Chicago Cubs: Teams following Theo Epstein’s model in rebuilding

Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

The target is firmly placed on the Chicago Cubs as the rebuilding work is completed. It all paid off. Now, other teams are following the path.

The plan worked.

When President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein took over the reigns of the Chicago Cubs in 2011, talk of a complete overhaul started. He did it in Boston, and won multiple World Series with the Red Sox. He broke the “Curse of the Bambino,” and now the “Curse of the Goat” is abolished at this hands. Many people believed it would take seven years to contend for a championship. It took four contend. Five to win it all.

The “Cubs Way” was initiated. And it was not about the play on the field, but the organization as a whole. Epstein stated the following in an Chicago Tribune article in September 2015:

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"“The Cubs Way” really boils down to the people.  The players, obviously, but then all the scouts, all the people in the minor leagues, here in the big leagues.  It’s more than words on a page.  It comes down to how deep we dig to get connected to players, to teach the game the right way, how much we care, how committed we are, how we treat each other in the front office, the coaches, the players, how hard we work.”"

And now, after winning the World Series, other teams are following suit.

The Chicago Cubs Way

We have all heard the saying “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”  These words were penned by English author Charles Caleb Colton. He also is credited for saying “Patience is the support of weakness; impatience the ruin of strength.” The way the Chicago Cubs traveled to the World Series took patience, even when returns appeared to be ahead of schedule. Now, the future is bright.

The formula was simple to set, but hard to follow. It meant sending Carlos Zambrano to the Miami Marlins, while paying $15 of the $18 million owed to him. Or trading Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers, and getting unknown talent in return. Of course, that prospect was Kyle Hendricks. It meant trading away players for more prospects, signing little known free agents, and building through the draft year after year.

And, once the team started to perform, more moves to solidify them as a contender began. Anthony Rizzo was called up, Starlin Castro was performing, and the prospects improved. What once was a farm system is shambles was now the best in all of baseball. Patience supported the weaknesses, and now the Chicago Cubs turned a corner.

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Flattery from others

What works for the Cubs is now the model for many franchises. Building through the farm system has always been a priority, but the focus was not on gathering offense first.

The Atlanta Braves acquired Dansby Swanson from Arizona for Shelby Miller, building around their centerpiece in Freddie Freeman. The San Diego Padres’ trio of Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe and Austin Hedges are the offensive pillars upon which the team is laying as their foundation. And, the New York Yankees grabbed Gleyber Torres from the Cubs for Aroldis Chapman, in hopes he supports Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez.

Each of the above teams each hold five of the top 50 MLB Prospects according to Keith Law. They are also the teams with the top three farm systems in all of baseball. But it is not just the prospects that matter. The Cubs signed key free agents in addition to you work with the young players. The Braves brought in Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Sean Rodriguez this offseason to compliment moves made the last two years. Matt Holiday joins Castro on the Yankees as the team continues to gain a veteran presence.

Following the crowd

More than just these teams, but others are starting to follow the plan of retooling from within first. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers are both working to improve their minor league affiliates, and now rank in the top 10 systems. Conversely, the Cubs moved to 17th overall due to the movement of talent to the Major League club.

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While the future is bright for the Chicago Cubs, teams are starting to follow their lead. It will not be long before others are contending long term. The time of the Cubs is now. The window of opportunity is wide open, but with every season, it will close a bit. The Cubs will only compete as long as they keep the core players together. That is the new Cubs Way.