philadelphia Phillies – 61-72
14. Colorado Rockies – 63-72
From there, there is considerable separation, and the better teams don’t have a realistic shot of falling into the bottom ten.
As you can see, the Cubs have “pulled” into “third place” by themselves, a half game worse than the White Sox. It is safe to say that the Cubs won’t be catching the Marlins (and, ha, definitely not the Astros), so the third spot is the best (worst?) the Cubs can get.
For my part, I’m not interested in focusing too closely on the precise spot where the Cubs will land – there’s too much season left, and the teams in the 3 through 14 spots are so closely clustered, relatively speaking, that it’s not a good idea to start meting out specific spots.
Instead, I remain focused on whether the Cubs are a good bet to stay in the bottom ten. At present, the Cubs are five games clear of the Mets and Angels (in the loss column) in the 10th/11th spots. But the Cubs have played two more games than those teams, and are thus just three games clear in the win column. The Cubs’ remaining schedule is semi-tough, with 13 games left against “bad” teams, and 16 games left against “good” teams. (Of particular note: seven games remaining against the Brewers.) By contrast, the White Sox face almost exclusively “good” teams the rest of the way. I suspect they will “pass” the Cubs, which is another reason I’m staying focused on the bottom ten, in the aggregate, rather than any specific spot.
Looking at those fringe bottom ten teams, the Mets have a fairly even schedule the rest of the way, the Angels and Padres have a slightly tough schedule the rest of the way, the Phillies have an extremely easy schedule the rest of the way, and the Rockies have an extremely tough schedule the rest of the way.
All in all, it looks like it would be tough for enough teams to “pass” the Cubs for them to fall out of the bottom ten, but if the Cubs go something like 19-10 over their last 29, they would finish 12 games under .500. Judging based on where the teams on the cusp of protected pick status are right now – a shade worse than 12 games under .500 – and a presumption that they could very well play sub-.500 ball the rest of the way, I think that’s probably the danger zone for the Cubs.