Cubs

Kaplan: The Cubs must have philosophy change

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Kaplan: The Cubs must have philosophy change

Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011Posted: 7:25 p.m.

By David Kaplan
CSNChicago.com Insider Follow @TheKapman
While Cubs ownership searches for the next general manager and everyone who follows the team ponders the possible changes to the major league roster, it has become apparent that before players are added or subtracted, the culture of the organization must change dramatically. And nowhere are those changes more needed than at the major league level.

For far too many years, the Chicago Cubs have tried a Band-Aid approach to improving the major league team. Year after year, we see veteran players come and go in hopes of ending a century-long drought between championships. Until the arrival of Tim Wilken in 2006, the minor league system has been somewhat of an afterthought when it came to spending and developing the best players for the Cubs future.

Whether it was not spending the necessary dollars to sign players that wanted above recommended slot money or bypassing highly regarded prospects entirely because of what it would cost to sign them, the Cubs have lagged far behind the upper echelon teams when it comes to developing premier major league talent.

Wilken is considered one of the best scouting directors in baseball and brought several players to the big leagues during his tenure in Toronto and in Tampa Bay. Since taking over the Cubs drafts in 2006, he has seen 14 of his picks make it to the big leagues which is among the Top 5 in the game. Armed now with an increase in money to spend on amateur talent, the Cubs landed a bumper crop of players this past June and had the financial commitment from ownership to sign those players by the Aug. 15th deadline.

In talking with both players and scouts from around baseball, it is apparent that the truly good organizations have rosters filled with players that developed together and matured together through their days in the minor leagues rather than adding the bulk of the team through trades and free agent acquisitions.

Of course, great teams are a blend of homegrown players and smart baseball decisions in free agency and trades, but look at the teams that are always in contention and what do you see? Teams that have a solid, homegrown core that are filled with players who developed together. That is what creates a family atmosphere that is essential to developing a winning organization.

Take the Phillies, who just clinched their fifth consecutive NL East championship. Sure they have added some tremendous players in Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay through either free agency or in a trade. However, the core of their team was built in their minor league system where they developed Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley and had enough depth in the minors to make the trades for Halladay and Hunter Pence just to name a few.

Look at the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, who are both consistently contending to win a World Series. Both have core groups of stars who were developed in the minor leagues and understand their respective organizational philosophies.

Boston is led by Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Jed Lowrie and a handful of youngsters who all came through the Boston system. They have combined with veterans such as Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez who were added by trading from a talent rich farm system to upgrade the major league roster.

The Yankees have a core of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, Robinson Cano, and veterans who are considered outstanding leaders in Mark Texeira, C.C. Sabathia, and Alex Rodriguez who all embrace the Yankee Way to play.

Look at the Twins, Rays, Angels, Rangers, Brewers, Cardinals, Giants and Braves. All of those franchises have stars who embrace the concept of leadership and were raised in the minor league system.

Whether that is Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer in Minnesota or Shields, Price and Longoria in Tampa the concept remains the same. Build a solid core from within and then add the pieces around it necessary to improve the roster.

Sure, the Brewers went out and added Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum last winter to upgrade their rotation but they were adding to a roster that already had Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Yovani Gallardo and a handful of others who were all immersed in the Brewers philosophy from the start of their professional careers.

For far too long, the Cubs have been built on mercenaries who came to Chicago knowing very little about the team, Wrigley Field and all the pressure that goes with being part of a team that is trying to end the longest drought in professional sports history.

It is time that the Cubs build from within and only add players who are about one thing--winning. Doing whatever it takes to win has to be their ultimate goal. There is no family atmosphere in the Cubs clubhouse and it is not a team that is built on a sense of togetherness with everyone pulling in the same direction for the betterment of the team as a whole.

Manager Mike Quade paid his dues throughout a long career in professional baseball and the opportunity to manage the Cubs was his chance to make it on the biggest of stages in major league baseball.

However, as he fights to keep his job, he continues to play veterans at the expense of young players who could be a part of the Cubs future. How do you continue to leave Bryan LaHair, Tony Campana and Tyler Colvin on the bench while continuing to trot out veterans who have no chance at being everyday players for the Cubs going forward?

It was on management to tell Quade that once his team was clearly not going to be a factor in the division race that he needed to worry more about evaluating and preparing the team for next year than worrying about a few more wins that are meaningless in the big picture.

Instead, once again, the Cubs are left with questions about some of the prospects on their major-league roster as they head into the offseason. The only thing worse than a losing season is having a losing season and not knowing what you have on your roster that can be a part of the long-term future of the organization and unfortunately, that is where the Cubs are at once again.

Add all of it up and it is painfully obvious that a philosophical change in direction is necessary and a culture change in the clubhouse that embraces a consistent philosophy throughout the organization is a must going forward.

With the resources that are available and the division that the organization plays in, there is no reason that the Cubs can't become the dominant team in the NL Central.

But for that to happen, everyone has to be on the same page and the organization has to adopt a baseball philosophy that every player that wears the Chicago Cubs uniform, no matter the level in the system, buys into or else they are not kept no matter how talented they may be.

David Kaplanpublishes his thoughts at The Kapman on CSNChicago.com every Monday,Wednesday, and Friday and whenever major news breaks. Follow him onTwitter @thekapman.

Forget winter of change, 'status quo' might be the new normal for Cubs

Forget winter of change, 'status quo' might be the new normal for Cubs

For the second straight offseason, Theo Epstein teased a winter of change after a disappointing end to the campaign.

And for the second straight offseason, the Cubs showed up for the annual fan convention without many significant changes to the roster. 

The fanbase has grown impatient and frustrated and itching for ways to improve upon a 2019 team that openly admits it did not perform up to its potential. 

"I understand the frustration," Epstein said Friday at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. "There's a lot of days I'm frustrated, too, where you look out and there's a great fit on a player who you know you can recruit and sign a reasonable deal that he's worth and you can't get that player and that's frustrating.

"But that's the reality. Every club every winter has a certain landscape, certain paramaters they have to operate under. There are going to be times that we're gonna be really aggressive and have a ton of flexibility and every player is a possibility for us. We knew this was gonna be one of those offseasons where we were gonna be more active in trades than free agency and so there are days where we wake up frustrated or go home at the end of a long day frustrated. 

"So I certainly understand that from the fans, but then, I also look at the talent that we have on paper and I talk to our players and I get excited about how good of a team we can be."

The parameters the Cubs are working under includes a payroll that is already projected over the luxury tax for a second straight season, which the club wants to get back under and reset. That means the Cubs have yet to commit one single dollar in guaranteed big-league money this offseason, instead operating on the fringes of the roster to take fliers on pitchers (like Casey Sadler, acquired Friday) or position players (such as Hernan Perez on a minor-league deal) rather than re-signing Nicholas Castellanos or adding a bullpen piece with a long track record of success.

Epstein knows this isn't an ideal way to build a contender, but the Cubs aren't blowing it up, either. They're stuck in something of a baseball purgatory, trying to win in 2020 but also recognizing the need to improve the long-term health of the franchise. That means resetting the luxury tax, adding long-term pieces and potentially trading away short-term assets.

"We were an 84-win team last year, but underlying stats projected out, we were probably a 90-win team," Epstein said. "Not to say we didn't have issues — we did. Not to say we don't have holes now — we do. But there's significant upside with this group of players. We're not gonna whistle past a graveyard. We're gonna carry more risk into this year than we want to. More risk into this year than we traditionally have in the past and it's our job to operate our way around that.

"...We're gonna carry risk in the 'pen this year and we have to find a repeat where we find value in guys and guys improve and step up. We have risk with our rotation health. We don't have the type of depth and redundancy you'd like to have. And then at a couple positions, there's gonna be some risk with guys with real upside, but guys who if things don't break our way, we could have holes out there. And so that's on us and something we have to continue to plan for every single day. But we have real upside at every position, too."

Fans can laugh and scoff as Epstein and David Ross and the players talk about the potential for the 2020 Cubs to win the World Series or exclaim they're hopeful for the season ahead. But what else do you expect them to say? It'd be silly for the president or a manager or the star of a team to say "No, we don't expect to win this year." Especially when a team has as much talent on the roster as the Cubs have...even if there are holes and risks and not an ideal amount of depth.

Epstein is right — the 2019 Cubs *should have* finished with a 90-72 record instead of an 84-78 record. That's projected based off the Cubs' +97 run differential. The 89-73 Brewers, meanwhile, were projected for only an 81-win season based on their +3 run differential. 

However, those numbers are ultimately meaningless. The reality is the Brewers were in the playoffs (even if only for one game) and the Cubs spent the entire last week of the regular season knowing they weren't going to be partaking in any October action.

After another disappointing finish, Epstein and the Cubs brass wanted change. In a perfect world, they'd already have it — a reshaping of the roster to shake things up and get a different mix than the team that has fallen short of expectations the last two seasons.

But this isn't a perfect world and the Cubs front office isn't going to force things. They won't make a change just for change's sake.

"We're not in a position where we have to do anything," Epstein said. "I think you want to always avoid being put in a corner where you have to make a deal and your back's against the wall and you're gonna take any deal that's out there. We're not at all in that position, but looking at the horizon of the next two years, I think you would be wise at some point to do something that looks out a little bit more for the long term and a little bit less for the short term. But that doesn't have to happen now. We're not in a position where we have to move anybody.

"...What's most likely is status quo — it's hard to get long-term extensions done, it's hard to get trades done. We have what we feel is a pretty good club. We're trying to compete this year and we're not in a position where we have to do anything."

That's certainly a change from the tone set forth by Epstein in his end-of-season presser on the final day of September. But while the roster is essentially intact, the Cubs gave the rest of the organization a major face-lift, from the coaching staff to the scouting department to the strength and conditioning staff. 

Status quo is a good thing for those Cubs fans hoping Epstein's front office doesn't trade away their favorite player.

Kris Bryant is in attendance at Cubs Convention this weekend, but he's also dealing with a bout of the flu, so he did not speak to the media and had to pass on his now-annual segment on the Ryan Dempster show (which was anything but..."boring").

Epstein joked they might be doing a Muhammed Ali rope-a-dope where the Cubs lull everybody into the idea that nothing will happen this winter only for some major news to come down in the three weeks between the Convention and spring training. 

Things can change in a hurry when it comes to trade talks, but it's becoming more and more likely the Cubs will report to their complex in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 11 with a "status quo" roster.

Cubs add another pitcher to the bullpen mix

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USA TODAY

Cubs add another pitcher to the bullpen mix

A few hours before the 2020 Cubs Convention kicked off, Theo Epstein's front office was hard at work adding another pitcher to the bullpen mix.

It's not a big name fans are itching for, but the Cubs acquired right-handed pitcher Casey Sadler from the Dodgers Friday afternoon. The Cubs sent minor-league infielder Clayton Daniel to LA in return. 

Sadler, 29, was designated for assignment by his former team earlier in the week. He has 42 career MLB appearances under his belt, 33 of which came last season between the Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays (1 start). 

Sadler performed well in 2019, posting a 4-0 record, 2.14 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, but only had 31 strikeouts in 46.1 innings. He had more success missing bats in Triple-A, with 12.3 K/9 in 38.2 innings last year.

This brings the Cubs' 40-man roster to 39 with a little less than a month before pitchers and catchers report to spring training. The move fits the theme of the offseason where Epstein and Co. are taking fliers on all the buy-low pitchers they can as a volume-game approach to building a pitching staff.

Sadler is out of minor-league options, so he should get a shot at cracking the big-league bullpen out of camp.

At the moment, Craig Kimbrel, Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck look like the only locks for the Opening Day bullpen, but a host of others will be in the mix in Arizona, including:

Ryan Tepera (free agent)
Trevor Megill (Rule 5 pick)
Dan Winkler (free agent)
CD Pelham (waiver pickup)
Brandon Morrow (minor-league free agent)
Duane Underwood Jr. (out of minor-league options)
Alec Mills (out of options)
Adbert Alzolay
Dillon Maples
James Norwood

There are a lot of question marks building a bullpen out of that group, especially considering the proven names the Cubs lost from last year's club (Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Brandon Kintzler).

Daniel, 24, was the Cubs' 31st-round pick in 2018 out of Jacksonville State University. He reached Double-A Tennessee last season and hit .305 with a .799 OPS, 2 homers and 21 RBI in 67 minor-league games a year ago.