This week came with the unsurprising announcement that Joe Maddon will no longer lead the Chicago Cubs. It seemed fairly predetermined after the Chicago collapse last season that it was going to take another World Series to even consider having him back. Now, Joe has had his fair share of criticism along the way but he is being passed as a scapegoat.
Coming in to the season most fans were frustrated when Tom Ricketts came out and same there wasn’t money to help the team. Now, injuries plagued the collapse of last year, which left some of the criticism of on Maddon unfair, but with a very talented team you don’t want to hear them pinching pennies. If it wasn’t for the personal issue for Ben Zobrist they wouldn’t have had the money to get Craig Kimbrel.
I applauded the Kimbrel signing but the payroll issue isn’t only on the owner. Maddon being released is meant to deflect criticism from the front office. When Theo Epstein was brought over to the Cubs, he was a hero. In Theo we trust and he broke another World Series curse, but those years are starting to seem way behind us.
Epstein put together the brain trust of Jason McLeod and Jed Hoyer. They immediately tore everything down with the goal of building up a powerful farm system that would make the Cubs a World Series team and constantly turn out young talent to replenish the roster and give them ammo to make the necessary trades.
Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, the signing of Jon Lester, the brain trust built a World Series roster. A ton of homegrown talent and smart moves were made to put the team in a position to win a World Series and go to three straight Championship Series. So why couldn’t they sustain success?
Where have the pitching prospects been? In all this time running the Cubs there have been no notable homegrown talent to take the mound for the friendly confines. Instead it meant a ton of money has been sunk in the rotation; Lester, Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Jose Quintanna, Tyler Chatwood, Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis all costing a bunch of dollars or prospects. Any GM will have swings and misses but the pressure gets ramped up when you can’t develop your own pitchers.
The Chapman trade brought you a World Series but where would you be with Gleyber Torres? Look what Jorge Soler, admittedly a player in need of a change of scenery, is doing for the Kansas City Royals. To save money Chicago traded Eloy Jimenez for Quintana instead of the cheap prospect capital to bring Justin Verlander to the Windy City. It’s hindsight but how would Verlander and Jimenez look in Cubs’ uniforms?
Any winning team is going to trade prospects for top players and maybe they’ll turn in to something, but ideally you keep turning out prospects as cost efficient talent and trade bait. What happened to the Cubs’ farm system? What started as one of MLB’s smartest front offices perhaps bought their own hype and stopped performing like it. How is it the Houston Astros or Los Angeles Dodgers continue to be at the top of every rumor mill but yet still have high rated prospects? No pitching, a weak farm system and no more international prospect injection either.
The Chicago Cubs have under performed the last two seasons, despite being one of the winningest teams in the majors, so a change of voice could be needed but that doesn’t seem to be the only changes coming to the Cubbies. Epstein has already hinted players like Kris Bryant and Javier Baez could be on the block if they can’t agree to long term extensions. Lester is in his last year of a contract, Zobrist and Hamels contracts expire and Nicholas Castellano will also be a free agent. Addison Russell could be on the block as his career has taken a dive after his off the field issues also.
Several have already suggest a min-rebuild in the form of the Yankees. In 2017 they traded several big players, mostly from their bullpen, to reload and build the foundation of the team that is a threat for a World Series this year. While it would be tough some of those faces of the franchise to go it seems like changes are in order for the Cubs to re-open their window. It would be a way to try and get the payroll in order while finally finding some solid pitching prospects. Could Lester, Bryant and others find themselves in other uniforms when the 2020 season starts?
There have already been reports that reorganizing should be coming to the front office, a sign that perhaps Esptein and company have seen the error in their ways, but how will they handle this tricky off season? Will it change how they develop and draft to build up the farm system outside of the potential trades that could be made this winter?
A lot of the moves were worth it to break the World Series curse, but only one appearance feels like a failure with how talented this team is. Could the World Series window already be closed just a few years later? With a new TV network deal and plenty of talent, not to mention still seemingly one of the best front offices in the game still, you would hope this is just a minor down season.