Cubs

Mooney: Cubs model will be building from within

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Mooney: Cubs model will be building from within

Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010
7:20 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

In a letter sent to season-ticket holders on Oct. 8, Tom Ricketts highlighted two men who could walk through OHare International Airport without being noticed by Cubs fans.

Ricketts praised Tim Wilken as one of the best scouting directors in baseball. The chairman also credited vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita for a minor-league system that went 374-316. Only the St. Louis Cardinals finished with a higher overall winning percentage among their farm clubs in 2010.

In style and tone, it distanced Ricketts from the wealthy owner thinking of himself as a master of the universe. There will be days in the future where he stands in the Wrigley Field stadium club next to the free agent holding up a new Cubs jersey as the flashbulbs pop all around them.

But a purchase that took his family several years to complete was finalized on Oct. 27, 2009. One year later, looking back on a deal that cost more than 800 million, its become clear that the model will be to build the Cubs from within.

Remember that the next time someone wishes on Cliff Lee coming to Chicago.

Thats not to say its impossible. Just that it sounds out of character for the Cubs to win a bidding war between the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers for a pitcher who will turn 33 next season and is probably looking for a contract that compares to CC Sabathias seven-year, 161 million deal.

In his state-of-the-team address, Ricketts mentioned Wilken and Fleita before Jim Hendry, though both are deeply connected to the Cubs general manager.

Wilken who joined the organization almost five years ago grew up with Hendry in Dunedin, Fla., and his first-round picks are finally beginning to show in Chicago. Fleita who oversees the minor-league affiliates and international operations played for Hendry at Creighton University.

Looking at the big picture, they will be just as important as manager Mike Quade, if not more influential. Even Quade who managed 17 seasons in the minors and four at Triple-A Iowa fits into the vision of promoting from within and becoming more cost-effective.

A letter that ran 28 paragraphs contained no reference to Lou Piniella, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster or Alfonso Soriano. Ricketts did point to Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, Andrew Cashner and Casey Coleman.

All need to take the next step in 2011, but we are very encouraged to have a group of young, homegrown players emerge as regulars in 2010, Ricketts wrote. It is my strong belief that, in the end, it is organizations with strong farm systems that win championships and I am convinced that our organization is making progress (in) what had been a weak spot.

The baseball operations department will assemble for organizational meetings next week in Arizona. The offseason agenda could include: an established starting pitcher to account for Ted Lillys 200 innings; a first baseman to replace Derrek Lee in the middle of the order; andor a veteran reliever to stabilize the bullpen.

Ownership has indicated there will probably be a drop from the payroll level on Opening Day 2010 approximately 145 million and financial commitments for next season begin around 125 million.

But the overall baseball budget is supposed to remain the same. The expectation is that whatever funds are cut from the major-league payroll will be diverted to amateur signings, international scouting and minor-league infrastructure.

The development process has already begun. By sometime in 2011, the homegrown core could include three-fifths of the rotation (Zambrano, Coleman and Randy Wells), the back end of the bullpen (Cashner, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol) and several key position players (Castro, Colvin and Geovany Soto).

Privately, the Cubs are hoping that outfielder Brett Jackson, a 2009 first-round pick, could have an impact next year. They look at Wilkens track record after his involvement in the signings of Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, Carlos Delgado and Alex Rios during his 25 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays.

There will likely be several versions of the blueprint. Before reaching their first World Series game in franchise history on Wednesday night, the Rangers cycled in and out of rebuilding phases.

At the 2007 deadline, Texas dealt Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves for a package that yielded an All-Star shortstop (Elvis Andrus) and an All-Star closer (Neftali Feliz). Three years later, the Rangers traded four prospects to get Lee, perhaps the most clutch postseason pitcher of his generation.

The San Francisco Giants invested almost 200 million in three players Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand and Mark DeRosa who were nonfactors as they won the National League pennant.

But the Giants had insurance after developing four good starters and a dominant closer Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and Brian Wilson. They found inexpensive help for their lineup with Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell.

Ricketts can be patient because there is a belief his family will own the team for generations. Ownership has also shown that it will be rational, analyzing five million data points before finding out where supply meets demand and setting ticket prices for next season.

But the system cant carry an entire 25-man roster. Just ask the Rangers or Giants. The Cubs will need to get creative before being able to send out invoices for playoff tickets.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs Mailbag: Will Kris Bryant play more at third or in the outfield next year?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Mailbag: Will Kris Bryant play more at third or in the outfield next year?

Some guys pump iron with personal trainers, eat kale salads and recoup in cryotherapy machines to make room for the gluttony of the holidays. Not me. I'm getting into shape for Thanksgiving the old fashioned way - by carrying the weight of some heavy questions from Cubs fans. So, strap on the old feedbag and let's dig right in.

Q: Do you think the Cubs get Harper? - @intensify

Luke Stuckmeyer: First of all, way to intensify the situation. This question might be in every Cubs mailbag we have until Harper finally finds a home. I'll give you my best guess. Bryce can really mash some taters and the Cubs could obviously use another big bat from the left side. I just don't think they are going to dive *that* deep into the holiday spirit. I'll say 75/25 that he ends up somewhere else. I think another team trying to make a splash will spend an insane amount of money to make Harper the face of their franchise. The Cubs already have three of those players in Bryant, Rizzo and Baez.

Q: Will we see Kris Bryant as a 3rd baseman or in the outfield next season? - @kimsrad

LS: Yes and yes. I think Joe Maddon will use Kris Bryant in both places. Expect the Cubs to have a more consistent batting order next year, but the lineup flexibility will continue in the field. I do think Bryant will play more game in LF than he will at 3B. The Cubs have always envisioned this is where Bryant might eventually end up at some point. I'd like to see former Cubs prospect Josh Donaldson return to the franchise via free agency for a few years and let Bryant take over full-time in left. We'll see how free agency unfolds, but regardless I see more outfield games for KB moving forward.

Q: What do you consider more important, a good top of the lineup hitter or a lockdown closer? - @tscott119

LS: Great question! In my opinion these are the two most important needs for the roster this offseason. I'll vote for the closer because a good dessert is always more important to a great meal than a good appetizer. A true lockdown closer helps shorten the game in the postseason and with Morrow's injury concerns, I want to see the bullpen beefed up. Help the starters by shortening the game. That said, leadoff hitter is still the second most important area of need on this team. The Cubs have been trying to find an answer to this riddle since Dexter Fowler left. So, I'd like a helping of each this offseason.

Q: Are the Cubs going to bring Jesse Chavez back? I sure hope so! #Cubs - @LindsTeach1386

LS: This goes perfectly with the last question. "Build the Bullpen" would be one of my themes of the winter and Chavez was terrific in Cubs uniform with a 1.15 ERA. He throws strikes and the Cubs also need that from relievers, too. He's told teammates that if he's not wearing a Cubs uniform next season he hang up the cleats after 11 seasons. I think he'll be back and it shouldn't be "too expensive."

Q: I'm asking Santa for a Schwarber jersey for Christmas. Does the big guy in the red suit need to put in a good for Schwarbs? #Cubs - @mommymack23

LS: For the record, I think Kap usually wears blue suits. I'd ask for the shirsey. Schwarber's name will be mentioned a lot this winter.

Q: Has this era of Cubs players peaked? - @spiceycentipede3

LS: I don't think so. It will be tough to ever top an historic 2016, but I believe there are more championships in this core group. This is still a young team and a healthy Kris Bryant can completely change the lineup. Now, let's see if Javy can take another step after an outstanding season and if Willson Contreras can bounce back as the best catcher in the NL. Theo preaches that player development isn't always linear in baseball. I hope he's right!

Well, that's six questions. One for every heaping helping that this turkey plans to take down on Thanksgiving. Thanks for all the great questions. Have a great and safe holiday next week. 

How Cubs will determine if this is the time to sell — or hold — stock on young players

How Cubs will determine if this is the time to sell — or hold — stock on young players

Do the Cubs envision Ian Happ as a vital piece of their future or the organization's best trade asset?

What about Kyle Schwarber? Albert Almora Jr.? Victor Caratini? 

We might not get surefire answers to these questions this winter, but we'll at least get an indication in a pivotal offseason for this quartet. (The Cubs already know what they have with their other young position players apart from maybe Willson Contreras, but it's nearly impossible to find another catcher in the same stratosphere as Contreras in terms of physical tools and potential).

The Cubs are at a crossroads of sorts with the development of these four players (and others) as they try to retool for another run at a championship in 2019 after a disappointing end to 2018. There's urgency for production in the lineup and not simply potential and the growing pains that coincide with young players.

So how do the Cubs determine if they should sell stock on players like Happ, Schwarber or Almora when it's still unknown who — or what — they are as players?

"Through evaluation and through a lot of discussion with our most trusted evaluators and the people around the players every day," Theo Epstein said last week at the GM Meetings. "And through conversations with the players, too. Honest discussions about their weaknesses.

"I don't want to generalize, but many players follow a path where they come up from the minor leagues and have some immediate success and as the league finds out more about them, the league makes an adjustment. I've never seen a major-league environment that's more ruthless than the one that exists today. We're going right to a player's weakness, quickly finding it, exploiting it and staying there until they adjust back.

"You have to have honest conversations about the area where players need to improve in order to have the types of careers that they want to have in order to help us win the way they want to help us win. And seeing how players react to that and the plans they come up with and the work ethic to make those adjustments and the trace record to make those adjustments — all that stuff really matters."

We know the Cubs don't operate with any "untouchables" (as was reiterated in a very high-profile way over the last week), but that's also all about how important the word value is.

The Cubs have zero interest in selling low on guys like Schwarber, Almora or Happ because those are three players they've held conviction on for years as first-round draft picks to top prospects to impact players in the big leagues. 

But it's also entirely possible another team around the league values Schwarber more than the Cubs do and offer Epstein's front office a deal that's too hard to pass up. Sure, Schwarber's 2018 was something of a disappointment, but he also drastically increased his walk rate, cut down on strikeouts and improved his defense. Oh yeah, and he'll still only be 26 in March.

We could run the same exercise for Almora, Happ and Caratini, but the main takeaway here is that the evaluations of these players are incomplete as they're still very young/inexperienced with potential.

But if the Cubs trade any of those three guys this winter, it's not necessarily an indication of doom for the player. It's more about finding the right time to pull the trigger.

"That's the nature of it," Epstein said. "Trades happen in this game. A lot of times when trades are made, it doesn't mean you've completely given up on a player. A lot of trades are more about what you're receiving back than what you're giving up in the first place."

There's also value for the Cubs in not necessarily selling one of those young players but choosing to get a little more veteran and diverse with a lineup that "broke" in the second half, as Epstein described it.

Due to the inexperience and youth, the Cubs lineup was more prone to slumps. That was highlighted by the trade for (and subsequent playing time of) Daniel Murphy in August. When the veteran hitter was acquired, the Cubs initially intended to utilize him to help augment the lineup on a fairly regular basis, but with the struggles around him, they instead needed to lean on Murphy to play essentially every day.

When it comes down to it, the Cubs just want production — no matter where it comes from.

"We're setting out to add to the personnel, so I guess in that sense, if we come back with the status quo, it means there are a couple things out there that we would've lovd to have done that we couldn't, but that happens," Epstein said. "But I think ultimately, we should be held accountable for our performance, not for the amount of change in the names. And we will be. This group will be.

"In order to keep this thing going with the realities of the business and what happens as players move through the service time structure and escalating salaries and everything else, the time for that talent to translate into performance is now to get the absolute most out of this group. Or else we're going to be looking at some hard realities and the need for a lot of change going forward."