Cubs seem likely to buy into sell-off mode
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org May 15, 2013 11:02PM
Chicago Cubs David DeJesus keeps an eye on his home run ball In the 1St, Inning. Thursday May 9, 2013 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: June 18, 2013 7:55AM
Throw out all those blueprints for ballclub rebuilding that get talked about in places such as Washington or Cincinnati or Texas.
The blueprint is changing almost weekly in the industry, as uneven spikes in local TV revenues around the game, hefty industry-wide national TV revenue increases and MLB-imposed spending limits on amateur talent radically alter the options for quick ascents.
It’s easy to claim Anthony Rizzo’s seven-year, $41 million contract extension this week is a significant part of the Cubs’ process. But it’s a relatively small piece.
Far more significant is what comes next. How will the Cubs acquire potential impact starting pitching? How will they amass enough quality depth to build a talent pipeline in the system?
For the Cubs, facing what looks like a steep and lengthy climb, the new front office’s sign-to-flip use of the free-agent market is an especially necessary tool. And it makes a second consecutive summer sell-off inevitable.
General manager Jed Hoyer said within the last week that the Cubs have time to avoid the July sell-off by winning enough to overcome their miserable April — suggesting that even getting to .500 could change the complexion of the issue in the age of two wild-card berths per league.
“We don’t want to be a seller. That’s not a position you want to be in,” Hoyer said. “But if you are in that position, you have to take advantage of it.”
Make no mistake: If they don’t see a sustainable window of contention, even if the team is flirting among the wild-card leaders, they have to take advantage of one of the few means left for acquiring young talent.
Even with the No. 2 overall pick in next month’s draft, the days of acquiring volumes of impact players in single drafts through sheer spending are all but gone.
Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein can’t pay “over-slot” draft bonuses at will to seek out hard-to-sign potential impact players in deep rounds, as they did for nearly a decade in Boston. MLB’s new bonus-limit rules impose draconian penalties, including loss of future picks.
And because of new industry-wide revenue increases and a trend for lengthy extensions for pre- and early arbitration-level players, far fewer good players are reaching the free-agent market in their primes, much less before that.
And it’s questionable whether the Cubs could even use the free agent market the way Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo did a full year before his team was ready to win, when he identified the player he wanted — Jayson Werth — and overpaid with an industry-shaking, $126 million long-term deal.
That’s the player he wanted, and that’s when he was available, Rizzo explained. The Nats were coming off six losing seasons in a row at the time of the signing.
Hoyer isn’t sure the Cubs could do a “Werth deal” if they wanted to next winter, even if they envisioned turning a competitive corner within a year or two.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “We’d have to sit down and really look at the pieces, look at the finances, figure out exactly what the right timing is.”
The bigger issue might be whether cost-conscious ownership would sign off on a deal like that, given its focus on increasing revenues before increasing a baseball budget that has been reduced in recent years.
So enjoy some of the recently improved baseball — and the return of Matt Garza from the disabled list in a week or two.
But brace for some of the bright spots — Scott Feldman, Kevin Gregg, maybe Garza by then — to move out in July, as the Cubs execute the new blueprint for quick rebuilding.