Cubs face different test than curse-breaking Red Sox encountered
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter July 3, 2014 12:24AM
Updated: August 4, 2014 12:06PM
BOSTON — Three games in Boston turned out to be a big confidence builder for a lot of Cubs players during a sweep of the defending World Series champs.
But as a reminder of the franchise-building plan — as a three-day review of the Cubs’ blueprint — not so much.
From ownership to the business department and throughout the baseball department, the Cubs admittedly have emulated all things Red Sox — their model for stadium renovation, corporate structure and player development.
But not even the Red Sox expatriates running the Cubs’ front office will tell you this is the same process or even the same plan — and not within light years of the same timeline — they employed to help end a near-century baseball curse in Boston a decade ago.
“As far as the Red Sox go, and the process of building [World Series champs] in ’04 and ’07, and 2013 [with the Cubs], they’re very different,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We inherited something very different when we all got to Boston. A lot of great players were already there. The farm system wasn’t very strong, and that’s why we took a lot of pride in what we built in ’07 because there was a lot of homegrown talent on the field.”
But Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were inherited monsters in the middle of the order for both titles. And Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez was already there, along with Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon and a handful of other keys to the ’04 curse buster.
The task in Chicago involved stripping down whatever was left as soon as Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein arrived and starting over.
“We inherited a ton of talent [in Boston], and [former Sox GM] Dan Duquette deserves a lot of credit for that,” said Hoyer, who cited other differences, such as new rules preventing draft-pick overspending and hoarding, and a less-abundant free-agent landscape. “The two processes will never be the same.”
If anything, the Red Sox team the Cubs played this week — including a 16-9 victory Wednesday night in which the Cubs piled up 19 hits — offers insight into what the Cubs plan to do next, Hoyer suggested.
The Cubs’ lineup has been among the worst in the majors all year, mostly a function of a platoon roster built to keep positions warm for prospects that could start arriving by the end of the season.
Until breaking out Wednesday, they had scored six runs in their four previous games combined.
“Some of our young prospects are going to help with that,” Hoyer said.
But the brass also knows it has to find a veteran or two before next season to help the transition of top hitting prospects Javy Baez, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara and others who could get to Wrigley Field in the next year or so.
“We’re going to have to find a way to bridge that and find some guys that can help lengthen that lineup out,” Hoyer said.
Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro aren’t likely to be enough of a buffer for the kids — in the lineup or the clubhouse.
And even with a clubhouse full of high-performing, championship veterans such as Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester, there’s no reason to assume sudden impact from even the best prospects.
The Sox had three of Baseball America’s top 75 prospects of 2014 play during the series, including No. 2 Xander Bogaerts and No. 75 Mookie Betts starting all three nights (No. 50 Jackie Bradley Jr. was in the lineup Tuesday).
None have inspired visions of a new-age Ted Williams or Jim Rice.
“They’re learning that,” Hoyer said. “The Red Sox are seeing that they have great young players in Bogaerts and Bradley and Mookie Betts. And it takes time to acclimate to the big leagues.”