Ah. The kind of story that is infinitely more enjoyable after a blistering hot stretch like the Cubs have had.
And, incidentally, the story would looking totally different if they hadn’t had a good stretch of baseball.
“If we had fallen eight, nine out, we would have certainly been looking at considering moving some of the players who were rentals,” Epstein told the media last night, per CSN. “But we immediately played great out of the stretch and didn’t have to head down that road, which you honestly never want to go down.”
Over the All-Star break, with the Cubs a couple games under .500, 5.5 games out in the Central, the possibility of the team becoming a seller was at least worth discussing. We caveated the heck out of it, because selling was NOT expected, but if the Cubs continued to struggle out of the break, you had to leave selling on the table.
For Epstein, and this particular roster, it sounds like the point of no return was really just another bad week away. In some ways, that’s terrifying, but in other ways, it’s heartening to know that there was always going to be a rational, realistic view to where things stood. Worth keeping in mind in future years if the Cubs underperform, eh?
It’s all a reminder, though, just how important the actual talent on the team is. Had the Cubs been a less-talented team in that exact same position, I bet that 8-or-9-game limit is much smaller, and the selling would have started. But there was a belief – a good belief! – that this team was better than it had been playing, and projected to win at a much greater level in the second half (particularly when compared to the other teams in the NL Central). I don’t think anyone expected the Cubs to have a 2.5-game lead on August 1, but shrinking that 5.5-game deficit was certainly expected, especially after the Jose Quintana trade.
All is well that ends well, as the Cubs finally caught that fire we’ve been anticipating for so long, and not only didn’t sell, but added three significant pieces during trade season.
Epstein also teed up something I suspect we’re going to see discussed a great deal over the next few years, with some surprising realities confronted, given how challenging the new CBA has made it for successful, large-market teams to acquire young talent.
“With the new CBA the way it is, contending teams, when they have an off year, have to take a hard look at selling in a given year, because it’s important to recoup young talent whenever you have an opportunity to do so,” Epstein said. “You never want to be in that situation, but it forces you to be realistic if you are.”
I would add to Epstein’s remarks the possibility that the front office will consider selling a piece or two in July even in competitive years, where they believe they have the redundancies to cover it, and where significant prospects can be acquired. We’re not there yet, but if the Cubs are always drafting late, can’t spend as much internationally as many other teams, and are buying aggressively at the deadline, the prospect reserves are going to be even more tapped out than they are now. Eventually, you have to keep that pipeline flowing – and maybe taking a tiny downgrade at the big league level some year is going to be the way to do it.
We’re a ways off from that, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about, and Epstein kind of got me rolling on it. So there you go.