Chicago Cubs: Don’t blame player development (too much) for collapse

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs / Theo Epstein
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /

With each passing year since winning it all in 2016, the Chicago Cubs continued a slow, gradual decline that ultimately came to a head in late July, when the front office embarked on a complete teardown of the beloved core. From a Baseball Reference WAR total of 56.1 in 2016, the Cubs annual team total declined to 46.5 in 2019 before plummeting to just 16.6 this year.

Those 16.6 wins are just four more than the Cubs amassed last year in fewer than half the games. We are witnessing the hardest of landings. In a recent post, we delved into how the 2016 roster was primed for significant regression. The Cubs have never really recouped those losses, preventing the wished-for dynasty from taking shape.

One obvious potential culprit is the player development system. Theo Epstein took over the Cubs in August, 2011, intending to revamp the Cubs’ moribund scouting and player development operations.

It’s easy to laugh this off as empty management-speak. No incoming baseball executive proclaims their intention to scout erratically and develop washouts. But here Epstein seems to have largely walked the walk.