“Rebuilding year, eh?” asked one of my buddies. I told him it was more complicated than that. This is the tear down year so that rebuilding can begin in earnest. And that tear down process begins right after the all star break when trade talks heat up with the July 31st deadline for non-waiver deals begins to loom.
When Theo Epstein was hired to run the Cubs front office, hope rose as he had broken baseball’s second most notorious curse by winning two World Series with the Red Sox, but there was little he could do in Chicago until now. So far, he’s made one key deal, sending pticher Andrew Cashner to the San Diego Padres for First Baseman Anthony Rizzo. At present, the Cubs are an old, mediocre team.
As the saying goes, ballclubs have to sell their fans hope or wins and Wrigley fans have been sold hope for so long that Epstein’s brand of hope will need to have a lot of specifics to find buyers. It’s far from an impossible task. Fans of other struggling teams like the Padres or the Seattle Mariners can enthusiastically point to a core of young players and pitchers beginning to gel that might form the nucleus of their next winning team. If a significant portion of Rizzo’s production in his first 12 games with the team (.354/.367/.688) is sustainable, then the Cubs have two future cornerstones (shortstop Starlin Castro is the other). Outfielder/First Baseman Bryan LaHair and pitcher Jeff Samardzija are possibilities, then there isn’t much. The stars of the farm system, outfielder Brett Jackson third baseman Josh Vitters are seen as future major league starters but not stars.
Epstein has a roster full of players who could fetch solid minor league talent in trade. The question will be will they be of Vitters/Jackson variety or future stars. There are always teams willing to trade top young talent (last season the San Francisco Giants traded top pitching prospect Zach Wheeler last season for a few months of outfielder Carlos Beltran). If Epstein can work out a few deals of that variety then Cubs fans will know that he didn’t leave his vaunted acumen in Boston.