Updated: June 7, 2014 6:34AM
Cubs fans, from casual to Kool-Aid, should take a good, long look at White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu this week during the Crosstown Showdown to see what the suits in the Cubs’ highest offices don’t want you to know:
Believe it or not, you can build at the big-league level while overhauling a farm system to create a long-term “foundation for sustained success.”
And if the second-fiddle Sox can do it, why can’t the big boys in Chicago with the ATM ballpark do it?
In fact, why shouldn’t they feel obligated to do it — considering the third-highest ticket prices in the game and revenues that business president Crane Kenney boasts are the fifth-highest in the majors?
Not even baseball president Theo Epstein says it can’t be done, or shouldn’t.
In fact, according to sources close to the front office, the general approach the Sox took last winter coming off their 99-loss 2013 season was part of the overall plan Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and the rest of the new-age Cubs brass had in mind when they took over.
Yes, trading short-term assets (pending free agents) for long-term assets (prospects and pre-prime big-leaguers) was part of the plan, as well as piling up international amateurs and impact draft picks.
But don’t believe the public narrative that has so often been shoveled with this lengthy, austerity-driven process.
Why can’t the Cubs try to field a competitive team while building the farm system? “This is the only way to do it,” chairman Tom Ricketts repeatedly has insisted.
The only way?
Not even close.
The Cubs went hard after international free agents Yoenis Cespedes, Hyun-jin Ryu and Masahiro Tanaka, respectively, the last three offseasons.
Cespedes told the Sun-Times two springs ago that the Cubs were so serious he believed for most of that winter he would wind up in Chicago.
But the Cubs fell short in each case. Because they’re so smart they weren’t going to spend what it eventually took to get those players?
No. Because they didn’t have the margins to work with in their baseball budgets to compete for players they targeted.
Neither Epstein nor Hoyer will comment on the details of his involvement with those players, much less the frustration levels of being unable to have anything close to the spending power they had in Boston to build like a big-market club.
But when the new front office met with its new field staff before the 2012 season, sources inside that room say the words “unlimited resources” were used to describe the power the Cubs would bring to the process. Within months, the sources said, they were told those resources didn’t exist and to brace for a lengthy process.
It’s no coincidence that Epstein admitted after the Cubs fell short on Tanaka that they were taking the unprecedented step of carrying over unused payroll from the 2014 budget into 2015 — a practice the Cubs have never allowed their baseball department in the past and which officials from several outside organizations said they’ve never seen.
During the Cubs Convention, Kenney again told reporters that this was all part of Epstein’s plan.
But even Ricketts belied that notion when he addressed a group of college business students at Wrigley Field during the last homestand. According to a member of that group, Ricketts said that Epstein regularly asks for more money for his department but routinely gets denied as part of a business plan waiting for untold new wealth at some unspecified point in the future.
Meanwhile, Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta, the former Oriole who experienced a last-to-wild-card turnaround with Baltimore in 2012, clings to faith where he can find it.
“As far as our ballclub’s concerned vs. the White Sox, maybe aspects of the offseason or acquiring players are done differently,” he said, pointing to quality pitching and young hitters in the clubhouse.
“It can happen. Whether it does or not is a different story. Our organization, our front office has the right guys here. They really do.”
Meanwhile, have you checked out that Abreu guy?