The Upside of Awful: A Review of the Benefits to the Cubs of Sucking in 2012

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The Upside of Awful: A Review of the Benefits to the Cubs of Sucking in 2012

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are in the midst of a season-worst seven game losing streak. They are a season-worst 12 games under .500. They are eight games out in the NL Central, and in last place.

It’s fair to say that reasonable Cubs fans did not expect the Cubs to compete for a playoff spot this year. Indeed, were we being honest with ourselves, we probably would have guessed that this kind of start to the year was more likely than any kind of pleasant surprise.

Where did our reasonableness go? Our rationality? Did we forget that this was a deeply flawed roster and that turning it over would take considerable time?

Perhaps it’s time for a reminder that this roster is deeply flawed. Turning it over and becoming competitive long term will take considerable time. As new President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said back in January: you can’t turn an ocean liner on a dime. He saw the pains that lay ahead for the Cubs, and we’re living those pains now. Consider yourself reminded.

With that reminder in place, you’re hopefully in the right mindset to consider that, although this season sucks, there is an upside to the awfulness of the 2012 Chicago Cubs. Actually, there are several upsides, ranging from obvious to subtle.

A Higher First Round Draft Pick Slot in 2013

The most obvious impact of a terrible season in virtually any sport is the corresponding move up the draft board the following year. That benefit is felt most pronouncedly in the first round, where the highest impact talent is typically selected. The Cubs are looking to build a long-term foundation, and adding top young talent is the most important piece of that puzzle. Picking in the top five of the Draft is a great way to do that. As things stand, the Cubs have the second worst record in baseball, and don’t look likely to slide out of the top five picks next year. They could even land that top pick if the dominoes, eh hem, fall correctly.

A Higher Second (and Third (and Fourth (etc.))) Draft Pick Slot in 2013

This may not seem like a distinct benefit to sucking, but it is. Not only does a poor record ensure you an earlier pick in *every* round of the Draft (which, on a cumulative basis, is a huge bonus, above and beyond merely picking one of the four or five best players in the draft in the first round), but CBA-driven changes to 2013’s draft order will make that difference even more helpful.

In recent years past, the space between the first and second rounds of the draft were packed with “supplemental picks,” increasing the distance between the final pick in the first round, and the first pick in the second round. That served to decrease the value of high picks in the second round. Starting in 2013, because of changes to the free agent compensation system, there will be fewer “supplemental picks.” Although there are an additional six lottery picks after the first round (and then another six after the second round), there should still be fewer picks between the first and second rounds than there are now. Consider that there are 26 supplemental picks tied to free agent compensation separating the first and second rounds in 2012, 17 of which are tied to Type B free agents, a classification that will not exist come 2013. In other words, when the Cubs pick in the second round (and subsequent rounds) in 2013, the pick should be slightly higher than it would have been were they in the same slot in 2012.

More “Pool” Money to Spend in the 2013 Draft

One of the most dramatic changes to the Draft effected by the new CBA is the limitation on spending. In short, each team will have a “pool” of money to spend on its first 10 rounds’ worth of picks (which pool is the sum of the slot recommendation for each of that team’s picks). After the 10th round, teams can spend up to $100k on each pick, but anything over $100k counts against the pool. If a team goes over the pool, the penalties are swift and steep (for example, if a team goes over by more than 5%, it loses a first round draft pick). Thus, the larger a team’s pool, the better talent it can theoretically draft and sign. The higher a team picks, generally speaking, the larger its pool will be.

Consider: the slot amount for the top pick in 2012 is $7.2 million (the slot in 2011 was just $4 million, but the top pick, Gerrit Cole, signed for $8 million). With a slot amount that high, there is theoretical wiggle room to save some money to be put to use on other picks (though I’m sure it will be a battle to convince an agent to tell his player to accept less than the slot amount). The slot amounts drop to about $1.5 million by the end of the first round, so the range is significant, and the numbers keep sliding as you move through the next round. So, if you’re picking late in the first round, you’re going to have far less overall money to work with when trying to sign all of your picks if you took some “overslot” types.

More International Signing Bonus Money to Use in 2013

The new CBA also limits the amount of money teams can spend on internationals free agents. During this signing period, which kicks off in July, teams will have only $2.9 million to spend on international free agents (lest they be subjected to spending/signing limitations the following year if they go over). The number is the same for all teams. But next year, the teams with worse records in 2012 will have more money to spend on the international market, a la the Draft. The worst team in 2012 will get about $4.8 million to spend internationally in 2013, while the best team in 2012 will get just $1.7 million. That huge range (relatively speaking) means that the teams with the worst record in 2012 will have a significant advantage on the international stage in 2013, the first year that such an advantage will exist.

(And, yes, this impending limitation is why folks are modestly freaked out about the utter silence surrounding Jorge Soler. If he doesn’t sign before July 2, his signing is subject to the $2.9 million cap (that’s a team’s total spending cap, by the way – Soler was rumored to be getting more than $20 million by himself). That could cause serious problems for a team like the Cubs, who were once thought to have the inside track, but who might not want to blow their cap to sign Soler (given that, if they don’t blow their cap this year, their cap next year is likely to be among the highest in baseball)).

A Clear Plan at Mid-Season With Respect to Trades

Not all of the upsides of sucking in 2012 have to do with amateur talent. Teams floating around .500 are going to have a tricky set of decisions come July. Do we decide it isn’t going to happen and sell off, even though we’re ever-so-close to being in the race? Do we go on a buying spree to try and tip the scales in our favor, to the detriment of the farm system? Or do we stand pat and see where things stand come August, hoping that we could pick up a piece or two (or deal a piece or two) in a waiver trade if necessary?

The Cubs, if they continue to suck, will not have to face these questions. The path will be more than clear: if a player has value on the trade market, and isn’t certain to be a contributing piece in 2013, that player can be shopped. Aggressively.

Young Players Will Not Be Blocked

The benefit here is pretty simple: to the extent the Cubs would like to get some young guys some playing time in August and September – like real, legit, long-term playing time – there will be no “competitiveness” impediment to doing so. Without the absolute need to win games (just a preference to win them), it’s no big deal to give Junior Lake a week’s worth of games at third base, or to let Chris Rusin start a few times. Further, if guys like Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo are up and struggling, the team can stay committed to them without worrying about their performance on a day-to-day basis.

Everyone is on the Same “Development” Page

Relatedly, if the Cubs are completely out of it by mid-June, the organization doesn’t have to deal with awkward promotion decisions that are tied to the competitiveness of the big league team. Imagine in an alternate 2012 that there are a couple injuries in the infield, and the Cubs, desperately clinging to a Wild Card spot, decide to bring up Josh Vitters just in case they need him. Then he rides the pine for two weeks, heads back down to Iowa, and his confidence is totally shot. With a team that is plainly not competitive, these kinds of decisions can be avoided, and prospects can be treated exclusively in a manner that best serves their development, not a manner that best serves the marginal winning percentage of the big league club.

In sum, there are reasons that sucking 2012 isn’t the worst thing in the world for the Chicago Cubs’ organization. It’s hard for fans to stomach, but at least some tangible good can follow.

It’s important to remember that none of the reasons for our excitement back in October and November have gone away. “The plan” is still very much unfolding. I don’t know how many times many of us said that the near-term was going to be painful, and that living the day to day of it was going to suck, but we said it a lot. And we were right: this sucks.

But this is also a part of the process. Suffer through it. Take the suck for no more than it’s worth. Stick with it, and we’ll all be rewarded in time. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.