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scared catThe Chicago Cubs’ front office is fantastic at message management. In a given week/month/offseason/whatever, you will hear multiple members of the front office offering the same bullet points, and there are rarely significant departures from what is clearly a well-crafted thesis at any given moment.

In the limited time we’ve had to observe them, the front office has borne out their messages in their actions. Whether it was seeking to build a foundation for sustained success (prospect acquisitions, minor league spending, facilities spending, etc.), or modernizing the baseball operations department (expansive hiring, new analytics software, new saber-inclined minds, etc.), or being unable to turn an ocean-liner on a dime (slow rebuild, no inexplicable large signings, etc.) – when there’s a cohesive message emanating from 1060 West Addison, it tends to play out.

So you can imagine my discomfort when the message started to sound a whole lot like 2014 and 2015 will be a repeat of 2012 and 2013.

In the last two weeks, we’ve heard President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein say something on the order of “the business plan and the baseball plan are still a couple years from coming to fruition.” This isn’t new information, of course, as we’ve known since earlier this year that the Cubs’ revenue wasn’t where it needed to be in order support aggressive additional spending at the big league level (something about not being able to leverage the large market advantage). We also know that the WGN TV deal (however it is renegotiated or sold off) will not kick in until 2015, and the Wrigley Field renovation will not begin until after 2014 (hopefully). We also know that the meatiest portions of the prospect steak will likely not break through – assuming they do – until 2015/2016 at the earliest.

That’s a couple years from fruition. We can easily see that, and Epstein isn’t saying anything draconian or terrifying.

But part of the reason we’re not scared to hear these kinds of messages is because there’s a presumption that, even if the best version of the team is a couple years away, there will be improvement at the Major League level, starting with this season, and taking root in 2015. There’s payroll room opened up this year, but, outside of Masahiro Tanaka, there aren’t a lot of compelling pieces on which to spend it. So, no problem. The next year – 2015 – will be the focus, and 2014 will be a step along the way. Heck, what’s “a couple years,” right? A couple years from 2013 is 2015. So we’re good.

However …

There are increasing signals that 2015, in addition to 2014, could be another slog. I fear that we’re seeing another message taking shape.

Ken Davidoff recently interviewed Epstein about a variety of things – mostly the New York/Boston rivalry – and Epstein offered a somber note about the GM Meetings last week: “[I]t takes time [to build], and a lot of that work is very enjoyable, but it’s also under the radar, which gives us space and freedom and creativity. But it makes for a different experience. Unfortunately, you can’t provide your fans with what they deserve along the way, which is teams that play meaningful games all year long and play until October. So we just have to take a patient, long view. It’s a different experience. But I’ve always enjoyed the scouting and player development aspects of the game, the investing in young players, more than any other aspect of it. So to that extent, it’s been really fulfilling. But it’s different. It’s different. It’s strange walking around the meetings and being a little irrelevant, because we’re not major players in some of these deals.”

Irrelevance is not a word I’d like to hear associated with the Cubs for much longer.

Adding to Epstein’s comments, Dave Kaplan had Jed Hoyer on his radio show late last week, and Kaplan asked if Hoyer saw a “major type move” coming this offseason. Hoyer’s response, in part: “We’re probably going to continue the way we have been, really trying to build up our base …. Where we are as an organization, we have a really bright future, and I think we’re a lot closer to winning a World Series than we were two years ago, but we don’t want to short-circuit that process ….”

So far, while the front office is clearly not going to say that spending big is in the cards this offseason, Epstein’s and Hoyer’s comments are equally consistent with not spending big this Winter, but maybe spending next year. That, in my view, would be an acceptable approach, particularly in light of the current free agent class and the 2014 strength of the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds. Still, the tone doesn’t feel very optimistic in the near-term.

And then Patrick Mooney reported this: “Where the Cubs had internally viewed 2015 as a breakthrough year last winter, now they are focusing more on 2016 in the big picture.”

Oof. Gut punch. Light bulb going off, and revealing only more darkness.

When the new front office took over, and we discussed a realistic timeline for a rebuild, I said that I expected 2012 to be terrible, 2013 to be not much better, and 2014 to be the first season that the Cubs fielded a team, on paper, that looked like a .500 team in Spring Training. That’s a team, as the Orioles have shown, for one example, that has a chance at making the playoffs based on some luck.

From there, it was fair to expect that the 2015 Cubs would be a playoff contender. That was the timeline. It wasn’t terribly aggressive, particularly in a large market that has never attempted a full-scale rebuild.

I’ve accepted that the 2014 Cubs will probably enter the season looking like a non-competitive squad. There are a number of explanations, from the unexpected regression of key big league pieces, to the overheated and undermanned free agent market, to the delays in revenue expansion, to the (ironic) impressive development of the Cubs’ top impact prospects (meaning that it makes more sense to wait). Next season is probably going to resemble the previous two, and, while I wouldn’t have liked it if you’d told me that’s what 2014 was going to be two years ago, I understand the reasoning behind it, and I ultimately support it.

But if there is talk of already sitting out 2015 – if that’s truly the message we are to be receiving – I will be very disappointed.

Disappointed in whom? The front office? Not entirely, if the resources aren’t there. If that’s the case, they’ve got no choice but to build up the farm and hope it pays off. Disappointed in ownership? Maybe a little, but those revenue disruptions came from outside the organization.

So it’s just … disappointing. Things would play out like this for the Cubs, wouldn’t they? A pile of disappointment and no one to blame.

By all means, stick with The Plan. Seriously: please stick with The Plan. Building up a young core, changing things at the organizational level as necessary, and then supplementing with free agents when the timing makes sense – that all still works for me.

But, to the extent there are elements of The Plan – whether front office-driven or ownership-driven – that already presume punting on 2015 (short of a miracle prospect wave breakthrough), I fear that’s a mistake. Fans will come back when the Cubs are winning. We all believe and accept that. But the longer the period of losing, the deeper the revenue losses (and resentment, meaning the slower those fans will climb back on board).

Hopefully I’m just hearing a message that isn’t yet being issued, and there are still eyes on a competitive team in 2015. Hell, hopefully 2014 winds up being a pleasant surprise.

If it takes until 2016 for the Cubs to field a competitive team, I’m not really sure what the landscape is going to look like at that point. It’s the final year of Theo Epstein’s contract. I don’t think anyone expected that Epstein would serve the full length of his five-year deal without the Cubs playing some winning baseball until the very end.

The good news? Baseball is very hard to predict year to year, and the Cubs have a crapload of young talent at this point. The long-term future still looks exceptionally bright. And, in the near-term? Nothing wrong with crossing your fingers, I guess.

  • Kyle

    I love you too, Brett.

    • cub2014

      Brett, I dont get the minimal payroll, based on
      how 2014 is setting up we would have to add
      50million in payroll to be a mid-market team.

      So what gives? Is this all a smoke screen?
      Are they trying to lose 100 games to get the
      top pick? Are they really out of money?
      Which is it?

      If the latter is the case (which I cant imagine
      it is) then baseball should step in!

  • MichiganGoat

    Okay I’m out, everyone enjoy.

    • SH

      See ya!

    • Brains

      hah comeon man, stop being such a baby. we all love the cubs, you just hate bad news. get used to it, you’re a chicagoin. our mayor sells our own public schools to his friends for gods sake.

      • SH

        Something something white space

        Had to be obnoxious for old time’s sake.

    • Hookers or Cake

      They’re gonna sign an outfield bat right? Lake, Sweeney, Schierholtz… thats not gonna be our starting OF right? I mean, I’ve been onboard with the plan, but sweet jesus.. are we the Marlins? sans Stanton?
      I dunno, they’ll do something right?
      right?
      hello?
      anyone?

      • willis

        Doubtful.

      • Professor Snarks

        Check the garbage heap. Look for those guys with an RH-Of after their names. They wold be the possible signings for 2014.

      • YourResidentJag

        NO.

    • YourResidentJag

      Bye!

    • Sandberg

      Can I have your stuff?

  • ssckelley

    I have said this before and it is worth saying again here. I get the impression that as the renovations keep getting pushed back so do the Cubs plans to win. I think the owners and the FO ideal situation is to reopen Wrigley with a World Series contending team.

    • Funn Dave

      I mean I’m sure they’d love to but I really don’t think they would make any decisions based on having that goal in mind. They want to renovate and they want to win, but I don’t think they care if those things are concurrent. I think they just want them both done asap.

  • King Jeff

    Brett, you’ve been optimistic on this for so long while I’ve harbored these dark doubts and thoughts in the corner of my mind for a while now. To see you put voice to them is knocking me for a loop.

  • Fishin Phil

    Bah! Let’s just take a couple of years off completely, pick up a couple of #1 draft picks and start again. What a load of crap. I certainly hope none of the players can read. Why should they bother?

    OK kids, now go out and prove all the nay-sayers wrong!

  • jh03

    Ugh. This just depressed the hell out of me.

  • Jake

    Woof

  • Kyle

    Let’s imagine we don’t compete until 2016. And then at some point in the next five years, we miss the playoffs twice with 2011/12 Boston type seasons.

    Congratulations Theo Epstein, with three playoff appearances in nine years, you’ll have matched Jim Hendry.

    • SH

      But he played better moneyball along the way! Hard to knock that; it gets you more points in OOTP to make the playoffs with a low-cost roster.

    • Brains

      Yeah – I think the writing was on the wall even last year, and had some fun trying to figure out different ways of saying it. Part of my job is evaluating how institutions work, and the logistics of the *actual product* just made no sense. Then the past couple weeks after being pissed at Theo I just couldn’t imagine a situation in which he would choose to lose *this* badly for what appeared to be an indefinite amount of time. So I think the owners are snake oil salesmen, and that might have included selling Theo on a situation that wasn’t possible.

      I will make a rare optimistic observation though, as reality finally starts setting in – this can change from the top down. Bad PR might lead to the Ricketts changing their mind. These things can change in a second if the *will* is there. I do however stick to my observation from a couple weeks ago that the Cubs will either be sold or Theo will walk away at the end of his contract.

      • YourResidentJag

        I don’t think Theo will walk away. The two sides will part amicably after 2016. Nothing necessarily he did because, in all honesty, we don’t really know if he got to do what he intended.

        • terenceman

          Why would he walk away from a team built around a bunch of talented young players who were drafted, signed and/or developed on his watch? Legacy is as important to business executives as anything and Epstein and Hoyer would go down as two of the greatest baseball executives of all-time if they broke the curse for both the Red Sox and the Cubs. Why wouldn’t they give it more time?

          • YourResidentJag

            Because of his expectations. Read Brett’s columns. Theo’s a highly competitive guy and Brett doesn’t know what the landscape will look like in 2016 if that’s when they wait to put a competitive team on the field (presuming that’s the year). According to Kaplan in that talk with Hoyer, he got the sense it wouldn’t be until AT LEAST 2017. I appreciate the positivity BUT….

            • Brains

              i’ll say it simply and crassly – because Theo probably doesn’t appreciate having been dicked around, and having to fall on his sword for ownership, whatever ownership’s reasons are for not doing their job.

              • YourResidentJag

                Yes, he probably doesn’t.

    • MichaelD

      The scenario you present is not that unlikely. I figure that once the era of competitiveness starts that the Cubs will make the playoffs four times in six years, probably with two division titles and two wild cards.

    • Wilbur

      You’re thoughts on what could happen could easily come true, three playoff appearances in nine years and no WS, let alone a WS championship …

      The difference though would be that when Hendry left, the MLB team was older and flawed, the minor league cupboard was very bare, and except for that first year when Pujols et. al. were on the market the difference making free agents have not as a group been making it to the market.

      Whether you like or dislike the current plan (and I totally get any disgust or disdain for it) and even with WS failure the Cubs of 2011/2012 would project to be younger, more talented, less expensive and still ready to compete in 2013/2014/ and 2015 than the 2010 Cubs.

      Again, I am not saying you have to support anything this FO has done. I’m just carrying your analogy out to what I would submit is its logical end which projects to be significantly different than when Jim Hendry left.

      • Wilbur

        “would project to be younger, more talented, less expensive and still ready to compete in 2013/2014/ and 2015 than the 2010 Cubs.”

        Sorry the reference to 2013 through 2015 would be more like 2017 through 2019.

  • SH

    “Disappointed in ownership? Maybe a little, but those revenue disruptions came from outside the organization.”

    Not really buying it. Ownership easily *could* encourage fielding of a competitive team; they’re not because it’s not financially favorable to them despite the fact that owning this team *as such* is a very profitable investment. That is their right, naturally, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it as fans of Cubs baseball instead of the owners as businesspeople.

    I’m not expecting an on-the-record pile-on in November 2013, but I’ll do it here ;)

    • King Jeff

      Yeah, the whole putting everything back into baseball ops, then including debt payments in baseball ops budget while not being up front about it really pisses me off. It’s really starting to rub me the wrong way that ownership, and to an extent the front office, are so consistently misleading.

  • Kyle
    • King Jeff

      You going to be doing this all day? Or are we going to have to put up with it for the duration?

      • Kyle

        Duration of what? Your lives. I guess that just depends on which of us dies first.

        • King Jeff

          I’m about to jump in front of a train after reading this, so you win.

  • willis

    Pretty disgusting, but it is what it is. We’ve all known it as fans, and although some have remained optimistic that a big move here or there would come, or that there would be major league improvement, I do think most have been on the “team will blow for awhile yet” train. The message has been clear and the ownership won’t spend what they need to on the big league level to be competitive. All eggs are in one basket here. Let’s just hope a few of these prospects develop as they are projected.

    Woof, puke, crap…pretty much sucks.

    • Koyie Hill Sucks

      This just confirms what many of us here have said, I wonder how much longer the patience with this ownership/FO will last. Let’s just hope the top prospects pan out.

      BTW, what does this say about Renteria? As I said, I think he is just another placeholder until they are competitive.

  • Funn Dave

    Well who could have seen this coming?

    Besides, you know, everyone.

    • Senor Cub

      @Funn Dave – I agree 100%. Not sure what everyone else was watching this past year but it didn’t look to me like any of them would get better in the next two years while we wait for the miracle kids to come up. Looking at the future here is how I see it.

      2014 – 3rd base is solidified for the long term – still no better pitching
      2015 – 2nd base is solidified for the long term – an impact pitcher or two in the horizon
      2016 – Rizzo, Castro, 2nd base, 3rd base in place. Outfield solidified for long term
      2017 – all pieces in place, pitching could be stronger but good enough to compete for playoff
      2018 – playoffs
      2019 – deep playoffs
      2020 – WS

      • Funn Dave

        Sad but probably accurate. And I’m not even sure I’m comfortable slotting Rizzo and Castro in yet, given how they performed last season.

  • Edwin

    Maybe the Cubs would be better off pushing for a new expanded 30 team playoff system.

    • Professor Snarks

      Like basketball?

  • dumbledoresacubsfan

    Damn.

    Are there any positives to this? Does it foreshadow unloading some guys (like Samardzija) for prospects who will be ready end of 2015?

    I’m just trying to keep myself from crying……….

    • King Jeff

      If this is the case, I don’t see why they don’t start shopping anything that has a pulse off the big league roster. Castro, Shark, and Castillo being traded would probably net some nice pieces. I mean, if the team is going to be average, might as well be Astros bad because being .500 is worse, right?

      • YourResidentJag

        Yes, this. They need to market every trade chip. The farm system while looking more solid every year needs more….because of what everyone appears to be concluding that ownership is doing.

      • dumbledoresacubsfan

        I’d be sad to lose Castro, but if we’re aiming for 2016, why the hell not shop Castro and Samardzija and get the haul of a lifetime?

        Trade them for some serious prospectage, get a top 3 draft pick next season and then just keep getting them until something finally happens.

        • willis

          Yep, seeing that they seem to be punting all the way to 2016 or later, may as well trade away anything of value to stock the farm even more. I think Castro and Shark are very much in play, if both are on the roster come opening day I’m surprised. If both are come trade deadline I’m really surprised.

          • dumbledoresacubsfan

            I feel the exact same. All signs (appear) to point to a Samardzija trade this offseason. I expect Castro to be moved, too, if we are truly expecting to punt to 2016, but not until the trade deadline.

          • YourResidentJag

            I would also add possibly Arrietta and Strop to that list. Why exactly do we need a 27 yr old closer on a team that won’t be competitive until 2017???

            • dumbledoresacubsfan

              TRADE ALL THE PLAYERS!

              except bryant. i like that guy.

              • YourResidentJag

                HA! :)

  • hansman

    Over/under on number of posts in this thread: 500

    Over/under on the number of Kyle posts in this thread: 200

    • Kyle

      Me when I saw Brett had posted this:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZdhXQifVCY

    • jh03

      It’s a hands down over on the second one, so that pretty much guarantees an over on number one.

    • Professor Snarks

      Since there has been about 2000 comments on this subject over the last two weeks, I’ll definitely take the over. That’s the power of Brett.

      As far as Kyle’s number. I’ll take the under. He’ll get bored way before 200.

      • Kyle

        How much are you willing to bet?

  • TulaneCubs

    I mean, looking at the free agent talent this season and next offseason’s free agents and the trajectory that the current prospects are on… wasn’t it kind of a given that 2015 was going to be a transition year?

    Judging by your posts and podcasts, Brett, it’s certainly seemed that you’re on board with not pursuing any of the major free agents outside of Tanaka and waiting until next year to dive into the free agent heap. If that’s the case, I guess I’m struggling to see where you thought the improvement would come from, considering it’s unlikely the Cubs all of the sudden buy 3+ top free agents next year. Sure, I think you can assume Baez and Bryant will be in the majors that year along with (hopefully) Alcantara, Olt and Soler. Hell, maybe even a couple of Almora, Johnson and Edwards. But given how young those guys will be, I think it’s unrealistic to think they’ll all be productive out of the gate.

    • SH

      No it’s true — the post isn’t really revealing anything *new*, it’s just acknowledging the state of things as they have appeared for some time. Since we never had anything on record before, it was hard to say for sure how things would play out. With these comments it seems more clear which predicted future is most likely to come to fruition.

      Here’s hoping the most wildly optimistic projection is what happens, but I’ll stand by that this one-track approach is a risky one.

    • Brains

      there’s a simpler point here too – institutions basically succeed because they work a certain way *well*. when the institution doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to the pillars start falling down, first in the scaffolding, then in very conspicuous ways, such as facades. the team isn’t working as baseball teams work in big markets. the PR “plan” is a transgression against their very own working model, when it becomes a 5-7 year schema.

      maybe 2 years, followed by some great minor leaguers, then signing Cano or whoever to shore up the lineup. 7 years of being bad is bad business, bad management, and most of all, bad baseball.

  • Werner

    OK, how does the E-Jax acquisition figure into this new downbeat assessment? That Theo spent some money and didn’t get a return like he figured and so Ricketts put a lock on the wallet? Or is that a wrong read?

    • Kyle

      It looks to me like they were willing to try a one-off shot last year with mid-range, short-term free agents and it fell apart mightily and some of the core pieces on the MLB roster flailed. Now the renovations have been delayed even more, the prospects are getting closer, the attendance is down even further, so they are willing to say “screw it” and just wait.

      • Werner

        Yeah, that makes sense. When you add Castro’s regression and perhaps the ceiling being lowered on Rizzo, the fixing of the team is more than just adding a couple of expensive pieces. And Theo thought he could do that and is coming to the realization that he can’t.

        And now I will go throw up and cry and then eat myself into a stupor.

  • v23

    Brett, I agree with you.

    One thing that TheoJed never get challenged on..is why can’t you field a competitive team WHILE you build the farm system? I think that’s an excuse by them.
    To your point, yes the first 2 years get rid of salaries and get high draft picks. That’s done. No excuses not to make a few good signings now. I mean they chose to spend 52 Mil on Edwin Jackson….so is incompetence starting to show?

    And to Ricketts. Get that payroll up. If it’s not $115Mil this year, you are proving to be a fraud. Right now you are at $49 Mil.http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/index.php?cyear=2014&team=CHN&pos=

    With arbs and stuff probably up to $65. That gives almost $60 mil to spend!!!!

    Opens up some options, doesn’t it?

    • Brains

      Yes, this is exactly what I’ve been saying for a long time now. The business model made no sense. Maybe for one year, not as a method for building a willing culture.

    • TulaneCubs

      They get challenged on why they can’t field a competitive team right now all the time. Their response is always pretty simple. To field a competitive team right now, they’d need to sign all-stars to lengthy contracts that would be burdens to this team in the future when it has a better chance to compete. They’re not willing to give up the payroll flexibility later on in order to field a .500ish team right now. Especially since that .500ish team makes it more difficult for them to acquire young talent that could help them sustain their success period in the future.

      • Funn Dave

        “To field a competitive team right now, they’d need to sign all-stars to lengthy contracts that would be burdens to this team in the future when it has a better chance to compete.”

        No. It’s not like there’s some binary distinction between expensive All-Stars that want long, expensive contracts, and everybody else. You wouldn’t need an All-Star to get someone that can hit better than Darwin Barney or Luis Valbuena.

        • TulaneCubs

          Yes, with how this current team is arranged, you would need to sign elite players to get competitive. This current team needs help everywhere. Signing a bunch of mid-level guys and thinking you’re going to make this team into a contender isn’t going to happen.

          • YourResidentJag

            That’s not true. They could maximize trade deals also. You’re looking at it through one specific lens.

            • TulaneCubs

              But trade deals compromise the farm system. The only way to build a competitive team now while not impacting the farm system is through free agency and international players.

              If you want to start dealing off players in the farm system in order to field a team that has an outside chance at being competitive… then you’re asking for the Jim Hendry plan (with less budget, btw).

              • YourResidentJag

                Trade deals compromise the farm system??? You lost me. Shark and Castro trades aren’t comprising anything of that nature.

                • TulaneCubs

                  You think they’re going to trade Shark and Castro to improve this year’s team?

                  Any team dealing for those guys is going to want to give up prospects in order to acquire both. They’re not going to want to give up a key asset on their current team.

                  • YourResidentJag

                    Wrong. They’ll be packaged with players like Arietta, Valbuena, or Schierholtz. Just because you don’t want them to trade anyone doesn’t mean you need to get stupid about it.

            • Funn Dave

              Yes, exactly.

          • jay

            Completely agree with your assessment.

            • jay

              Tulane’s, that is.

          • terenceman

            Exactly. And what the Cubs also want right now is roster flexibility that allows them to move different players through the lineup to see who can help the team in the long run.

            Everyone should do themselves a favor and forget about payroll. Payroll isn’t the key to winning or the Phillies would be a good team. The key to winning is getting the best talent possible on the field to set the team up to win and the Cubs have several players 1 season or less away from helping the team who have a much brighter future in 3-6 seasons than what’s available in free agency.

            • Professor Snarks

              People, listen to Terenceman. He gets it.

  • jt

    Seems like Theo/Jed are still high on Shark
    So
    Seems like they are not so confident that Rizzo/Castro will pull their feet out of the cement.

  • northsiders6

    Some quick math…

    9.8 million people in the Chicagoland area * 799.5 deaths per 100,000 people * 45% of Chicagoland households being Cub fans * 2 years = 70,516 Cub fans who will not see another competitive Chicago Cubs team. And this is just in the Chicagoland area.

    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm
    http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20131111/BLOGS04/131119996?
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_metropolitan_area

  • South Florida Cubs Fan

    Long time reader, first time poster and absolutely love this site.

    I have been waiting on this type of column for a while. As a long time Cubs fan for more than 30 years, I was honestly on board with the full blow it up, break it down completely and rebuild it. However, I think this is getting extremely out of hand. Four years of absolutely horrible baseball is completely unexceptable. I have for a while now been worried that we were progressing this way to an even longer delay in competitiveness.

    I have a few questions for everybody…

    1. We keep hearing that we have to wait for money to get here. I understand we may not have Dodger or Yankee money but we certainly are not the Rays. Why has money for any type of real MLB players, completely disappeared? Shouldn’t the potential renovation, tv deal and new advertisements be adding to an already big pot and push us closer to Dodger/Yankee territory?

    2. It is all about building a foundation. But what happens if 4 or 5 young guys come up and all turn into good players? I don’t think that makes us a World Series favorite, we need more than just a few prospects to work out. Don’t we “grow” into a competitive team?

    3. What happens when the prospects come up and fail?

    I’m starting to worry that this rebuild could lead to nothing and after wasting 4 or 5 years we end up right back where we started.

    I’m glad to see this type of column today because I’m started to become very worried.

    • terenceman

      1. The Cubs have a tremendous amount of debt and were pretty much ordered to start shrinking it by MLB not too long ago. It’s hard to tell how much it was when the new owners bought the team and how much debt they were required to take on by the terms of the sale but it seems to be an issue. Also, the team is basically saving itself for when the owners project a lot more revenue will be available and they’ll have a base of young cheap talent to build around.

      2. Looking at what the Royals did this season, the Cubs could probably grow their own semi-competitive team but they’ll still need to address some things through trades and free agency.

      3. They will be true Cubs at that point.

      Seriously, though, the metrics and scouting reports on the Cubs prospects this time around line up in ways they didn’t in the past. This isn’t like former Cubs farm systems that were dependent on players like Corey Patterson, who never had the acumen to make use of his tools, Hee Seop Choi, who never developed the power stroke he needed as a first baseman, or Brett Jackson, who never learned how to make contact with a lot of pitches.

      • 1060Ivy

        To beat a dead horse, how much of that “tremendous debt” load is owned by the Ricketts Family Trust? Again, what’s the rate and terms for that portion of debt vs the debt owned by the others involved with the financing?

        The structure of the deal including the debt load was well known prior to Ricketts purchasing the team, if the family knew that they weren’t going to be able to finance the terms and field a competitive MLB team, then they shouldn’t have taken the undertaking.

        BTW, using the Royals as your sample team doesn’t win any points. How many years has it been since the Royals were in the playoffs? Believe it’s been 28 years. The Royals went for it this year – trading away Myers and failed. Why use them as an example of how the Cubs could develop into a competitive MLB team?

        While advanced metrics may make the difference regarding scouting talent, developing talent and ensuring prospects’ health are still little better than a crap shoot.

        • Kyle

          Agreed. I’m not privy to the exact nature of the deal, but it sure feels sometimes like the ‘debt repayments’ are a fancy way of locking in profits for the Ricketts patriarch.

          • SH

            It’s not a “fancy way” — it’s pretty up front tbqh

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            My understanding of the Trust is that the patriarch of the family has no access to, or benefit from, its proceeds.

            To the rest of your comment, I make no statement one way or another.

          • Brains

            i’ll fall my sword again with this one. this is my *rote* speculation, never intended to be stated as fact. but if i had to guess, they see the cubs as another bison hot dog stand that will either make them money or not. not as a public trust in which profits should be used as revenues to improve the team, with some (not insignificant) profits going to owners. in this case it’s significant profits going to owners, at the detriment of the team.

        • YourResidentJag

          The structure of the deal including the debt load was well known prior to Ricketts purchasing the team, if the family knew that they weren’t going to be able to finance the terms and field a competitive MLB team, then they shouldn’t have taken the undertaking.

          What irritates me is we’re talking about a historic flagship organization…one of the originals in MLB baseball. No disrespect but they’re not buying the Rockies here.

          • SH

            And:

            It’s hard to dive into this without the details, but why would MLB approve of a deal that handicaps owners from fielding a competitive team? I don’t think they’re so malicious as to embrace cheap owners on the theory that it will keep player salary down, and it doesn’t do them any good to watch a hugely popular team flounder for years.

            Could it be that the deal’s actually not as bad as we think it is?

    • ari gold

      4 years of unacceptable baseball? You forgot to add 1 and 0 in front of it. For once they have a plan. If it doesn’t work then blast away. But let’s wait to see how it plays out.

  • terenceman

    I think everything rides on how Baez, Bryant, Rizzo and Castro play in early 2015. All 4 should be on the opening day roster *if everything just keeps moving along at this pace*. If the team is a success in early 2015, then they’ll be forced to call-up Almora and Soler and whatever other reinforcements they have if they look like the best players available for their positions.

    *Meaning this won’t happen

    • Funn Dave

      Them and the pitching.

  • Mike F

    The only positive is that it will be almost impossible for them not to meet expectations. Either Ricketts is a fake and liar, Theo has lost all sense of desire to compete or a combination of both. But no matter, it’ll be hard for them to put a roster together in this light that doesn’t at least meet low expectations.

    Clearly, Hendry could have done all of this and probably been more competitive. What a huge mistake and embarrassment this is becoming. I am absolutely stunned at the utter incompetence and lunacy this appears to be.

    • Brains

      this is exactly how i feel during my darker moments

      • Funn Dave

        haha

  • Eric

    Brett, I don’t see anything in what Epstein or Hoyer have said to make me believe anything has changed.

    • Kyle

      That’s because you *really* don’t want to see it.

      • Eric

        Show me a comment by Jed or Theo that is different than any of their previous and we’ll talk.

        • Kyle

          Epstein saying that the Jackson signing was premature.

          • Eric

            And how does his statement regarding the Edwin Jackson signing (which he didn’t call “premature” by the way) mean anything has changed?

            • Kyle

              I assume he didn’t think it was “getting ahead of” themselves when they signed him.

              This obsessive need to pretend that everything that happens is exactly what was planned is a sad form of hero worship and denial.

              • Eric

                I’m looking at his words (of which might I add, you’ve quoted) and the time he said them. Did you bother look at when you said them?

                • Kyle

                  Simple question: Do you believe that Epstein thought that signing Edwin Jackson was getting ahead of themselves at the time they signed him?

                  • Eric

                    I asked a question in the post you are responding to. Please answer that so that I may answer your question.

                    Did you happen to stop and look at when Epstein spoke the words you have quoted?

                    • Kyle

                      Sometimes when I’ve posted quotes I’m going off of memory, sometimes I’ve gone back and found the direct quote. If I’m off on memory, and it’s pointed out, I’m glad to have it corrected.

                      I’m not sure why that’s relevant. “Getting a little ahead of ourselves” and “premature” are functionally equivalent.

                    • Eric

                      My original challenge: “Show me a comment by Jed or Theo that is different than any of their previous and we’ll talk.”

                      Time matters. If you provide a quote, say from last year or the year before that you say now proves YOUR point, then time matters.

                    • Kyle

                      I’m honestly not sure what you would accept as a correct answer at this point.

                      I mean, technically, unless Epstein is repeating himself verbatim on a loop, then all of his quotes are different from previous quotes, but I don’t think that’s what you meant.

                      Quotes saying he’d changed his mind or reconsidered things aren’t considered acceptable.

                      Quotes saying things are different than how he thought they’d be don’t count.

                      I honestly have no idea what you’d accept, if anything.

                    • Eric

                      The point is, dear child, that Theo’s message has not changed in the least. He has constantly beat back anyone’s expectations for a competitive club this year. Even a year ago (which you so handily quoted) he was saying these things.

                      For you to suddenly wet yourself because Brett is doing some tea-leaf reading is ridiculous.

                      Could this all be correct and the plan has been pushed back? Sure. Absolutely. Have their been any indications of that for sure, nope, not if you’re being intellectually honest.

                    • Kyle

                      It’s like watching one of those cult leaders try to explain how it’s not a big deal that Jesus didn’t return in 1988 despite his 88 reasons and nobody was wrong.

                      I’m wetting myself because even Brett is acknowledging now that my tea leaf reading is pretty good. He used to be a holdout, much like you.

                    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                      Easy now – all I’ve said here is that there are signals that 2015 might be punted, and I don’t like that. But I’m leaving lots and lots of doors open.

                    • Eric

                      So you won’t even address the point now. Interesting way of admitting you’re wrong.

                    • Kyle

                      “So you won’t even address the point now. Interesting way of admitting you’re wrong.”

                      I’ve addressed the point and you’ve replied “nuh-uh” several times. All that’s left now is the riffing.

          • Eric

            Also, Epstein went on to say that they hope to had more quality pitching this off-season – said in the same breath as his answer about Jackson to a query by Carrie Muskat.

            • Kyle

              I imagine he hopes a lot of things. Hope doesn’t get you real far.

              • Eric

                So then you admit how you were wrong regarding his comments about the Jackson signing. Thank you.

                • Kyle

                  Meaningless semantics.

                  • King Jeff

                    Arguing semantics? Kyle would never do that, never.

                    • Kyle

                      I’m not the one arguing semantics.

                      And sometimes semantics can be meaningful and should be argued. Not in this case, but sometimes.

                      Is the train late?

                    • Kyle

                      ” (Unless this is amusing you) ”

                      Well, yeah. I don’t do this because I get paid to generate more page refreshes for Brett by instigating arguments.

                      Or do I?

                  • Eric

                    You’re purposefully ignorant. You simply can’t cherry pick what you perceive as a negative all the while ignoring the next sentence which makes it a positive.

                    Epstein admitted they got ahead of themselves with the Jackson signing and in the next breath said they were looking to add even more quality pitching this off season.

                    • Kyle

                      Hoping to add pitching and regretting the Jackson signing because your plans have changed are not in any way mutually exclusive.

                    • Eric

                      So basically you’re saying that although they think the Jackson signing was premature and they are pushing the competitive date back a year or more, they are going to sign even more Jackson-eque deals. Oook.

                    • Kyle

                      No, I’m saying that ‘hoping to add more pitching’ doesn’t mean they are going to sign more Jackson-like deals.

                    • Eric

                      So he would say they are looking to add more pitching, and not add more pitching? And that to you is a sign that our competitive date has been pushed back?

                      I don’t think you’ve thought this through.

                    • Kyle

                      I’m saying that they are looking to add more pitching in ways that don’t involve Jackson-style contracts, such as trading guys like Samarzija or Castro for multiple pitching prospects.

                    • SH

                      What is it with people around here and the most bizarre binary choices

                    • Eric

                      So even in the context of discussing the Jackson signing, Theo obviously meant they would add more pitching via trades. Sigh. Once again cynicism is not logic, Kyle.

                    • SH

                      Neither is illogic logic

                    • Kyle

                      You are misreading the context.

                      “We got a little ahead of ourselves. We’re not perfect. We didn’t fully understand the scope of our situation, the overall situation with the timing of our business plan, the timing of our facilities and the timing of our baseball plan. And if we had the full knowledge at that time, if we had done a better job of grasping it and analyzing it, maybe we would have been more patient.”

                      That’s Epstein saying his estimation of things has changed since Jackson was signed.

                      I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if any $52m-ish Jackson-level free agent pitchers are signed this offseason or not.

                    • Sandberg

                      Kyle, you’re wasting your time. (Unless this is amusing you) This guy has decided to bury his head in the sand.

        • Kyle

          ““Our ability to leverage our market size into financial advantages is more difficult than I expected/ I thought that would have been something that was easier for us to do – and do now, Instead, it’s something that is out of necessity probably several years away.”

          When he said that, what he really meant was “everything is exactly the way I’ve always thought it would be and nothing has ever changed from the Plan that I wrote on stone tablets in Oct. 2011.”

          • Eric

            You’re the one looking for stone tablets, I’m just looking for anything to indicate the boat has been blown off course. So far you’re 0 and 2.

            • Kyle

              I’m 2-for-2. Your denial is strong. It’s lasted longer than Brett’s. But yours will crumble eventually too. Or maybe not, maybe your self-delusion is just that strong.

              • Eric

                I’ve demonstrated your 0 for 2. All you’ve done is continually responded with, “nuh-huh I’m right.” Try harder. Use your words.

                • Kyle

                  You’ve demonstrated nothing but an ability to stick your head in the sand and say “nuh-uh” yourself.

                  Epstein admits things are different from what he thought. You insist nothing has changed. Rinse and repeat.

                  • Kyle

                    And this is despite my being very generous and willing to engage you in this aside as if only Epstein’s explicit statements matter. Because hero worship.

                  • Eric

                    So basically, more “no I’m not, you are!”

                    Why did I think for a second you were worthy enough to hold a conversation with?

                    You, childish though it may be, once again have confused cynicism with logic. You continue to fail at an astounding rate.

                    • Kyle

                      You asked for indications that things had changed. I posted them. You said they weren’t. I’m really not sure what you expected to happen.

                    • Eric

                      The burden of proof continues to rest on what I suspect are frail and very fragile shoulders. Yet, you continue to fail at providing even the most basic of debatable points that could back up your constant swinging at the Epstein Windmill.

                    • Kyle

                      Nuh-uh

                    • SH

                      Don Kylexote

                    • Koyie Hill Sucks

                      “This obsessive need to pretend that everything that happens is exactly what was planned is a sad form of hero worship and denial.”
                      There is plenty of that to go around here.
                      It’s also funny to see every move the FO makes hailed as a “great move” as can be seen by hilarious comments when the cubs sign lifetime AAA/AAAA players.

    • mjhurdle

      Agreed. This seems to be more a case of people starting with unrealistic expectations than any sort of serious deviation from the plan.

      • Kyle

        Yeah. If you think that a winning baseball team can be built in less than five years, you’re just realistic.

        • SH

          I think he meant more that people expecting a homegrown-only approach to lead to success in short order were being “unrealistic.” I don’t think he meant that it was “unrealistic” to expect a better/more varied approach.

          • Kyle

            Sure, but Epstein was emphasizing parallel fronts and called an all-homegrown approach an unrealistic panacea two years ago.

            • SH

              Not my comment, hah; will (and should have — sorry buddy) let mj speak for him/herself.

        • Kyle

          *unrealistic

      • mjhurdle

        Whether or not a winning team can be built in 5 years or less is not the topic on hand.
        We were/are discussing what has changed with the expectations concerning the current “Plan”.
        The Front Office choose to trade talent and focus on building a strong farm system (both in players and facilities/coaches/scouts) as the foundation of the rebuild. We can argue over whether or not that was the right approach, but it was the approach.
        Since then, I haven’t seen anything that changes the expectation that 2014-2016 will be the years that the Cubs regain a high level of competition.
        2014 was always the most optimistic view of when the team would be good again, and it does not appear that will come to bear (although i think the Cubs could flirt with .500 still). But 2014 looks to be better than 2013.
        And I see no reason (yet) to think that 2015 won’t be better than 2014.

    • terenceman

      I can believe that they thought Soler might be more on Baez’s timeline when they signed him. With it looking like Soler will spend most if not all of 2014 in the minors, that does make a difference. Starlin Castro keeps getting worse. That also makes a difference. There may be other guys like Soler and Castro who are causing them to back-off a bit or the front office may have just been a little too sunny in their projections for the development of some other players.

      • Koyie Hill Sucks

        “There may be other guys like Soler and Castro who are causing them to back-off a bit”: Rizzo….

  • Rich

    Is it possible that Theo came over thinking the Cubs had some deep pockets…and the plan changed and could anyone see Theo leaving after 5 years?

    I dont think so, just wondering what everyone thought?

    • Professor Snarks

      There is NO way Theo comes over of he thinks ownership won’t spend to improve the team. I think Theo came over because ownership was onboard with his plan. Ownership is allowing Theo to lose for 3/4/5 years to build the foundation.
      The Ricketts allowed Theo to play Dr. Frankenstein, and he liked it.

      If ‘The Plan’ works, Ricketts should get as almost as much credit as Theo.

      • Koyie Hill Sucks

        That contradicts what Theo and Jed have said numerous times. They definitely expected to be competitive in the FA market sooner and to have more money to spend in general.

        • Sandberg

          Yep, this situation is not what they expected when they came here. But now I think they see it as the ultimate challenge.

        • Professor Snarks

          Show me where Theo said he wanted to be competitive on the free agent market. He always stated that the foundation of good team was a strong farm system.

          I find it hard to believe Theo was sold a ‘bill of goods’ by Ricketts and is staying. I think Theo is getting to do EXACTLY what he wants to do.

          • YourResidentJag

            All your points are debatable, though.

            • wvcubsfan

              Oh noes a difference of opinion on the internet

              • YourResidentJag

                And your thoughts are open for debate as well. Oh noes criticism of THE PLAN.

                • wvcubsfan

                  Isn’t everything open for debate? Isn’t that why blogs and boards like this have followers?

                  BTW, I’ve got no problem with “The Plan”, I just don’t think it’s as set in stone as others do.

                  • YourResidentJag

                    So, then why the criticism of me? Confused–yep.

  • Coldneck

    Brett, I think you’re being way to easy on ownership, both past and present. There are multiple parties to blame. I’m happy the Ricketts’ are trying to build a sustained winner, but if they structured a deal to purchase the team that left them without the ability to spend on FA then they sold us all out.

    • Coldneck

      By spend on FA, I mean to fill holes. Clearly we haven’t been filling holes. Instead we sign part time players as a bridge to some future date that’s based on projection. I’ve been an ardent supporter of the rebuild but my patience is growing thin because I don’t see us tooling up in areas of need to complement the players coming up from within. This team needs an OF and SP at some point to compliment the projectables if its going to compete for starting pitching. Will we be able to acquire this talent? It’s beginning to look like we won’t.

      • willis

        I completely agree coldneck. I’m on board with a rebuild, and with that comes some very tough times. But along the way there has to be more to it than just continuously tanking one year after another. The Cubs have been irrelevant to the NL Central and baseball since 2010, yet are in the 3rd largest market with arguably the most passionate fan base. And now, because there is no money, we are going to wait another few years as fans to see anything resembling competitive baseball on the field? At some point you have to look at ownership and say “what the fuck?”. I am completely behind this front office and believe they are great baseball miinds. But to do what they are capable of, to the fullest extent and put together a good major league product, they need more support from ownership. Hard to see where that is coming from at this point.

  • Blackhawks1963

    It’s been clear for a few weeks that the Cubs intend for a quiet, non-expensive offseason. Yes, they are literally putting all their eggs in the one basket of a fruitful farm system becoming the salvation…er, at least until the Wrigley renovation gets underway and new revenue sources get unlocked.

    I’m 100% supportive of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. They are simply conducting themselves in accordance with the reality set down by the Ricketts family. If people want to be angry and place blame, then they should focus on the Ricketts.

    2014 might be even uglier than 2012 and 2013. Which is truly hard to imagine. But it looks like it is what it is.

    • Brains

      i think this is mostly right, but Jed also hasn’t been up to the job. if he refuses to hire a player who can hit a curveball, he should be able to hit them himself. he’s bench material.

  • noisesquared

    I’m not sure I agree. I haven’t seen anything written outside of Mooney’s piece to claim that the Cubs are punting 2015. And his uncredited source uses ‘breakthrough year’ as the target – what does that mean? I’d guess it’s the point where prospects have arrived along with the increased revenue from the renovations. I don’t know if that precludes the Cubs from being moderately competitive in 14 or 15. It’d be competitive on a budget, requiring some things to break their way. I’d say 16 is the year where they think that money and talent comes together and they’re confident they will be in the thick of things without needing any luck.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I had hoped for that year to be 2015.

      • MightyBear

        I believe it will be.

  • Cheryl

    I guess this was to be expected but what a downeri!!! The cubs may send all the messages they want about sticking to the plan but the reality for the FO and Ricketts may be such a downturn in attendance that even if they put a competitive team on the field in 2016 the fans may not come back. I hope for the sake of the prospects that got drafted and hoped to play for a winner that they get traded. Who wants to play for a team that doesn’t even plan on being competitive? This sends the worst message possible to the fans and the players. Like MG I think it’s time to get out of the merry-go-round and look elsewhere.

  • CubChymyst

    Well I’m still optimistic for the next year and 2015 at the moment. The bullpen should be better at the start of next year compared to the start of this past season. A few players rebounding offensively and others maintaining their improvement from the past season could make the offense better than last year. The 2 big things this offseason which could be done and not harm the long term outlook that much is find another outfield bat and another starter.

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