I often thought about the last three years as a kind of mini competitive window for the Cubs – before Jake Arrieta hit free agency, and while the youngsters were cheap enough for the Cubs to splurge on free agents – and, by and large, the Cubs seem to have seen it the same way. Three trips to the NLCS and a World Series win later, I’d say it was a very successful three-year window.
But if that was just the “mini” part of the overall, longer competitive window … what’s that one look like?
Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein suggests it’s hopefully going to be a seven-year window for the Cubs, with four more years to go.
“By no means do we look at it as a run of three years of contention and then any sort of falloff,” Epstein told NBC Sports Chicago. “But that within a run of that length – seven years, hopefully, at least – there are going to be years that pose more challenges than other years. We’ve known for a long time that 2018 was going to pose unique challenges, because it was the year that Jake would be eligible for free agency and it was also the same year that a lot of our best players would enter the arbitration process …. At the same time, right now, the exercise is: How do we maximize the next four years? How do we make sure we have as many bites at the apple?”
Epstein’s comments came within the context of acknowledging that the first three years of this window deserved a special focus, and the front office knew 2018 might be a particularly challenging year. For that point, alone, this was worth sharing.
But I also thought it worth noting that seven-year window, and the four years remaining. It’s not as if it’s an arbitrary cutoff.
Consider the follow:
- In four years, Kris Bryant will reach free agency.
- In four years, Anthony Rizzo will reach free agency (after team options).
- In four years, Addison Russell will reach free agency.
- In four years, Javy Baez will reach free agency.
- In four years, Kyle Schwarber will reach free agency.
- In four years, Jon Lester will reach free agency (after team options).
- In four years, Theo Epstein will reach free agency.
That this would be a seven-year window was almost pre-ordained by the timing that opened this competitive stretch. To be sure, there will hopefully be extension(s) executed before 2022 rolls around, and the Cubs won’t have an exodus en masse. Moreover, the odds that all of these guys will still be on the Cubs and producing at a high level at that time is completely unpredictable.
But as we sit here today, it’s impossible to go up and down the Cubs’ roster and not see that this “core” group more or less has four years together (if the Cubs so choose) before things will necessarily look radically different. Based on the state of the farm system (which could get a lot better after this year, with the influx of extra draft picks, re-opened IFA, and development internally), and the free agent class coming next year, the three years left in this four year stretch *after* 2018 look like they might be a brighter spot than this coming year.
That said, the onus is on this front office to do all it can in the next few years not only to continue competing at a high level, but also to put the organization into a position where an all-out, multi-year teardown and rebuild is not absolutely necessary come 2022.