Commentary

Wins don't concern Cubs in 2012

Theo's stumbling crew looks like a team to be reckoned with -- in 2014

Updated: April 21, 2012, 5:26 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Dale Sveum took another step in his evolution as Chicago Cubs manager Friday. He did his first pregame chat about a Kerry Wood move to the disabled list.

Enjoy it, Dale -- you never know when this day will come again.

[+] EnlargeChris Volstad
Jerry Lai/US PresswireChris Volstad, who gave up four runs in the first inning, dropped to 0-2 with a 6.19 ERA.

For the 16th time in his 14-plus year career, Wood went on the DL. It's a 15-day trip with right shoulder fatigue, and because the move is backdated -- I assume Wood is the Cubs' all-time leader with backdated trips to the DL -- Sveum expects it to be an eight-day stay.

Speaking of Cubs' injury expectations, I saw ex-Cub Todd Hollandsworth in the press box before the game. I was tempted to ask him if he's still "day to day" from that prolonged absence with a shin injury in 2004.

I'm just having a little fun here. I'm sure Wood will be back putting up zeroes in a week or so. Maybe the Cubs will even sneak in a few wins in the meantime, but first they will have to snap that losing streak that was extended to six with a 9-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday.

But what does it say about this organization that Wood is DL'ing it with the Cubs for $3 million and Sean Marshall is the new closer for the Reds for $3.1 million? The guy Marshall was traded for, starting pitcher Travis Wood, has a 5.19 ERA for the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League with Triple-A Iowa.

Here's what it says: The Cubs don't care about winning this year. They care about the illusion of competitiveness -- hence all of Theo Epstein's eyewash moves -- and they want their fans to believe they're getting their money's worth. But no, when the owner lets Marshall go and Wood comes back for the same money, well, it's not hard to figure out where this season fits in the long-term plan: another summer wasted.

Don't get it wrong. The players care. It's too early to count outs. The coaches care. I'm sure Epstein is in unfamiliar territory, too, being used to wins and all. But he has his long-term plan and owner Tom Ricketts has his long-term plan -- which is about monetizing the Cubs' cachet -- but neither involved a real effort to compete this season.

To be fair, much of that has to do with the state of the organization. Salaries come off the book next year. There are some real prospects cooling in the minors -- Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson, mostly. There is no sense in spending to spend. See Byrd, Marlon.

But it was Epstein who said every season was sacred when he was hired.

Way back when at Cubs Convention, I followed by asking Epstein if this team could win this year. What was he going to say, no way in hell? But you had to ask. Here is what he said.

"I know we have young players with upside, players entering their primes or pre-prime years," Epstein said that winter evening. "When you have that, you can surprise a little bit. If we stay healthy, and one or two or three or four of the players we have actually take a big developmental step forward, I think you might look up and be surprised in the middle of the summer."

I don't know if you made it through that quote, but he meant, "No, not this year."

In 2014, the Cubs could be a team to be reckoned with, a team ready to fulfill big-boy expectations. Maybe 2013 when Epstein has money to spend.

But the Cubs came into Friday's game 3-10, as cold as Wrigley Field on Friday morning. The team came in slugging .328, 27th in baseball. Alfonso Soriano still didn't have an extra-base hit. The starting pitching has had more good moments than bad, the bullpen the reverse. The pitchers were 21st in WHIP (1.37) coming in, 26th in ERA, sixth in walks (46) -- well, you get the picture.

"It's still early, but we didn't want to have a rough start," said a frustrated Soriano before the game. "Three and 10? That's not the way we want to be."

[+] EnlargeStarlin Castro
Jerry Lai/US PresswireFew fans braved the cold conditions at Wrigley Field to watch Starlin Castro and the Cubs lose their sixth straight.

You know how it's always 10-15 degrees cooler inside Wrigley? It always feels 50-75 percent more miserable when things go bad, even early. I don't know the record of any other teams, but I knew the Cubs were 3-10.

The combination of chilly weather and a cold team led to a sparse crowd Friday. But I applaud those who showed up, especially the locals. There was no reason to be here. No reason to watch this team.

When I criticize the Cubs, I don't mean to just rip the players, especially the ones who bust it on a daily basis. And I don't mean to suggest that this master plan of Epstein's isn't going to work. He's got a track record and his front office improvements were solid.

But I think something is wrong with an organization when Wood is on the DL, The Noodle is the hottest thing at any corner, and a real-life major leaguer like Marshall was traded for next to nothing. It should make Cubs fans mad. (The good news in that department is a Cubs game has never been cheaper. The secondary ticket market is more flea market right now.)

If you're a Cubs fan, you have every right to think positive toward the future. But don't forget to embrace the present as well.

I can't predict the future, but what I know is that in the present, the Cubs are still very bad, just like you remember them. You would hope things pick up as the season progresses. We're still in the "it's only April" stage, but a 100-loss season looks very possible.

If every season is sacred, then is this team is a desecration? Or is it just another Cubs team? What's the difference, I suppose.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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