Monday, July 15, 2013
Cubs first half: It's still about the future
By Jesse Rogers
The key to the Cubs' latest roster re-tooling will be finding the right trade for Matt Garza by July 31.
CHICAGO -- Selling season has come early for the Chicago Cubs this year, not that anyone should be surprised by it. But it is a reminder about what we're dealing with here -- considering that even before the All-Star break the Cubs brass has decided another season at hand is lost. Many times a front office will at least wait to see if there is any surge in the standings before the July 31 trade deadline.
That's not the case in Chicago these days. If any statistic from the first half describes how the Cubs feel about their team it's this: They set a franchise record using 43 players, two more than the old record set in 2001. That's not an organization ready to win.
No, this season was probably over before it started. And we can dissect and lament what went wrong -- mostly the bullpen -- but that would be a waste of energy. The bottom line is the Cubs were only going to be good enough to compete this year if the season was simply one of those magical years that happens for a team, one that comes out of nowhere.
Alas, that wasn't the case for the Cubs, not with Carlos Marmol starting the year as the closer. It eliminated any special start to the season and basically the Cubs have been treading water since. Yes, they've had some nice starting pitching but even that has started to go backwards.
And now the inevitable second half slide is upon us. If the mood in the clubhouse wasn't down before, then wait until Matt Garza is traded. That's this year's white flag. At least in the clubhouse it is. Anyone watching knew this was going to happen again. The Cubs are retooling for the future yet again.
It's still anyone's guess when that future is upon us. There were mixed signals from the first half of the season which concluded with the Cubs winning 42 games while dropping 51. The fact that their lone All-Star, Travis Wood, took a huge step in the first half meant the starting staff took one as well. But that was assuming Garza would be around and Edwin Jackson would eventually get better. Jackson is improving, but Garza isn't long for the Cubs.
The moment Garza is traded is the moment the Cubs will be looking to replace him. Scott Feldman is gone and Carlos Villanueva has come back to earth after a nice start. So the one strength from the first half won't really be one going forward. They might be good but good won't be enough.
In the field, core players needed to take steps and so far Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have struggled overall. Some of that isn't surprising but it is a reminder we're not dealing with Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera or Bryce Harper here. In other words, the Cubs might have some good players but it remains to be seen if they are all-world talents. What's wrong with hoping the Cubs could employ one if other teams do?
Maybe that all-world player will come from their minor league system which they continue to populate with new prospects. Top pick Kris Bryant came from the draft in June while pitcher Jake Arrieta came via trade (from the Baltimore Orioles for Feldman) in July. More will be acquired as the Cubs play a simple math game. Losing games means more trades and higher draft picks which means the percentage of prospects that make the team might remain the same but the total number should increase. That's the hope of course.
Right now, the Cubs can envision Junior Lake in left field, Albert Almora in center and Jorge Soler in right. Bryant can man third, Javier Baez or Castro at shortstop, Logan Watkins or maybe Baez at second and Rizzo at first. Welington Castillo could still be behind the plate when all this happens.
We know all those names aren't all going to make it. Some will flame out, some will be moved for pitching or another prospect that might need a change of scenery. But the more talent the Cubs acquire the better the chances more will make it. We just have to wait a few years still. Think about the one "promotion" of those names in the first half. Baez went from Class-A to Double-A. That's it. Bryant is just starting his pro career and most of the pitching the Cubs like is down in those lower levels of the minors as well.
The Cubs are still a long way from contending. There were good moments in the first half, some good waiver wire pickups and some nice surprises, but it was all just a reminder the Cubs are still far from contending.
The good news remains the same though: When it happens, it should happen quickly and last for awhile.