Cubs should see the Orioles as a cautionary tale on rebuilds

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /

The Baltimore Orioles are in town for a brief two-game stint against the Chicago Cubs and given the state of these two clubs, it’s sure to generate headlines. One team is in the midst of a nine-game winning streak while the other just got swept and has dropped five straight games. Just as the Orioles are perhaps turning a corner, the Cubs are looking to strip it down to the studs for the second straight year.

Despite their recent success though, the Orioles should serve as a cautionary tale of why rebuilds aren’t a guarantee. This hot stretch may have gotten them to a somewhat competitive position, but it’s important to acknowledge how they got here in the first place. The O’s have spent the last five years drafting at or near the top of the league with truly dreadful records year after year. Over that stretch, they have three seasons of 100+ losses. In two of those, they tallied 110 or more losses.

While they’ve accrued some quality pieces in that time like Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins and former number one overall pick Adley Rutschman, that’s a long journey back to being relevant. Even now, they’re just a .500 club and still unlikely to make the postseason. Some of those pieces are even considered plausible trade candidates. Mullins’ name has been tossed around for years, signaling that they’re biding their time not just for a few good players, but a whole core from scratch.

Critically, during this rebuild, their payroll has also been miniscule. In 2022, it’s just over $45 million, putting them a whole $100 million below the league average. Even when those good pieces have started showing up, spending has been at a minimum to get a big piece that could anchor them. For the Cubs, that’s not a reality they should have to endure. For the Orioles to have a team playing well on that payroll is just a reality of drafting high year after year, not vindication that the strategy is good.

Orioles lack of spending and long development process should concern Cubs

This is not an endorsement of spending with reckless abandon. The Cubs are where they are not just from a lack of spending, but also shoddy development and poor decisions under the Epstein regime. Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease, Isaac Paredes, Jeimer Candelario, or insert Cubs prospect who blossomed elsewhere would’ve helped the team greatly, but they couldn’t make that happen.

What it does say, however, is that tanking isn’t the straightforward path to success that 2016 might suggest. There were a lot of bumps in the road during the Orioles’ rebuild and even if they’re finally turning a corner, that doesn’t mean it was worth all this. The Cubs have the resources to supplement this team and avoid a longer uncompetitive period and they’re in a division that’s completely winnable. Believing that a new core has to come completely from the farm before you can spend is folly.

Moreover, they’re now, finally, showing some positive signs for next year. Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele are taking those critical steps forward to being good starters for 2023. Meanwhile, Seiya Suzuki has looked good in his return and Nico Hoerner continues making strides, cementing himself as a top-tier shortstop. Even PJ Higgins is making his way into the conversation for starting catcher next year with high marks from his teammates. It’ll take considerable spending, sure, but being competitive next year certainly isn’t out of the question.

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The Cubs need to look inward at the mistakes of the past and to the struggles of other teams to see the path forward here. Getting back to relevance shouldn’t be about waiting endlessly until “the time is right.” They need to make improvements to this roster and take notable steps forward next year. Whether that means swinging some good trades or picking up a big shortstop in free agency is up to Jed Hoyer.