Cubs fans may be some of the most patient, or tolerant fans depending on your point of view. The phrase “Wait till Next Year” is synonymous with the Cubs. Unfortunately in recent history we have uttered that phrase far too early in the summer.
As the Ricketts family made the purchase of the Cubs, we switched from the Tribune to a family of Cubs fans. Where the ability to throw money at players was possible before, and used, it only lead to short term success, and long term financial backlash. In step the Ricketts family, Theo, and Jed. Quickly the process began of identifying talent within the organization. Rizzo and Castro were the first of those two. This was the first noticeable step to cementing what the Cubs future plans were. Identify young prospects, sign long term at a lower rate, and build for the future.
In my lifetime, the Cubs have never lacked in the ability to draw fans. But this year was different. This was the worst year since the ’98 campaign, when Sosa and McGwire went at it for the home run record. That’s saying something as that was the year that in my mind brought baseball back from the strike of 94-95. Recovering from a stoppage in play is always difficult. But that season was magical in what it brought to our sets on WGN, but there were still many bitter baseball fans that year.
Fast forward to this summer. The Cubs have made it very clear that the check book is tight, and we won’t be doling out money for high priced free agency. No sir. It’s a build from within strategy. Which isn’t a terrible concept. My father used to always say to me, “If what you have always been doing isn’t working, try something else.” That’s sound advice.
During the years of the Tribune and Jim Hendry, the Cubs spent a good chunk of change on talent. We brought in Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, signed what looked like a good deal in Carlos Zambrano, and rented Nomar Garciaparra for a short time. This was the Hendry way. And the Cubs saw some good years.
Move to 2012, we still had the burden of the Soriano contract, but had rid ourselves of the rest of them. Big Z for Volstad, which didn’t work out. And Theo and Jed began to do what they do. Sign low risk, high reward players. Baker, Feldman, Navarro. Then they deal Feldman for solid talent from the O’s. Deal Soriano in what many would call a push at best as Soriano played well down the stretch. But what good would he have really been to this club? Not much.
Now, here we are, off-season. The message is clear. Build from within. No high priced signings. There is speculation of a Price, or an Ellsbury. But the reality is a tight budget with the anticipation of the young kids making their way to the senior circuit. And I’m okay with that. Many Cubs fans won’t be. Much of the fan base has waited many years for a winner. And the fact is, we will continue to wait. But for good reason. The Cubs for many years have lacked a solid farm system. No longer is that the case. There are some great positional players waiting in the wings. Jed and Theo have done a tremendous job of stockpiling talent. But what does that mean to the average Cubs fan?
Success at the minor league level doesn’t appease the average fan. Most don’t know the success of the Cubs farm system. But it’s great, and most Cubs fans need to know. The future is bright, even though it doesn’t seem so. The talent is right there on the horizon, and will be to Wrigley soon. So be patient Cubs fans. Epstein, Hoyer, and the Ricketts family have a great plan in place. It may be difficult to see now. But in the long run, it is something to be appreciated.