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— Cubs Baseball for Thinking Fans
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
I Am Fine with This
As Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer assemble a 2012 team that looks to be, well, not very good, I find myself in an odd state of mind. Of their six biggest contributors in terms of WAR in 2011, four (Matt Garza, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Peña, Sean Marshall) are either gone or apparently on their way out, and in no case does it appear that the Cubs have clearly superior short- or long-term replacements. Ramirez was one of three 10 and 5 players on the 2011 team. Only one, Ryan Dempster, is likely to remain in 2012.
And I am fine with this.
I have been complaining about the Cubs on the internet for nearly two decades. Think back to the early 1990s, when the Cubs sputtered and crashed after a wonderfully surprising 1989 season, hitting rock bottom five years later. In came Andy MacPhail, an honest to goodness baseball guy, we were told, to save the franchise. He told us not to expect a quick turnaround, that he was going to take a “slow, solid and unspectacular” course. With Ed Lynch and Jim Hendry as his GMs, the MacPhail-era Cubs only once had 90 wins in twelve seasons, and it took them 163 games to do it.
The Epstein/Hoyer team also seems to be very cautious in its promises, and if what has happened this off-season so far is any indication, they could borrow MacPhail’s phrase for their approach.
And I am fine with that.
What’s the difference? To me, it comes down to one thing: I think Epstein and Hoyer know what they’re doing, and MacPhail didn’t. The MacPhail era Cubs seemed to have no more of a coherent plan than their predecessors. Specifically, the post-Himes Cubs have let the rest of the baseball world pass them by, arrogantly embracing an approach that is a proven failure, while other teams pursued new directions based on new ideas. No one in the ownership seemed to care as the Cubs spent considerably more than their Division rivals, only to win fewer games over more than a decade. MacPhail did try, and strides were made in player development under Hendry, but the organization never underwent the complete bottom to top renovation that it desperately needed, so the eventual harvest from Hendry’s carefully scouted and drafted farm system was a disappointment.
At this point, we don’t know what Epstein and Hoyer are going to do to turn the Cubs around, whether we see results in 2012 or in 2015, but for the first time in my life as a Cubs fan I am willing to let them do what they think is best and not really second guess their moves. Sure, I didn’t like turning Zambrano into Chris Volstad, but apparently Epstein and Hoyer think it was essential to get Zambrano out of the organization. They’re in a position to evaluate that, not me. Would retaining Aramis Ramirez for the sort of contract he got with Milwaukee have interfered with the long-term plan? I don’t see how it would, but I assume they’ve actually got a plan, so I am not going to cry about it. Would it hurt to have kept Carlos Peña around for a bit? Was the return for Sean Marshall really worth it? Their calls; apparently they are doing everything they can to turn over the old roster and get new young blood into the organization.
And I am fine with that.
Why am I willing to cut them that slack? My main criticism of the Cubs over the years is their unabashed ignorance about using statistics to analyze a player’s contribution to winning. Not only are the new guys not ignorant about it, they are supposed to be the best there are. And that’s what I’ve been waiting for.
I’m not looking for ideological purity in Epstein and Hoyer, nor am I looking for them never to make a mistake. It has been my theory for the last twenty years that the only thing keeping the Cubs organization from being a perennial winner is its unique institutional incompetence when it comes to roster construction and player development. The Cubs have better resources than any other team in their Division, perhaps in the National League. For decades they have spent far more and got much less. Epstein and Hoyer don’t have to be perfect, all they have to be is pretty good, and eventually the Cubs should come out on top.
So maybe the Cubs can establish themselves as a perennial winner, and at the same time field a better team in 2012 than the one they are putting together. Or maybe they can’t. I’m fine with that either way, as long as they deliver in the long term. For the first time as a Cubs fan, I feel a high degree of confidence in the people running the show.
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