“At the beginning of the offseason I’m watching the moves A.J.’s making. It’s incredible, the change,” Shields said. “The teams that I was looking at, I knew that they were going to win and win now. That’s what I loved about San Diego and what the ownership’s doing right now is they have that win-now mentality. Not only now, but in the next four, five years. I’m looking forward to doing my part.”
– James Shields, San Diego Padres SP, after signing 4-year, $75 million dollar contract in February 2015
It wasn’t that long ago that James Shields threw serious shade on what the Cubs are building. When he signed with the Padres, he was going from the best team in baseball currently (Kansas City) to a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2006. You could imagine my confusion when he left a team that is winning now (Royals), for a team that isn’t winning so much (Padres), all while snubbing a team that is primed to win for the next decade – the Chicago Cubs.
I remember having two separate conversations with a couple of buddies of mine about the Cubs. One took place a little over a year ago and the other just after the 2013 season. They’re Cubs fans, and wanted to know my honest opinion about where I thought they would be in the near future. My response, without hesitating, was the Cubs would be one of the best teams in baseball within a year and a half. That wasn’t me being nice because they are my buddies (I wouldn’t do that), it was me letting them know that despite 101 losses in 2012, 96 losses in 2013, and 89 losses a season ago there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that what Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer were doing would work.
And it is working.
The Cubs, recent winners of four straight before last night’s loss to the Dodgers, still find themselves 7.5 games out of first in the Central Division; and if the playoffs were to begin today would only have a road Wild Card game to prolong any playoff dreams. But none of that matters because the foundation (that impressive young foundation) is set and ready to make this team a contender.
So how did they make baseball in Wrigley relevant again? Obviously smart trades (Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, and Jake Arrieta) and the amateur draft (Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Albert Almora) have a lot to do with it; but not enough credit is given to the work they’ve done scouting and signing players internationally.
Jorge Soler is just the tip of the iceberg when you consider four of the Cubs top-12 prospects are international signees. Gleyber Torres, Jen-Ho Tseng, and Jeimer Candelario give the Cubs an embarrassment of riches in the now overflowing Cubs minor league system. All of them are no older than 21 and all of them are cost controlled for the next five to six years.
What the Cubs are doing is the way things should be done when building a team for sustainable contention.
The next step is to dive further into free agency after the 2015 season (David Price? Zack Greinke? Alex Gordon? Jason Heyward?). The beauty of a fruitful farm system is the low costs allow for major signings when you need them. Playing in a market like Chicago and operating like it’s Tampa Bay makes things that much more scary when you’re the rest of the league.
I can’t predict anything, but to say the Cubs 107-year World Series title drought will end by 2017 or 2018 (if not sooner) isn’t a stretch.