Cubs

The Cubs' Hall of Fame foursome is now complete

824071.png

The Cubs' Hall of Fame foursome is now complete

Golf is the perfect sport for those who can no longer strap on a pair of metal spikes and sprint out between the chalked lines on a baseball diamond.

In a lot of ways, golf is like the light version of baseball. You still have to put together a lot of moving parts and get your mechanics just right to hit a little white ball. The game is still played outside, under the sun, and wind can wreak havoc on a typical outing.

And in golf, people typically get together in groups of four to go shoot a round.

With Ron Santo's induction into the Hall of Fame Sunday, the Cubs' legendary foursome is now complete, only they won't ever be able to play a round of golf together as Hall of Famers.

Santo joined fellow teammates Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Ernie Banks in the elite class of baseball players, but it came roughly a year-and-a-half after his death.

"I think it's outstanding," Jenkins said. "It's kind of bittersweet. It's 10 years too late. Seeing Ron Santo go in and have a fellow teammate and now four of us off that same ballclub that played together for such a length of time to get voted in, I think that's outstanding."

The foursome were a dominant group in the 1960s and early 1970s. They combined for 29 All-Star game nominations and nine Top-5 finishes in the NL MVP race, including two wins from Banks. The three sluggers combined for almost 1,300 home runs.

But despite their prowess on the diamond, the Cubs never even made it to the World Series, a fact that was brought up often by those who argued that Santo should not be in the Hall of Fame.

"It's about time he got in the HOF," said Glenn Beckert, Santo's longtime roommate on the Cubs during the '60s. "His credentials should have had them in there while he was living. Due to the fact that we already had three guys in the Hall of Fame -- Fergie, Billy and Ernie -- and we never played in a World Series as a team.

"You can't have four guys, I guess, and that was the theory in the voting. You hate to say it's not fair and it wasn't fair, but now the seniors have taken over the voting for old-time players. It's satisfaction now for his family and all his grandchildren."

It was also satisfaction for guys like Beckert and Jenkins, who returned to Cooperstown to see old friends and former enemies on the diamond.

"When you come back for a fellow teammate, that's what it was all about," Jenkins said. "We played together, we ate together. We went through the wars together. You knew each other. That's the fun part of it, to know that your teammate was that good an athlete to make the Hall of Fame."

It's been almost 40 years since Santo stopped playing but at long last, Jenkins can finally say the third baseman on those legendary Cubs teams is a Hall of Famer.

MLB Hot Stove: How Cubs are approaching the trade market this winter

theo_epstein_0713.jpg
USA TODAY

MLB Hot Stove: How Cubs are approaching the trade market this winter

There's certainly a sense of urgency for the Cubs this winter, but they won't make moves just for the sake of shaking things up.

The Cubs always anticipated a window of contention for at least seven years and we're now on the backside of that estimate, with only three years until a bunch of core players like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez all become free agents.

That doesn't necessarily mean the championship window is closing (a lot can happen in three years) but it does mean there is a strong desire from Theo Epstein's front office to try to capitalize and win another ring, especially after the 2018 season ended with only one playoff game.

"Everyone who's been around the team — from the players themselves to [the media] to the fans — we all know the takeaway from that season wasn't the positives," Epstein said last week at the GM Meetings in Southern California. "It wasn't the 95 wins. It wasn't how together the players managed to be (and that takes some doing — that was a really together, connected clubhouse). It wasn't the fine, outstanding individual seasons that many of our players enjoyed. It wasn't battling through a gauntlet of 42 games in 43 days.

"All those things are realities, but those aren't the takeaways from the season. The takeaways are that we got caught from behind and we had opportunities to put that division away and to make another postseason run and for myriad reasons, it didn't happen. So we damn well better be honest with ourselves about the reasons why it didn't happen and find ways to fix it, otherwise what the hell are we doing here?

"So yeah, we're not gonna sit here and celebrate 95 wins. We're gonna be pissed off about the way the season ended and it doesn't matter if I'm pissed off — our players are pissed off. And they know that they have an opportunity to be part of something special. They basically built it and helped build it. And we want to take full advantage of it.

"You can't take anything for granted in this game. You look up and it goes really fast — teams don't stay together forever and we need to find ways to take advantage of this great opportunity that we have. ... This has been a real winning group the last four years and that was a real low moment for us, 95 wins or not. And we don't want to live through that again."

Even reading those words on a screen, it's easy to feel Epstein's emotion and that sentiment undoubtedly rings true throughout ever corner of the fanbase.

The Cubs clearly want to fix their offense that faded down the stretch and they've already made a change with the hitting program, inserting Anthony Iapoce as hitting coach to replace Chili Davis. The pitching staff was handed a nice boost of consistency immediately after the World Series ended when the Cubs chose to pick up the options for Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana and Pedro Strop.

Given the current financial landscape, it's hard to see the Cubs landing either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in free agency.

Which leaves the trade market as the most likely way to retool the 2019 roster.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said last week he and the Cubs front office were spending more time talking to executives from other teams than agents of players on the open market.

The Cubs also aren't interested in making any knee-jerk reactions to a team that still found a way to 95 games despite injuries and ineffectiveness from the group's top players — Bryant, Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Willson Contreras, etc.

"We do feel like our answers are internal," Hoyer said. "We need to focus on getting our players to maximize their potential. With that said, I think we're open to business and listening and [the trade market] will probably be our focus more than shopping at the top of the [free-agent] market."

The main areas of focus Epstein's front office is working to address this winter include the lineup and the bullpen. It's easy to see how a trade for an impact reliever can develop given the Cubs' plethora of young position players with potential.

The Cubs would love to add more established, consistent hitters to augment their lineup and help avoid the Jekyll and Hyde nature of hot streaks and slumps brought about by so many young players still finding their way in the big leagues.

But how would a hitter-for-hitter type of deal work out if the Cubs want to truly take their offense to another level?

"There's lots of different ways to do it," Epstein said. "You can trade up the service time clock. You can trade backwards for more years of control. You can trade for an established guy. You can trade for somebody you think is ready to break out. There's no one way to do it. You can trade two comparable players with different shapes if you think it benefits you."

The last idea is particularly intriguing as the Cubs have plenty of hitters in the same high-strikeout/slugging mold.

Epstein and the Cubs teased a potential offseason of trades last winter and wound up retaining all of their young hitters.

But that theory didn't translate to on-field results, as the Cubs led baseball with 40 games of scoring 1 or 0 runs (including Game 163 and the Wild-Card contest). Couple that with the fact the season was over before the sun came up on Oct. 3 and it's safe to say the organization is approaching this winter differently.

"We're gonna be open-minded about trades and we still are," Epstein said. "We may make many trades. We may make a couple small trades. We may make no trades. What we're definitely going to do is hold ourselves to a higher standard with how we perform, how we execute.

"The job is not just accumulating talent. The job is winning baseball games. We have to get our players to perform and we have to be at least one game better than we were last year."

When it comes to Harper, Machado sweepstakes, can White Sox compete with team that plans to spend 'stupid'?

1116_phillie_phanatic.jpg
USA TODAY

When it comes to Harper, Machado sweepstakes, can White Sox compete with team that plans to spend 'stupid'?

The White Sox sure seem willing to spend and spend big this offseason if the right opportunity comes along. They're reportedly interested in Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the two biggest names on this winter's free-agent market.

But other teams are interested in those guys, too. And at least one other team is being more vocal about its willingness to shell out big bucks — making no bones about the fact it's even willing to spend "stupid."

That was the word used by Philadelphia Phillies owner John Middleton, who told USA Today's Bob Nightengale: "We're going into this expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little stupid about it."

That's a bit of a joke, of course — he added, "we just prefer not to be completely stupid" — but it shows how pricey this winter's bidding wars are going to get.

The White Sox have a ton of financial flexibility thanks to their rebuilding effort, but they're not alone. The Phillies are right there with them in terms of long-term financial commitments. Throw in the fact they're further along in their rebuilding process than the White Sox, and it makes them a prime candidate to hand out one of the biggest contracts in baseball history.

The Phillies — who Nightengale wrote just last week seem like a lock to land Harper — spent time in first place in 2018 and have an exciting roster of young players that already makes them a contender heading into 2019. Add Harper or Machado to that mix, and you're looking at a team that could win multiple championships starting in 2019.

The White Sox don't have that, and it seems to remain their biggest challenge in convincing one of the best players in baseball to sign up. They have a very bright future to pitch, but it's a planned future, not the demonstrable win-now roster of teams like the Phillies.

What could help to ease those concerns would be money and a whole lot of it. Obviously other teams are willing to spend, but few teams have the ability to spend and spend big that the White Sox have because of the ridiculously small amount of money they have committed past the 2019 season.

Rick Hahn has made a point that the White Sox have made a habit of shattering preconceived notions, doing the unexpected during this rebuilding process. But certainly no one expects him to do something "stupid."

In fact, Hahn's comments surrounding what deals the White Sox might or might not make this winter (or at any point in the last two years) seem to show the complete opposite of "stupid." His prerequisite for every potential move is that it's something that fits in with the team's long-term plans, given that there's still much player development to be done with the organization's stockpile of highly touted prospects. And signing either Harper or Machado, both 26 years old, would do that. Having one of the best players in baseball during their prime while the prospects come up and form the team around them? Yeah, that makes an awful lot of long-term sense.

But how much long-term sense does spending "stupid" make? Throwing more money than most of us can dream of at a player is a convincing argument in getting him to sign and make your team a heck of a lot better. But going overboard could handcuff what a team is able to do down the line. Harper and Machado are great players who can do a lot of things, but they're each just one piece of a 25-man roster. While the White Sox are expecting to have a lot of young, cheap players on those rosters of the future, there could be more than one "finishing piece" that's required to polish off this rebuilding effort. If you spend "stupid," are you able to afford those other pieces?

How stupid do you have to spend before the positive of acquiring a player is outweighed by the negative of not being able to acquire the next one?

Certainly the Phillies aren't going to hand Harper or Machado a blank check and bankrupt their long-term future either. They've got some smart folks over there, too. But it shows how financially competitive the bidding wars could be this winter — and what the cost could be of winning one of them.