LOS ANGELES Theo Epstein and Dale Sveum came out and said it during spring training: The goal of the 2012 Cubs is to win the World Series.
But this season has always been about the next decade for this franchise, or what the president of baseball operations has called the subtext.
If that wasnt obvious enough, it became crystal clear when the front office traded away 40 percent of the rotation (Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm) at the deadline and made it sound like Matt Garza probably would have been gone if he hadnt hurt his elbow.
So the auditions for 2013 are truly about to begin, with former first-round picks Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters waiting to be sprung from Triple-A Iowa. The sense is that the promotions will be in that order, not at the same time, and sooner rather than later.
The Cubs think Jeff Samardzija is straight out of central casting, a big, strong dude to put at the front of the rotation for years to come. But he didnt have that it factor on Friday night in Los Angeles.
We kind of need to get our feet back under us, Samardzija said after a 6-1 loss at Dodger Stadium left the Cubs with three straight losses since the deadline dealing. Thats a whirlwind of a few days there with all the stuff thats going on and then you lose a couple team leaders and veteran guys like Pauley and Demp. (But) we still need to come out and play every day.
You can sit and make all the excuses you want, but those guys arent coming back, so you got to work your way around it, figure out what you need to do to make it work.
One option being seriously considered is calling up Jackson, who has now played 153 games at Triple-A the past two years combined, nearing the full season Epstein believes most real prospects should spend at that level.
The evaluation phase saw general manager Jed Hoyer chatting with super-agent Scott Boras during batting practice. Not long after that, William Shatner threw out the first pitch and posed for pictures with the umpires on Star Trek Night.
Here was another Only in L.A. moment, more than four hours before game time: Two reporters looking down from the press box and thinking they saw Jackson, when it was actually Clayton Kershaw, the National Leagues reigning Cy Young Award winner.
At least that wrong ID didnt catch fire on Twitter after it was posted. But you almost cant blame people for seeing things.
The hype surrounding Cubs prospects at different stages from Anthony Rizzo to Jorge Soler to Albert Almora has been overwhelming. And team officials had spent the past few days discussing what to do with the roster before September call-ups.
In those 153 games at Iowa, Jackson has hit 25 homers and stolen 32 bases while playing solid defense in the outfield. Hes also struck out 220 times.
Sveum, a former hitting coach, sees the value in working directly with Jackson right now. Sveum also mentioned how Jackson turned it on earlier this season after a visit from James Rowson, the minor-league coordinator who took over as hitting coach once Rudy Jaramillo was fired.
Thats some of the things we talk about developing here, Sveum said. Hell have the benefit of me and J-Ro and the things we see. Those are things that definitely come into play, (as well as) us being able to see him against big-league pitching.
The Cubs (43-61) have begun trying to stockpile arms in the minors. For now, Chris Volstad the guy who hasnt won a big-league game in more than a calendar year will start on Saturday night and get two months to prove he belongs in the rotation.
Thats why its so important to see growth from Samardzija (7-9, 4.37), who gave up five runs in 5 13 innings to a Dodgers team (57-50) that is going for it now with Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino.
Im not here to make excuses, Samardzija said. Thats the way the business goes. We need to find out what we can do as a team now with the guys we have here to win ballgames and were going to do that.
The Cubs seem less likely to rush Vitters, who will turn 23 later this month and still has to improve defensively at third base. But the third overall pick from the 2007 draft is hitting .304 with 16 homers and an .866 OPS in his first season at Triple-A.
Hes made a strong case, Hoyer said. Theres no doubt hes had a really good year. I especially like the fact that hes trended upward every month.
Could Jackson and Vitters be counted on as key pieces as soon as the 2013 season?
Thats what youre hoping for, Sveum said. Thats the million-dollar question all the time: When are you going to start the development here? Because (only) a few people ever walk into the big leagues and have success.
It usually comes down to who can make the adjustments and who can handle the third deck of the stadium. You can go on and on about that. But you have to find out sometime.