Cubs Fans Will Need Patience

Former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein received a hero’s welcome in Chicago on Tuesday as he took the reins of the moribound organization. Epstein’s exploits in Boston – most notably two World Series rings – have Cubs fans hoping that Epstein will end the curse of the goat and deliver the Cubs’ first World Series championship since 1908. The parallels between the Cubs of 2011 and the Red Sox of 2002 that Epstein inherited are numerous. Both are large markets, with high revenues. Both play in revered, but decrepit and small ballparks. Both are allegedly cursed, with excruciatingly painful postseason scars – Bartman, Buckner, Bucky “Bleeping” Dent – intermingled with decades of mediocrity or worse.

Unfortunately for Cubs fans, the parallels between the 2002 Red Sox and the 2011 Cubs end when comparing the talent on hand. The 2002 Red Sox won 93 games and finished 10.5 games behind the New York Yankees in the A.L. East and missed the wild card by 6 games. As the table below indicates, Epstein inherited a roster that included a trio of starting pitchers – Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Tim Wakefield – that combined for 17.6 WAR in 2002, and a core of offensive players led by Manny Ramirez (5.4 WAR), Nomar Garciaparra (4.8 WAR), Johnny Damon (4.1 WAR), and Jason Varitek (2.5 WAR). Out of this group only Garciaparra (0.5 WAR) failed to make a significant contribution to the Red Sox 2004 World Series winning team.


Player 2002 WAR 2004 WAR
Pedro Martinez 8.3 5.7
Derek Lowe 6.0 3.4
Manny Ramirez 5.4 3.7
Nomar Garciaparra 4.8 .5
Johnny Damon 4.1 4.6
Tim Wakefield 3.3 1.9
Trot Nixon 2.8 1.1
Jason Varitek 2.5 4.3

In contrast, the 2011 Cubs won only 71 games and finished 25 games behind Milwaukee in the N.L. Central and 19 games off the wild card pace. The 2002 Red Sox sported five players with a WAR greater than 4, but as you can see in the table below, only Matt Garza (5.0 WAR) met this standard for the 2011 Cubs. Garza is under team control through 2013, and the middle infield duo of Starlin Castro (3.4 WAR) and Darwin Barney (2.2 WAR) is young, promising, and inexpensive. Beyond those three, Epstein is inheriting more bad contracts than useful players. Alfonso Soriano has three years and $57 million left on his contract and is coming off a season in which made outs in 71.1% of his plate appearances and produced 1.3 WAR. Carlos Zambrano is owed $19 million for the 2012 season even though it will be a surprise if he sees the mound for the Cubs. Two of the top three offensive players – Aramis Ramirez (3.6 WAR) and Carlos Pena (2.6 WAR) can be free agents and may not return to the Cubs.

Player 2011 WAR
Matt Garza 5
Aramis Ramirez 3.6
Starlin Castro 3.4
Sean Marshall 2.8
Ryan Dempster 2.8
Carlos Pena 2.6
Darwin Barney 2.2
Geovany Soto 2.1
Marlon Byrd 2
Tony Campana 1.5
Alfonso Soriano 1.3
Reed Johnson 1.3

Epstein’s early moves in Boston provided critical pieces to the 2004 World Series run. His remodeling of the Red Sox roster involved several strokes of brilliance. David Ortiz (4.3 WAR), Bronson Arroyo (4.2 WAR), Mark Bellhorn (3.3 WAR), Keith Foulke (2.1 WAR), and Bill Mueller (1.1 WAR) were relatively inexpensive free agent acquisitions and Curt Schilling (7.3 WAR) was acquired in the famous Thanksgiving dinner trade. There is no doubt that Epstein deserves credit for the work he did remodeling the Red Sox roster, but Cubs fans should realize that their roster is more akin to a tear down than a remodeling project.

As for the future, the Cubs farm system has more depth than the one Epstein inherited in Boston, but few if any of these players can be counted on to contribute immediately. This year’s crop of free agents is deep at first base, but lacking in high impact guys at most other positions. It is too early to assess what Epstein’s short term strategy will be for the Cubs, but if Cubs fans are expecting immediate success, they are in for continued disappointment.



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I am political science professor at the University of North Carolina. I grew up watching the Braves on TBS and acquired Red Sox fandom during the 1986 World Series. My other hobbies include cooking, good red wine, curing meats, and obsessing over Alabama football---Roll Tide! Follow me on Twitter @ProfJRoberts.


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prospectslol
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

What I didn’t see you mention is the Cubs only have 28.8M on the books after 2012 before a couple key arbitration cases – they’ll have the ability to sign anyone they want and reshape this team how they see fit.

This year I expect the Cubs to go bargain bin shopping, but next year they’ll probably be the most aggressive team on the market with that much payroll freed up.

CubsCrazy
Member
4 years 8 months ago

They’d better be. If Matt Kemp is on the market…

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 8 months ago

You really expect them to be able to make a run in 2013? That sounds like a waste of money to me. Unless your payroll is $200M+, you can’t get there solely with free agents. For a guy who’s supposedly interested in sustained long-term competitiveness, that seems like a terrible strategy. Better to build up the farm for at least a couple seasons first.

CubsCrazy
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Who said anything about them competing in ’13? I think even the most gullible Cubs fan knows they’re at least about 2-3 years from being legit contenders…for a title, and not just the “weak” NL Central. However, it would be asinine for the Cubs to not try to plug certain holes (SP and OF especially) through free agency. There’s no guarantee that some of these highly-touted prospects will pan out and there are some pretty good players soon to be free agents after the ’12 season. Pursuing high-priced free agents doesn’t necessarily mean Theo and Co. are scrapping the farm system completely.

prospectslol
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

why is “building up the farm” & “spending on free agents” mutually exclusive?

Realistically, the Cubs should be looking to be over .500 in 2013, and competitive by 2014. The Cubs farm may lack superstar talent but it’s strong up the middle & has a lot of everyday pieces that just need to be built around.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
4 years 8 months ago

Sure, you always need free agents as well. But if you’re acknowledging they’re not contenders in 2013, why bother to sign (significant) free agents in the 2012-2013 offseason? You can wait another year. To the extent that you might want to sign a good undervalued guy while he’s, isn’t that more than made up for by the fact that the first year is (basically) wasted money?

And I’m not saying they shouldn’t sign any free agents. I’m just talking about big money guys. This was in reference to the original poster discussing all the money coming off the books and “they’ll have the ability to sign anyone they want.”

prospectslol
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

because the 2013 market should be loaded with pieces the Cubs actually will need… at positions that aren’t easily filled.

Keith
Guest
Keith
4 years 7 months ago

A waste of money? It’s not like we’re talking about overspending for unneeded players or something.

The Cubs have a decent #1/great #2 in Garza. Castro’s a really nice #1/2 hitter, and Barney is OK as a weak link in the offense, if not something more. Brett Jackson’s got strikeout problems, but he could be a solid #6 hitter, if nothing else, and he has defensive, speed, and power to varying degrees. Even after a ROUGH season, McNutt can still come in and be helpful by late-2012. Vitters somewhat progressed (finally). Soto, Marmol, and Marshall could bring back monsey and useful pieces in trades, and Castillo could replace Soto right away.

They aren’t talking of building a whole team in free agency. Yes, it’s more than one would LIKE to fill, but they’ll need to get 2 corner infielders (unless something goes awesomely right with Vitters/Baez in 2012), 2-3 SPs, and 1 OF. The rest is bench/bullpen stuff that will be fairly easy to deal with (namely with the bullpen, since the open market has a big overflow of talented relievers).

Yes, it will be difficult. Yes, it will be expensive. But they do have SOME pieces that they can incorporate (Castro, Garza, McNutt, Jackson) and a few they can use for trades (Zambrano, Soto, Byrd, Dempster, Wells, Marmol, Marshall), regardless of return.

CubsCrazy
Member
4 years 8 months ago

So…should I hold off on reserving my spot in downtown Chicago for the title parade?

baycomuter
Guest
baycomuter
4 years 8 months ago

There was a great spot to see the last one at the top of the Home Insurance building, the world’s first true skyscraper. Unfortunately, it was torn down in 1932.

HodgyBeats
Guest
HodgyBeats
4 years 8 months ago

“As for the future, the Cubs farm system has more depth than the one Epstein inherited in Boston”

Didn’t Theo have Hanley Ramirez, Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis and Freddy Sanchez in the system when he took over? I mean having lower minor lottery tickets and depth is a good start, but the Cubs system seems to be lacking that type of impact talent. None of those players were key to the 04 team, but without inheriting Hanley (Beckett & Lowell), Lester, and Youkilis the Red Sox 2005-2011 would look dramatically different.

Tony
Guest
Tony
4 years 8 months ago

The Cubs lower levels (A ball and on down) does have a quality amount of high upside chips at most positions, and definitely on the pitching side.

Franklin Stubbs
Guest
Franklin Stubbs
4 years 8 months ago

I wouldn’t call Darwin Barney promising.

Cardsfan
Guest
Cardsfan
4 years 8 months ago

“the Cubs farm system has more depth than the one Epstein inherited in Boston”

Have you reviewed the performance of the Cubs’ system this year? Not pretty.

dat cubfan daver
Member
4 years 8 months ago

It wasn’t pretty in terms of wins and losses, but the Cubs system is generally regarded as being pretty deep in terms of players who can reasonably be expected to eventually contribute at the major league level. What it’s lacking in is elite, impact players.

Toonsterwu
Guest
Toonsterwu
4 years 8 months ago

Well, there are potential elite, impact chips in the lower levels. Marco Hernandez is a very gifted and talented shortstop. Gioskar Amaya has a fair amount of upside. There’s guys like Reggie Golden, Javier Baez, and so forth. The best part is, the Cubs actually have pitching and positional upside pieces. Now, many will eventually falter, but there’s a better chance than in recent past that the Cubs will have several guys make it up with impact potential (I mean, we really haven’t had multiple high upside pieces in the low levels, to this extent, since … well, heck, for close to a decade now).

The pitching in the upper levels is fairly solid, but positionally, we are lacking in impact.

dutch
Guest
dutch
4 years 8 months ago

You guys are forgetting that Theo has Jeff Baker to build around.

ofMontreal
Guest
ofMontreal
4 years 8 months ago

Hear Hear! What is all this hogwash about not compete-ing! Chicago practically invented fair play and competition. We shall be watching the Cardiac Cubbies this time next year, You Mark My Words Goodfellows!

CubFan
Guest
CubFan
4 years 8 months ago

Remember how Hendry basically said Baker was untouchable? God, I’m so happy we got Theo et al…

Joe
Guest
Joe
4 years 8 months ago

Per zips projections, the Cubs were supposed to be able to contend this year with “a bit of luck.” The team isn’t nearly as bad as the record.

I don’t think they will contend in 2012 mostly because Theo won’t go for it, building on his odds for succeeding in following years instead.

The hitting was pretty good this year, and pitching in fickle, so it could easily be strong next year (assuming some changes are made). He could make a decent run if he tried, however I’m not faulting him if he plans for the year after. Quade was awful, I believe Sandberg is smart (we’ll see)

There’s no dominant teams so there’s no reason they can’t contend in 2013.

Matt
Guest
Matt
4 years 8 months ago

How on earth did Barney amass 2+ WAR?

dat cubfan daver
Member
4 years 8 months ago

De-fense! De-fense! De-fense! (I see he rated very highly on baserunning as well.)

CubFan
Guest
CubFan
4 years 8 months ago

Barney’s way overrated. The Chicago media fell in love with him when he was hitting over .300 after six weeks in the bigs…

dat cubfan daver
Member
4 years 7 months ago

He may be overrated by the mainstream media. Most of us already realize that most of his value lies in his defensive abilities.

dat cubfan daver
Member
4 years 8 months ago

This is solidly written, but I’d hope that any Cubs fan smart enough to read Fangraphs is already well prepared to be patient with Theo’s building plan. I know I am.

Jack Weiland
Guest
Jack Weiland
4 years 8 months ago

Re: The Cubs. I think they can contend in a BS kind of way next year. In that they can have a passable team that gets really lucky. Beyond that, anything is possible.

It should be noted that it’ll likely require much less for the Cubs to make the playoffs than the Red Sox teams Epstein was working with his first few years in Boston. So, yes, he’s inheriting much less, but it’s really kind of apples and oranges. And once you get in the playoffs, anything is possible.

MattSz
Guest
MattSz
4 years 8 months ago

You know who won’t need patience? The Cardinals. They just won their 11th World Series. 1908, you losers.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
4 years 8 months ago

You know, I went to Chicago and I was with a few Cards fans, the Cubs/Cards rivalry seems to be a bigger deal to the Cards than to the Cubs.

Going to Wrigley actually made me a Cubs fan. Cards fans bitch and moan and bitch and moan then run their mouth for days anytime they win and act like the odds were against them and nothing went right for them and they still won. Then the very next game they lose it’s bitch and moan and bitch and moan.

I hate Cards fans now. Wrigley made me love Cubs fans.

Steve
Guest
Steve
4 years 8 months ago

What exactly has this to do with the Cards? Go away

MattSz
Guest
MattSz
4 years 8 months ago

Steve, are you Bartman?

dat cubfan daver
Member
4 years 7 months ago

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the greatest fans in baseball.

MattSz
Guest
MattSz
4 years 8 months ago

85% of the world’s working. The other 15% come (to Wrigley).
-Lee Elia

Kyle
Guest
Kyle
4 years 8 months ago

I don’t know how you can attempt to make an article about the immediate future of the Cubs and not include the money they have to spend.

Would they somehow be closer to contention if they had $30 million less to spend but a pair of 4-WAR players added to the roster?

Mitchener
Guest
Mitchener
4 years 8 months ago

Theo will have healthy years from Cashner and Wells. Also Jackson should have a good impact. Lahair might be a useful piece for the team in 2012.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 8 months ago

The fact that Alfonso Soriano was less valuable than a midget that can’t hit tells you everything that you need to know about the Cubs last season.

dat cubfan daver
Member
4 years 7 months ago

Actually it was our pitching that was the primary problem, but I’d like to meet this midget who can’t hit but was worth more than 1.3 WAR. He must be a defensive whiz.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 7 months ago

Yeah UZR really likes Campana. It’s more of an indictment of Hendry. He took a big gamble, and missed. Now, among other things, the Cubs have to dig themselves out from under all of that bad paper. At least they got the right guy to handle the shovel.

MC
Guest
MC
4 years 8 months ago

My problem with WAR is: how is that the Cubs had 12 players with a cumulative WAR of about 29 and yet finish 20 games under .500?

By definition (assuming the rest of the Cubs are merely replacement level), shouldn’t the cubs have finished 29 games above .500?

Maybe I don’t understand the WAR concept…

Thomas
Guest
Thomas
4 years 8 months ago

replacement isn’t average, an average player is actually very valuable. A replacement level team would win I think 39 games, add 29 to that, and the Cubs win 68 games, actually worse than their record.

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