There’s an old saying that patience is a virtue. Sometimes, this theory can be tested a little more then it should be. With the Chicago Cubs, patience has been so hard to maintain. Just six years ago, it seemed the Cubs were poised to make it to their first World Series since 1947. They were the best team in baseball all season, but fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the divisional round. Since then, it has been tough going for Cubs fans. Not only has it been 106 years since the last World Series victory, but the last two seasons have been some of the worst years in Cubs history. They were an abysmal 61-101 in 2012, and just a mere five games better at 66-96 in 2013. Don’t worry though, Cubs fans. Change is not only coming, but it’s here.
As most fans know, the Cubs traded their top two pitchers, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, to the Oakland Athletics Friday for three prospects. It wasn’t a surprise that the Cubs would be trading either of those players, but not many saw them both getting traded to the same team. The prospects that the Cubs received in return, though, are going to help carry the Cubs into the future.
It’s been hard to watch the Cubs the last two and a half seasons, but president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, and owner Tom Ricketts have a plan. They knew they weren’t going to win immediately. In fact, Epstein has come out and said that this is a five-year plan to fix everything former general manager Jim Hendry had messed up. It started with getting rid of players like Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Marmol, Geovany Soto, and, unfortunately, Aramis Ramirez. It was a major overhaul of a roster with many bad contracts on it, mostly every guy listed above. 2012, Epstein’s first year, saw Antony Rizzo make his big league debut, which gave a sneak peek of what the future could hold.
The Cubs started to draft younger, better players instead of trying to buy players, which is what Hendry did. Although Epstein didn’t draft Javier Baez, he has seen great growth over the past two years. Baez is currently a top five prospect according to Baseball America. Last year, Epstein drafted Kris Bryant, who is a top ten prospect to many websites, including Baseball America. Bryant is a third baseman and is at triple-A Iowa right now, and we may see him at Wrigley Field come September. Baez is a shortstop, also at Iowa, and his stock is continuing to soar.
The tricky thing, now, is what the Cubs do with the three prospects they took from Oakland. Addison Russell, Oakland’s top prospect, is also a shortstop. That leaves three men, Russell, Baez, and the current starter, Starlin Castro, battling for one spot. With Bryant on the rise, it looks doubtful any three of them would move to third base. That leaves a tough decision for Epstein and Hoyer, but it’s a good problem to have. Russell is 20 years old, Baez is 21, and Castro is 24. No matter which direction you go, you’re having a good, young shortstop to build a team around.
While the left side of the infield is full of potential, the right side seems set in stone for a long time. Darwin Barney is the second baseman of the future for the Cubs, as he won a Gold Glove award two years ago. And then there’s Rizzo, who has steadily improved over the past two seasons. He’s batting 40 points higher this year then he was last season and is on pace to have more walks then last year, showing he’s developing some plate discipline. He’s also on pace to hit more home runs this year, as he’s six away from tying his total from last season. Rizzo has show great promise for the future and he’s only 24. Barney is 28.
There’s also catcher Wellington Castillo, who’s had a nice year and a half before getting injured in May. He’s only 27 years old and hopefully will continue to progress when he returns from injury.
The outfield has shown a lot of promise as well. Junior Lake, who is only 24 years old, came up for the final 64 games last year and has progressed from that experience last season. While his average has decreased, his home runs and RBI’s are much better. Then there’s the other big prospect the Cubs received from Oakland, Billy McKinney, who is only 19 years old. He has shown a lot of promise at single-A this year, batting .241 with 33 RBI’s in 75 games. He’s still very young, of course, but he could be up in the big leagues in two years, which would be year five of Epstein’s plan. The other outfield spot is wide open as well, as the Cubs could go a number of ways. They have guys like Ryan Sweeny, Justin Ruggiano, Nate Schierholtz, and Chris Coghlan on their roster, all of which have had pretty good playing time. Ruggiano has the least amount of MLB experience of the four, but he’s 32 years old, which may hurt him a little bit. Sweeny has been playing since 2006 with a number of teams. He’s only 29, so that may help him. Then there’s Schierholtz, who has won two World Series’ with the San Francisco Giants in the past. He’s only 30 years old too, so he may be an answer as well. Coghlan is 28, and he has been in the majors on and off for the past five seasons. He still has a lot of potential in his game as well. Anyway you look at it, the Cubs have depth in their outfield.
Then there’s the pitching staff. There are only two guys left on the staff from when Epstein and Hoyer took over: reliever James Russell and starter Travis Wood. They’ve added some new, young arms in Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon, who have become the Cubs setup man and closer, respectively. Strop has been good in his role, with a 2.83 ERA while only allowing 18 hits in 28 2/3 innings pitched. He also has 31 strikeouts and only 15 walks, which is more then a 2:1 ratio. Rondon has been nice since taking over the closer role mid season, saving 11 of 13 opportunities. His ERA is a little high at 3.62, but the future looks bright for Rondon. Strop is 29 and Rondon is 26, so both guys are still young.
Jake Arrieta, who missed April from an injury, has had a great season so far. He has a 5-1 record with an incredible 1.81 ERA. He almost threw a no-hitter against Boston on June 30 and had a perfect game through six innings against Cincinnati in the start before that. He’s only 28 and could potentially be the ace of the future for the Cubs. Edwin Jackson doesn’t have much time left with the Cubs, as he has been a disappointment since signing with the Cubs in 2013. He’s 33 as well, so he probably isn’t in the long-term plans of the Cubs. Carlos Villanueva has been all over the place this season, and with him being the same age as Jackson, he might be out the door this year too. Wood was an All-Star last year, but only went 9-12 during the season. He’s 7-6 this year with a 4.62 ERA, but is only 27 years old, which helps him. He could be a solid number two pitcher behind Arrieta for years to come. The fifth starter is still up in the air, but look for the Cubs to trade more players to get some more depth in the starting rotation.
So yes, these past couple seasons have been tough. It’s been hard to watch this team struggle on a nightly basis most of the time. But the future is coming. And for the most part, the future is here. Patience is indeed a virtue. If you can wait it out for one more season, this team could be very special for not only 2015 and 2016, but for many years to come after that.
Thanks for reading. Make sure to check out the other blogs I’ve posted, and stay tuned as I go more in-depth on all the things going on in the sports world. This is Game of Sports.
PICTURED (from left to right): Jake Arrieta, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo