To be sure, the Chicago Cubs’ rebuild has been a relative success over the past two years. Sure, there hasn’t been as much progress on the big league roster as you’d like to see, and, no, the financial picture doesn’t look too bright right now. But in the realm of things the front office can control, I think it’s fair to say they’ve laid some fantastic groundwork for the future.
And yet there are times when it’s difficult to be as optimistic as you’d like to be about the Cubs’ ability to dominate the NL Central any time soon. To wit …
Baseball America won’t be releasing its overall farm system rankings for a little while yet, but Derrick Goold got a source to say that the Cardinals will be ranked 7th and the Pirates will take the top spot*. The Cubs will be right up there, presumably in the 2/3/4/5 range, together with the Twins, Red Sox, and Astros, if I had to guess.
*(I love that we now live in a world where a source spilling the beans on a future prospect ranking list is relatively big news – that sounds sarcastic, but I’m totally serious.)
Not that you didn’t already know it, but the important point here is clear: the Cubs’ current farm system advantage is “only barely” over the Cardinals, and is “not necessarily an advantage” over the Pirates. For every Javy Baez, there’s an Oscar Tavares. For Kris Bryant, there’s Gregory Polanco. For C.J. Edwards, there’s Jameson Taillon. And Carlos Martinez. And Tyler Glasnow. And Nick Kingham. I could go on.
What’s particularly concerning when you see that the Cardinals and Pirates can largely match the Cubs on the prospect front right now is that prospects aren’t everything. You also have to look at young and/or cost-controlled talent on the Major League roster. That is talent that does not count toward farm rankings, and talent that the Cubs, by and large, do not have. The Cubs have some legitimately nice pieces going forward, but really look at the Cardinals’ and Pirates’ rosters (especially the Cardinals). Adam Wainwright, Andrew McCutchen, Shelby Miller, Starling Marte, Michael Wacha, Gerrit Cole, Matt Carpenter, Pedro Alvarez, Yadier Molina, Mark Melancon, Matt Holliday, Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly (and once again, I could go on) … it’s a veritable All-Star team between the two clubs. All under contract for multiple years, most of them at bargain rates.
Those two teams are well-positioned for the near-term future, even setting aside the farm systems. Hell, they’re already playoff teams.
If you needed yet another reminder that the money-money-money is the biggest story in the Cubs’ world over the next few years, this is it. Building a sustainable core and farm system are hugely important in the long-term for the Cubs. But if they’re going to be consistently competitive in the 2015-2018 window, it’s probably going to have to include some healthy spending. And that doesn’t happen without a substantial increase in revenues (like it or lump it).