When Theo Epstein, the new President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs, took over this offseason, everyone knew not to expect quick results. The Cubs went 71-91 last season with a mostly aging roster, few trade assets and a minor league system with a history of underperforming. Bringing a winner to the most aggrieved constituency in American sports was going to be a stiff challenge.
The nice thing is that the early results are good, and Friday’s trade for Anthony Rizzo could be emblematic of very good things to come. Rizzo was one of the top prospects in the San Diego Padres system last season and for good reason; he hit .334 with 26 HRs, 34 doubles and 101 RBI’s in 93 game at Triple A last season. He struggled when called to the majors, but he’s only 21. He was young for AAA and even younger to be a middle of the order hitter in the bigs. The most heartening thing about the trade is that the Cubs GM Jed Hoyer immediately announced that Rizzo will spend a part of the 2012 season in AAA honing his skills while Bryan LaHair, a late bloomer will take the 1B gig. LaHair hit very well in the minors and during a cup of coffee in the bigs last season. LaHair is 29, so he’s no one’s idea of a prospect, but he can play outfield as well as first. If both he and Rizzo mash next season then LaHair can move back to the OF when Rizzo is promoted.
The most heartening thing about this deal is is pragmatism. When you don’t have a ton of talent in your own farm system then you raid other teams for their excess prospects. That’s what the Cubs did. They sent pitcher Andrew Cashner to San Diego for Rizzo and Cashner figures to be best used as a relief pitcher. The Cubs have a closer in Carlos Marmol and can find set up men on the cheap. I would imagine that this is the first of many small trades that could yield big results down the road. And it’s a smarter, cheaper move than signing Prince Fielder to a long term contract.
Cubs fans can’t dream of parades and celebrations yet, but they should be happy with the progress of the new front office regime at Wrigley Field.