With the First-Year Player Draft in Major League Baseball scheduled for Monday, the Chicago Cubs have a chance to add impact players to a fairly weak farm system as they own four of the first 67 selections. The draft is not considered exceptionally strong in position players, but pitching does have solid depth throughout the draft and the Cubs are most definitely in the market for power arms.
With Jason McLeod now in charge of the Cubs scouting department and Tim Wilken -- one of the best evaluators in the game -- crisscrossing the country to see all of the top players, the Cubs have a chance to restock a system that is woefully short on impact players who can play a prominent role in the core of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyers rebuilding plan.
However, while the draft is the lifeblood of the system, the Cubs also have an opportunity to turn a down 2012 season at the major-league level into a major component of their organizational overhaul.
That opportunity will take tremendous guts to execute because it will require completely gutting the major league team of most anything of value. That includes star shortstop Starlin Castro, who is one of the better young hitters in the game, but is also a question mark defensively and does not have a plate approach that is in line with Epsteins vision for how the game should be played.
What I am in favor of is a systematic dismantling of the big-league team that trades anything of value for players that embrace the EpsteinHoyer philosophy and replacing those parts with young prospects that the Cubs can build with and grow with.
Will it upset the fan base to trade Starlin Castro? Absolutely. However, that doesnt mean it is the wrong decision if it makes you a better team down the road. After all, isnt that what the Cubs are trying to build towards?
Castro is a wonderfully talented player who should be one of the games best hitters for the next 15 years. He is a solid athlete and he will probably be a perennial all-star for the next decade or more. And that is why the Cubs must do all they can to see what the market will bring for a player of his abilities.
Why not see if a contender will overpay to add his bat? What about a team that is in serious need of a star to excite their fan base? One has to believe that Castro would summon quite a haul if he were traded and that haul could be far more valuable to the Cubs than what he currently brings to a team going nowhere in 2012.
The same goes for Matt Garza, who is a rare commodity in the game. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff and he is not saddled with a long term contract that limits who can afford him. The Cubs control his rights for another full season and he could be the piece that a contender needs to add to their rotation to put them over the top.
Yes, the Cubs do need pitching and Garza is a fine piece to a rotation. But what could the Cubs add in the right deal to the right team? They must explore all of their options to see what they can get back in a trade.
Ryan Dempster is another attractive trade piece because he is a solid starter and he has no long-term contract to deal with. He is a free agent after this season, so a contender can acquire him and then decide if he is worth the investment going forward. He is also one of the best clubhouse guys in the game so he can make an impact on a contender in a variety of ways which increases his trade value.
Other pieces that the Cubs have that could interest a contender include Jeff Baker whose versatility makes him highly valuable to a contending team. He can play first, second, third or the corner outfield spots and he is a solid pinch hitter and also has a little bit of power in his bat.
What about Geovany Soto, who is currently rehabbing an injured knee but is expected back on the roster soon? There are a number of teams that need catching help and if the Cubs are willing to pay some of his remaining salary, there should be some teams willing to trade for him.
Is Soto the Cubs catcher of the future? Absolutely not. He is questionable at calling a game and his offense is mediocre at best. The fact that the Cubs are paying him 4.3 million speaks to how ridiculous salaries are in the game.
I would much rather see Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger share the catching duties every day for the rest of the season so that the organization knows what they have for the future. If one of them can assume the role of starter, then that is one less problem area that the Cubs need to address. If not, then it is better to find out now. Soto, though, could net something in a trade as some contenders, such as the Washington Nationals that are dealing with injuries and could use a veteran presence for the rest of the season.
There should be no untouchables on this roster and Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer should explore every possible deal that moves veterans who will not be a part of the future and moves salary off of the books so that the Cubs have some flexibility in the free agent market next winter. That means trading some popular names who the fanbase likes. But Epstein and Hoyer cannot worry about upsetting the fan base and hanging on to players who are not in their long term plans.
So who would I keep that is on the major league roster?
Jeff Samardzija is the Cubs biggest surprise of the season as he has shown that he can be a major part of the rotation for a long time to come. He is a power pitcher who has transformed himself from thrower to a pitcher who really seems to understand what it takes to be a consistent winner in the big leagues. He is also a solid guy who is well liked in the clubhouse and he should be a fixture on the North Side for the next several years. Beyond that, there is nothing else left that I wouldnt trade in the right deal.
This season has to be about two things and that is clearing out players who dont figure to be a part of the future and finding out exactly what is on the roster that can fill a need long term. Thats it.
The 2012 Chicago Cubs have no chance of winning consistently and no chance of turning around a rough start to their season.
But none of that matters. All that does matter is using this season as a lab experiment to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and the big league club. Anything other than that is a waste of a season that offers that opportunity. And these types of opportunities dont come along very often.
All in all, there is not much on the current roster that looks like it will be a lock to be here when the rebuild turns from also-ran to contender status in 2014 or 2015. That means the Cubs front office has to get as much as they can for just about anyone on the roster despite how painful it may be in the short term to the fan base and ultimately attendance and perception.
Epstein has been given a rare opportunity in sports by having an owner who is committed to the long-term plan and is willing to also show the patience to let it play out. He and Jed Hoyer cannot squander this opportunity no matter how loud the protestations get from the fans and the media.
In the end, if they build a consistent run of high-level success, the pains of 2012-14 will be a distant memory. And that is all that matters.