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Morrissey: Cubs fans might not like to hear this, but rebuilding takes time

Theo Epstelistens reporters' questions during an interview Wrigley Field Wednesday August 1 2012 Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Theo Epstein listens to reporters' questions during an interview at Wrigley Field Wednesday, August 1, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 8, 2012 11:53AM

We’ve been
conditioned to believe a contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. A three-year contract might as well be a one-year contract might as well be a 50-year contract.

The length of president Theo Epstein’s deal with the Cubs has some bigger meaning to it, even though it probably wasn’t intended that way. It’s for five years, a number that should be trotted out now and then as a reminder of what this is
all about.

It’s about patience, as Epstein preached last week.

It doesn’t necessarily mean what he has undertaken is a five-year plan, though that might end up being the case. It might be the Cubs are starting another 104-year plan. Who knows? What’s certain is Epstein is just one year into a project that figures to be devoid of the shortcuts previous regimes took over and over again.

The five-year contract is a reminder this is a ‘‘process,’’ a cop-out word too often used as a shield by team executives. This time, it happens to be true.

A process isn’t much of a spectator sport. It’s why some of you Cubs fans are grumbling after a 101-loss season. Hurry up already! We didn’t sign up for this!

Actually, you did. Surely you remember the reception you gave Epstein when he arrived. I think it involved palm fronds and a donkey. You wanted him to tear it all down and start over. You were tired of the shots in the dark that never hit a thing.

This will take time, effort, resolve and luck. Seeing as how luck and the Cubs are like two magnets trying to make contact, better to concentrate on time, effort and resolve.

The organization needs rebuilding, the same way Wrigley Field does. The minor-league system isn’t like one of the men’s-room troughs at the ballpark, but it could use an overhaul. The idea is to have a farm system that provides sustenance regularly to the big-league club. You can’t go out and buy a minor-league structure; you grow it over time.

I get it: You’re sick of the whole concept of time. You’ve done too much hard time, 104 years’ worth of it.

But nothing else has worked. Nothing. You knew that when the Cubs landed Epstein. Some of you seem to have forgotten it already. A season such as 2012 will do that. Understandable.

Like an officeholder during hard times, Epstein is asking for sacrifice. That might mean watching the Cubs trade away a large chunk of a good rotation to acquire more young talent, he said.

‘‘We have a plan and a vision, and it’s not going to happen overnight,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s a choice: You can take a Band-Aid approach to things and try to polish it up as best we can and make that presentable and squeeze every last fan we can in and deal with [improving] next year. Or [you can] say, ‘We want to do this right, no matter how tough it is.’

‘‘Obviously, we want to make this right, no matter how long it takes.’’

The easy route would be to sign a few high-priced veterans and make some of the pain go away. That’s how the Cubs have done it for years. I had agitated for Epstein to make a run at Albert Pujols last offseason, but I see now how counterproductive that would have been. It wouldn’t even have rated as a quick fix. It would have been an appeasement, a capitulation.

Again — and this can’t be overstated — nothing else has worked. Throwing money at free agents hasn’t worked. Boosting the payroll into the top five in baseball hasn’t worked.

Nobody wants to watch bad baseball. It’s like a pounding headache that refuses to go away. We joke about the messiah angle when it comes to Epstein, but it really is about faith.

If fans believe they are being asked to pay premium prices for a substandard product, they can do what I’ve been telling them to do for years: Don’t buy tickets. More of you are starting to agree. For the first time since 2003, the Cubs drew fewer than 3 million fans to Wrigley.

But if you believe in the path Epstein has the team on, you’ll give him time. It doesn’t mean you have to support the Cubs with your wallet. It means you have to be patient, as usual.

Maybe you’ll be rewarded for it. Someday. Perhaps.

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