The hype was starting to build around Starlin Castro when Ryan Theriot sent the message: Come and get it.
Spring training had just begun in 2010, and by May 7 Castro was installed as Cubs shortstop, perhaps for the next decade, and by July 31 Theriot was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, along with Ted Lilly.
This isnt a shot at Theriot. As an ex-teammate once said, its not just the ring he won with the St. Louis Cardinals last season. Theriot was good enough to start Game 7 of the World Series for Tony La Russa (at second base), and you have to respect that.
But loud and clear you heard echoes of Theriots famous last words this week while sitting in the Wrigley Field interview roomdungeon listening to general manager Jed Hoyer explain the Anthony Rizzo decision.
Clearly, the Cubs considered the financial implications of waiting until late June and preserving an extra year of club control. Who wouldnt? Even Rizzo stayed on message and said he benefitted from the extra weeks at Triple-A Iowa.
The Cubs may not have been so disciplined if this was a team built to win now. But Hoyer might as well have put these four words up on the Wrigley Field marquee: COME AND GET IT.
You have to earn it, Hoyer said. Anthony certainly forced our hand. Theres no question. He went down there and put up numbers as good as any player in the minor leagues. Thats the way it should be.
Players shouldnt get promoted in the minor leagues based on draft status (or) trades. I dont think we could look our players in the eye if Anthony hit .250 with nine homers and we promoted him to the big leagues. What are we saying to the rest of the organization?
Hoyer said the evidence was indisputable that Rizzo belonged up here after the 22-year-old first baseman hit .342 with 23 homers and 63 RBI and those numbers didnt come from the Western segment of the Pacific Coast League that makes player evaluations more difficult.
Theo Epsteins front office has challenged the recent first-round picks they inherited, Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters. And whenever the Cubs sign No. 6 overall pick Albert Almora, and officially welcome Cuban defector Jorge Soler into the organization, it will be the same message: Prove it.
Brett can determine his own future by just dominating down there and forcing our hand, Hoyer said. I hope he does that. Hes a really good talent. Hes got a great future ahead of him and I think hell be in a Cubs uniform for a long time. But when he forces us to call him up based on his performance, then I think well see him here.
Jackson, a potential five-tool outfielder from Cal-Berkeley, was hitting .254 with 11 homers and 111 strikeouts through 75 games at Iowa.
Its very alarming, manager Dale Sveum said. Hes on a pace to strike out 200 times in a minor-league season, which is not easy to do, despite having an OPS of .850. Its a strange, strange stat. You just watch on video and you dont understand how he can put together some at-bats and then just have some uncontested at-bats.
Its a very strange occurrence, really, for a guy with bat speed and quickness and that kind of athleticism.
Epstein and Hoyer are trying to build a team for Wrigley Field, one that will be good year after year after year.
That was our goal when we started, Sveum said, to (have) to earn getting to the big leagues, whether its throwing strikes as a pitcher, (or) not striking out, taking your walks as a hitter. (Its) not promoting people for a .220 average and 30 home runs. Thats not what we want to create here.
We want to create quality hitters (because) one day (here the winds) blowing out, but theres a lot of days where its blowing in, and you got to keep the line moving. And youre not going to do it with home runs all the time.
Vitters, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft, got more hype than Rizzo when they were teammates on an elite national traveling team as teenagers.
Vitters, whos still only 22, was named a PCL All-Star on Thursday after hitting .293 with 12 homers and 40 RBI through 76 games, his first half-season on the Triple-A level. He has matured, though there are questions about his defense at third base.
Just because a guys playing well in the minor leagues doesnt mean you want to move him like right away, Hoyer said. Let (Josh) get comfortable and prove it to a certain extent, but were really happy.
I know hes had some really good moments in the minor leagues, but this is probably the most consistency (and) the best performance hes shown since hes been a Cub. We dont need to upset the apple cart too much.
So the managers not on the hot seat, and the front office can take the long view. There is opportunity here. But there are no sure things, and patience wont last forever.
Jeff Samardzija seemed to make that point on Wednesday after the New York Mets put 17 runs on the board. He had to answer questions about his eye-opening splits between May (2.48 ERA) and June (10.41 ERA), and where he fits alongside Castro and Rizzo in the big picture.
I want to be a very huge part of this, Samardzija said. Im not as young as those guys are age-wise, but I still have a fair amount to learn. Im learning that right now. This is the process that were at, (but) in professional sports, you got to win right now.
You got to put results up now. This isnt a two-year plan for me. This is a four-day plan. When I come out the next time, its got to be better, and its going to be better. Thats the way it goes.
As Hoyer likes to say, you have to grab the job by the throat.