2012 Organizational Rankings: #14 – Chicago Cubs

Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80 (50 representing league average) with extra weight given to 2012 and Revenue rankings.

2012 Organizational Rankings

#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York NL
#19 – Los Angeles
#18 – Colorado
#17 – Miami
#16 — Arizona
#15 — Cincinnati

Chicago’s 2011 Ranking: #19

2012 Outlook: 35 (28th)

Here is a chart of all the teams ranked so far.

Two notable items: (1) The Chicago Cubs have the best Revenue rank and Operations rank of all the teams listed so far, but the third-worst 2012 Outlook. And (2) their rounded overall rating (50) is the same as the two preceding clubs, as well as the next (unseen) club — call it the Mystery Team. So there are four teams stuck at average, or a 50 rating.

For the Cubs, being average is bad. Boasting one of the oldest franchises and one of the oldest dry spells, the Cubs and their fans eagerly await a return to the dominant days of Moredcai “Three Finger” Brown and Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers (ee-vers), and Frank Chance.

The Cubs finished the 2011 at 71-91, and while the MLB has a few surprise teams every year, it would be a surprise on a surprise if the Cubs made the playoffs in 2012. The rotation — Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad, and Paul Maholm — is not bad (depending on one’s perspective of Samardzija). But the team has had a “not bad” (pitchers with FIPs in the 3.40 to 3.80 range) top five for years. Pitching depth, though? Not so much. This year, the Cubs seem to have better depth than in years past (Travis Wood, Randy Wells, Casey Coleman, and Rodrigo Lopez will all be percolating in Triple-A), but that is an easy benchmark to pass.

The Cubs also hope for better defense in 2012. The Rays led the majors with a .735 defensive efficiency rating, while the Cubs tied the fourth-from-last Astros with .699. Interestingly, every team under a .702 defensive efficiency rating in 2011 had a losing record, and three of the bottom five had less than 60 wins.

Ian Stewart and David DeJesus will hopefully bring considerable improvements over Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome, and Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd continue to quietly provide strong defense across the outfield, but the club needs to see some improvement from Starlin Castro (-8.7 UZR in 2011) or else Darwin Barney may move back to his original position and swap with Castro.

Despite the Sammy Sosa era, the years with a lineup stocked with 40-homer hitters, the Cubs have had a 92 wRC+ since 2000. In the Jim Hendry era, defense, base-running, and walks took a back seat to radar gun numbers and dingers. The Epstein group has begun to re-work that approach, but the Cubs’ offense probably won’t taste the fruits of that effort just yet. As it stands, the Cubs enter the season looking to improve their 91 wRC+ from last season, but with Bryan LaHair an unproven asset, Geovany Soto struggling with injuries and effectiveness, and Alfonso Soriano reduced to a lefty-masher over the last half decade, it may be too early in the rebuild to hope for an improved Cubs offense.

2013+ Outlook: 40 (27th)

The Cubs do not have a good farm system. Jim Hendry reached the GM position on the weight of his impressive work with the Cubs’ player development and scouting department, but history has somewhat tainted those impressions. Felix Pie, Corey Patterson, Rich Hill, and Luis Montanez number among the altogether uninspiring once-top-prospects from Hendry’s early days as GM.

When Epstein and Co. took over, they left much of the Hendry scouting department in tact, so we can assume the previous regime was doing some things right — they did, after all, produce Sean Marshall, Starlin Castro, Geovany Soto, and a number of other strong players over the years — but in general, one could easily argue the Cubs have failed in an area they should have succeeded.

Let’s compare Baseball America’s top ten lists from 2004 for Cubs and Red Sox:

2004 Baseball America Top Prospects

Rank Cubs Red Sox
1 Angel Guzman Hanley Ramirez
2 Justin Jones Kelly Shoppach
3 Ryan Harvey David Murphy
4 Andy Sisco Kevin Youkilis
5 Felix Pie Matt Murton
6 Bobby Brownlie Chad Spann
7 Chadd Blasko Abe Alvarez
8 Brendan Harris Jon Lester
9 Dave Kelton Juan Cedeno
10 Jae Kuk Ryu Manny Delcarmen

The right column has only two guys who never reached the majors and features a large number of successful MLB careers; the left column has four career minor leaguers and the rest have never been key contributors or starters outside of Brendan Harris.

I chose 2004 at random, but I challenge anyone to compare any Jim Hendry year with a Theo Epstein year and not find the Cubs lacking. All this to say: The Cubs farm system, which features Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson, Trey McNutt, and young Javier Baez, ranks No. 22 in Marc Hulet’s rankings, but certainly has the resources and know-how to improve. With the present talent in the system, though, 2013 and on looks like more of the same: Small successes and big disappointments.

Financial Resources: 66 (2nd)

For those not living in the Chicago area, it may be a surprise to learn that Wrigley Field is kind of gross. Historical, yes, but still kind of nasty. Here’s what the Cubs’ clubhouse looks like — after a recent re-design. Here’s a tour of the Royal’s clubhouse — in 2008. The Wrigley bathrooms remind users of Oz, the outfield wall is a health hazard to outfielders, the under-workings look like a sci fi spaceship in disrepair, and the (present) lack of a jumbotron results in a number of fans turning to their cell phones sooner than in other stadiums. Still, they sell out that magnificent, dying beast almost regardless of how terrible the team is. Ticket sales and TV viewership have been struggling since last season, but the team still compares favorably to all but maybe two organizations when it comes to fan loyalty and the willingness of fans to pay for sub-par products.

Add to that insanity that the Cubs owner, Tom Ricketts, is trying to get out of the team’s current lackluster television deal and is pursuing a new one. As in: He wants his own network like how the Yankees have the YES Network. In Craig Robinson’s book, Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure, he has a particular infographic showing MLB payrolls from 1990 through 2010. In 2002, when the YES Network was founded, the Yankees went from being in the Top 10 payrolls to perennially being the No. 1 payroll and by a wide, loud margin. If the Cubs can get their own YES-like network, they could reasonably begin to challenge even the Yankees’ absurd payroll capacity.

And that would be incredible.

Baseball Operations: 60 (6th)

What can be said about the Epstein front office that has not been already said, printed, digitally published, and tattooed on Red Sox fan’s meaty upper arms? They have a litany of great results and the ideal process to go with it. Epstein has reunited with Jed Hoyer, as well as Jason McLeod, who will oversee the returning duo of Oneri Fleita and Tim Wilken, and the rest of the Cubs’ player development and scouting department.

The Cubs, for the longest time one of the last vestiges of the scouting-only approach to personnel decisions, now have a seemingly complete blend of scouts, statisticians, and business people (the Ricketts family is a infinity-fold upgrade over the Tribune owners). If this front office can fulfill just a sliver of the expectations surrounding them, the NL Central could be theirs to own for many years.

Overall: 50 (14th)

Given the methodology we employed this time around, the Cubs payroll and payroll potential plays a huge role in their No. 14 ranking. Their farm system is relatively uninspiring; their on-field offering for 2012 should be pretty miserable; and their baseball operations department has not yet had even 12 months in command. Still, the Cubs are moving up, and in a league where disparities in payroll have determined which teams succeed more than most other leagues, the Cubs may not stop moving up until they are at the top.

In 2010, we ranked the Chicago Cubs No. 18. In 2011, we put them at No. 19. That gives them the 8th biggest improvement this season when they moved up to No. 14. With last year’s ranking, Joe Pawlikowski rightly diagnosed the situation at the time:

For a while it appeared as though the Cubs were headed for big things. They made some splashes, and in 2007 and 2008 won the NL Central. But behind the scenes things weren’t completely set in place.

And now, for the first time in the last decade, the inverse is true. The splashes are gone and the team may appear uninspired, but behind the scenes, big things are taking place.




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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

37 Responses to “2012 Organizational Rankings: #14 – Chicago Cubs”

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  1. Brett says:

    Maybe Baseball America was just crappy at ranking prospects back in 2004.

    (I kid.)

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  2. MrKnowNothing says:

    Wrigley truly is a dump.

    -12 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Eminor3rd says:

      It really is.

      -16 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Snapper says:

        I wish someone would tear down Yankee Stadium 3 and give us that kind of dump.

        Wrigley and Fenway are awesome! If I want a comfy chair and replay on a big screen, and a nice bathroom, I’ll watch on TV in my den.

        +31 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Math Nerd says:

        It may be a dive bar, but who hates a dive bar?

        +21 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • My echo and bunnymen says:

        I’ll take Yankee 3 over Fenway anyday, I’m sorry but paying $60 for a wooden seat at a baseball game is not my idea of a good time. I love baseball, but Fenway is a horrible stadium, but the fans and atmosphere are wonderful.

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    • Snapper says:

      I wish someone would tear down the new Yankee Stadium and give us that kind of dump.

      I find it hard to imagine how any baseball fan could not like Wrigley or Fenway.

      If I want a comfy chair and replay on a big screen, i’ll watch in my den.

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    • Peter O says:

      I have to disagree. You want to spend the game hanging out on the concourses, sure it’s pretty subpar. But I don’t think you can find a more beautiful and enjoyable baseball experience from a seat in the low 200 or 400 level.

      +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Johnny Come Lately says:

      Wrigley is a great place to watch a game. The fact that there’s no jumbotron should give it a +1000. It forces you to watch what’s happening on the field, as there is no replay. There’s no commercials blasting between innings. There’s no rap or heavy metal or any other kind of crap blaring through the speakers. It’s just baseball, the way it was meant to be seen. (you know, except for the perennial losing)

      Modern amenities are great, but at what cost? I don’t need to watch blooper highlights between innings, or know that this at bat is brought to me by Ford, or whatever. Just give me baseball. I hope Wrigley lasts forever.

      +29 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Eminor3rd says:

    Current Outlook and future outlook both in the bottom four, and yet they rank in the upper half. That’s a ton of confidence in the new regime. The payroll flexibility is huge, sure, but I guess I feel like you shouldn’t bet on the the FO building the future talent into a winner until you can at least say that you HAVE some future talent to use. I mean they’re basically ranked 14th because we believe that Epstein/Hoyer will be able to not just develop, but FIND new talent in the future.

    I don’t know if I’m being clear or not. I just don’t see how 27th/28th current and future talent can be 14th overall org.

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    • NBarnes says:

      I think the point here is, if you had the Yankees at 27th current and 28th future talent but left their FO and money intact, how long do you think that those rankings would stay in the bottom quartile range? The Cubs don’t quite have Yankee money, but they’re surprisingly close.

      And a lot of fans and no small number of FOs would trade all their hopes and dreams for 2012 to have the Cubs’ financial base being run by Not Jim Hendry.

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    • DrunkenSuperman says:

      The scouting personnel they’ve kept on board never had a problem finding talent either, and there’s a decent amount in the system now. Lots of formerly regarded Cubs prospects got good reviews across the board from scouts. For as long as I’ve been a Cub fan, the problem has been developing that talent, especially on offense, a trend I hope Josh Vitters is the last example of. Years and years of teaching kids to hack away has resulted in Geovany Soto being the best position player developed by the team in the last 20 years, which is rather sad.

      I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to say that the new regime should show marked improvement in what they get out of their farm system, if for no other reason than a complete overhaul of organizational philosophy.

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    • Chuck says:

      Yeah, the flipside is the Cubs, with all their resources and free-spending fanbase, are only ranked 14th.

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  4. adohaj says:

    “Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd continue to quietly provide strong defense across the outfield”

    Wait. you just said Soriano provides strong defense. Have you watched him play? UZR be damned. The eye test says no, hell no.

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    • SC2GG says:

      Maybe it meant that Soriano was a strong guy, and he provided some defense. Like, more than would exist if he just wasn’t there at all.

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    • SporTEmINd says:

      Soriano isn’t a good defender, but he is better than his perception. People thought he was a terrible defender when he moved to the outfield and ran on him a lot, which is why he got a bunch of assists. They’ve adjusted now. He is a below-average defender, but he is better than the media and people make him out to be.

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    • Bad Bill says:

      I believe “-smelling” was omitted inadvertently from this sentence at a key point.

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  5. Greg says:

    I disagree with ranking the Cubs 2nd in financial resources. Sure, they have the *potential* to be very high, but currently on a year to year basis I wouldn’t put them above the Red Sox or Phillies. Hell, if we’re putting so much weight into how much a team can possibly make in the future, I’m not sure why the Mets aren’t #2. They actually have a TV network which you said would be required for the Cubs to maximize their financial resources, and the owners’ liquidity problems won’t be as big of a deal now that they’ve settled with Picard (and are possibly only on the hook for $29 million) and the sale of the Dodgers boosting the value of the Mets to allow them some extra equity for loan purposes.

    +10 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Daniel says:

      I also disagree with that ranking, mainly because we haven’t seen what the owners are willing to spend yet. They’ve made all the right noises so far but that won’t necessarily translate into bonanza contracts either.

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  6. Kyle Mayhugh says:

    Still too low on the Cubs prospects. I know these rankings are slow to move, but the Cubs are a lot closer to 14th than 22nd in the minors right now.

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  7. CircleChange11 says:

    Despite the Sammy Sosa era, the years with a lineup stocked with 40-homer hitters, the Cubs have had a 92 wRC+ since 2000. In the Jim Hendry era, defense, base-running, and walks took a back seat to radar gun numbers and dingers. The Epstein group has begun to re-work that approach, but the Cubs’ offense probably won’t taste the fruits of that effort just yet.

    Am I the only one that forgets that the Cubs had a young trio of Prior, Wood, Zambrano? That’s a pretty talented group of young players from a scouting department that just relied on radar guns.

    If this front office can fulfill just a sliver of the expectations surrounding them, the NL Central could be theirs to own for many years.

    As a Cardinals fans, I laughed out loud at this.

    The sentence starts with an “IF” and ends up with the Cubs dominating the division.

    It’s like deja vu all over again.

    In regards to Theo, I like what he’s done. I respect him as a FO exec, but I’m more inclined to wait and see rather than expect him to even come close to what he contributed in Boston.

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    • themiddle54 says:

      The amount of dough Theo and Jed can spend next year on FA > the amount any other NL Central team can spend on total payroll + draft bonuses + international signings + BP balls + janitorial staff next year. They probably won’t spend it. But that money buys 20 wins if done right. I think a lot of commenters are neglecting their incredible financial might relative to the rest of the mid- and small -market teams in their division. Once Houston is gone the other NL Central teams COMBINED have 1.1 million fewer residents. That market size muscle is why it’s almost impossible for them to ever be bottom half.

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      • John says:

        Draft bonuses don’t matter any more now that the CBA caps the spending. International Spending is limited also, so the only real positives the Cubs have are Total Payroll, BP Balls, and Janitorial Staff next year.

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      • themiddle54 says:

        Not total payroll. Available payroll. They can spend ANOTHER 110 mil next year above the 34 that is committed now, more than their competition can spend total. No one else in the NLC is in their league.

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  8. Ryan says:

    The Cubs stink and so does their farm. The Marlins have a good team and $$ to spend. The Rockies are pretty decent across the board. The Diamondbacks look legit and should get better. The Reds have a contending unit and a well run organization.

    Because the Cubs have the potential to be run well and the potential to have their own network they rank better than these organizations? How long will it take? Where is this great next Cubs team going to come from? What are the building blocks, other than Theo? Garza? Starling? Uh… Rizzo? Seriously.

    I’d take teams like the Mariners, Royals and Dodgers over the Cubs.

    Chicago Cubs: #26

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    • Dan says:

      The Cubs are headed in the right direction. They have one of the most talented front offices in all of baseball. They spent huge money in last year’s amateur draft. They have tremendous resources at their disposal. It doesn’t happen overnight, but this is a very exciting time to be Chicago Cubs fan.

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  9. Bip says:

    So, not having read this yet, I never would thought the Cubs would place nearly as high as 14. I’m prepared to be surprised by some things I read.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      1. Very saber-friendly GM
      2. Large market

      I thought the Cubs would be top 10, and possibly this year’s version of #6org.

      Theo was a GM in Boston, a longtime suffering, but loyal, fanbase & organization and through great drafting (and sabermetric applications) they became more successful and really dove in with spending and became a top 3 organization.

      I think the assumption is that it’s just a matter of time that TE does the same thing with the Cubs.

      IMO, just like Beane could never duplicate his drafts from the late 90s, Theo won’t be able to duplicate his drafts from the early 2000s … and the pressure to “wit now, already” is going to force some premature veteran signings and end up being Crawford and Lackey deals.

      I think at the end of his Chicago tenure, the overall conclusion may be that the Hendry guy wasn’t so bad afterall … in part, due to the unrealistic and overly lofty expectations that Cubbies and fans have for the team.

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      • david says:

        i don’t think cubs fans have very high expectations. further, i think they expect failure and accept failure.

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      • Daniel says:

        Jesus how do you get up in the morning, CircleChange, with an attitude like that? Some depressed crystal ball you have there.

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  10. CJ says:

    What I think people are missing is that HAVING MONEY MATTERS. Look at the Yankees; would it even matter if they had a 30th ranked farm system? Would it matter if they had 30th ranked present talent?

    Probably, but not nearly as much as their ability to pay good players a lot of money to play baseball for them.

    I’m much, much happier about the Cubs’ ability to make playoffs in 5-10 years (when we really can’t guess who’s even in MLB) than the Rays’ chances. And you actually do have to factor that sort of thing in.

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    • themiddle54 says:

      Agree with CJ. I’d day there are better odds, for example, that 2018 Longoria is a Cub than a Ray.

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  11. All the upside relies on Epstein replicating what he did in Boston and Ricketts replicating what Steinbrenner did in NY. But markets are dynamic and early innovations rarely deliver the same return on the second, third and fourth tries.

    Is Epstein still innovating or is he committed to “his way”? Are Epstein’s organization methods now status quo among his average competitors, while the more talented are now superseding? Have local rights compensation risen to create equilibrium between, say, St Louis’ local rights deal and the Cubs hypothetical regional sports networks? I dunno, but that future seems too uncertain to definitively outweigh the Cubs current suckitude.

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  12. Paulie L. says:

    This ranking appears to be a little too optimistic. The Cubs major league roster is filled with garbage and they have a mediocre minor league system that has retained 2 of the individuals responsible, Fleita and Wilken.

    Ricketts borrowed about $400m to purchase the Cubs and Wrigley requires anywhere from $200m to $400m in renovations which might sap some of the expected resources.

    Also, regarding the TV network that Ricketts would like to start, he first has to get out of his current deals which might not be that easy. According to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times the Cubs WGN deal ends after 2014, but their deal with Comcast SportsNet, which has about half of all Cubs games doesn’t expire until after the 2019 season.

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  13. Shane H says:

    The book is still out on Epstein as far as I am concerned. I’m not sure how much pull he had in Boston in the first place. With Lucchino and a hands on owner in Henry I think he was largely a pretty face for the cameras. I do think he contributed some strong philosophies to the organization however I think he gets more credit for drafting players and player development than he likely deserves. The Sox have drafted well but they have excellent scouts and player developments. I also believe that Henry listened to Epstein but Lucchino always pulled just as much weight with Henry. It’s been well documented that the 2000 drafts and personel decisions were a community effort and we don’t know how much power Epstein actually had. The Red Sox were moving towards a saber oriented franchise when Henry bought the team as he hired Bill James a tear before hiring Epstein. I believe this is why Epstein left Boston. He wanted to be the man which he was not in Boston. In Chicago he is gonna be the man and 5-7 years from now we will know what kind of executive he really is. All that being said listing the Cubs front office sixth is perhaps overly optimistic. Bottom line is we don’t know who Theo is and what kind of baeball ops guy he really is yet. My feeling is he never really was more than a voice in the room in Boston. Why else would he leave his childhood dream job. He wanted to be the one really pulling the strings and will get that opportunity in Chicago. In Boston He raised ideas more than made decisions. Henry and Lucchino have had the final say in Boston since that group bought the team and it will always remain that way as long as they are around. Ideas that I am pretty sure were Theo’s are Ortiz, Millar, Renteria, Clement, Lugo, Drew and Crawford.

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