Cubs GM trying to emulate Blackhawks’ path to greatness
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org June 26, 2013 10:46PM
Updated: July 30, 2013 7:50AM
MILWAUKEE — They talked about it in their offices at Clark and Waveland when the Blackhawks did it again this week in Boston.
“It’s a great American sports story,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said, “to think where they came from.”
From a decade of muddling, wayward hockey and dwindling interest. From one playoff appearance since 1997. From nine losing seasons in 10 years and four straight.
Until Jonathan Toews arrived with the third overall pick in the 2006 draft. And Patrick Kane with the first overall pick the next year.
Suddenly, six years later, the Hawks have two Stanley Cup championships in four seasons, and the older of the team’s superstars, Toews, is only 25.
As far as the Cubs are concerned, it’s a lot more than an American classic.
It’s a Chicago story that is very much personal. Because it’s the blueprint they’ve been selling ever since team president Theo Epstein and Hoyer took over operations 19 months ago and declared the Cubs’ system broken.
“It’s a really good parallel story for us,” Hoyer said, “because it gives us a lot of hope.”
Hope is all the Cubs have as they barrel through a fourth straight losing season that’s only going to start looking worse when productive veterans get traded away over the next four weeks.
“We have to make the right decisions like they did, with Kane and Toews and their high-profile players,” Hoyer said. “But they got those players because of where they were positioned in the draft. They built their young talent base when they were at their nadir.
“They don’t win two of the last four Stanley Cups without having gone through a tough period. That’s a simple fact.”
You don’t have to make that point twice to a Cubs fan.
Consider it the method behind the madness that comes with top-tier ticket prices for bottom-rung results.
The Epstein-Hoyer side of the operation doesn’t set the ticket prices. But the tone and the path are clear.
The Cubs drafted ninth, sixth and second overall the last three years, and next month’s roster demolition comes with the promise of another single-digit overall pick next June.
It doesn’t do much right now to salve a fan base’s 105-year-old baseball wound. And when they opted for the safer choice of a high-end power hitter with this year’s pick instead of a frontline power pitcher, it gave another indication of how long the road is to the Cubs’ next playoff run.
But the Cubs also see light in the broken glass that lined Clark Street near Wrigley Field the morning after the Hawks’ latest clincher — if not reflections of Toews and Kane.
Could it be their Toews and Kane are already in the organization?
Maybe in that No. 9 pick from 2011, Javy Baez? Or last year’s No. 6, Albert Almora? Or Kris Bryant, the slugging third baseman at No. 2 earlier this month?
Baez, the No. 3 hitter in the order for Advanced-A Daytona and possible third baseman of the future for the Cubs, is a Florida State League All-Star pushing for a promotion to Class AA.
Kane County’s Almora, who opened the season on the disabled list with a hand injury, would be leading the Midwest League at .356 if he had enough at-bats.
“I certainly think there are players that can play those roles,” Hoyer said. “Kane and Toews are doing it at the highest level. Right now we don’t have a Kane or Toews [in the majors]. No one’s playing at that level right now.
“But do we have guys that have that kind of talent level that could play significant parts of a championship roster? Absolutely.”