The hard part, for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, ended sometime last season. It was probably about the time Jorge Soler joined Javy Baez on the active roster. For three years, two very competitive guys had to have the discipline to make moves for tomorrow, not today, and had to keep doing that over and over again. When they swung and missed at a highly paid free agent like Annibal Sanchez or Masahiro Tanaka, they had to have the discipline to not “Jim Hendry” the money and throw at whatever guy wandered by next.
They had to get to the point where the farm system was built up and the bad contracts were gone. They had histories of going after the best players on the market like Curt Schilling and Adrian Gonzalez, but had to settle for picking Chris Coghlan and Scott Feldman off the scrapheap.
But at the end of last season, the Cubs looked like a real baseball team again. Well, mostly. In three years, the talent level throughout the organization had taken an astonishing turn for the better. They actually looked like a team to be reckoned with in the future.
That was Theo and Jed’s cue to get aggressive. The Cubs were finally to the point where the “parallel tracks” of contending while feeding the farm system simultaneously had arrived. Ground was finally going to break to rehab the facilities at their beloved shitheap of a ballpark. In short, they had something to sell. Something that wasn’t just blind faith.
Before the playoffs even ended, they showed this off. Andrew Friedman left his job in Tampa to make millions and millions of dollars running the Dodgers, which triggered a clause in Joe Maddon’s contract that allowed him to opt out. The Cubs had a manager. But Rick(y) Renteria was no Joe Maddon, and the time to purely be patient asset collectors was over. Bad timing for Ricky. Great timing for the Cubs. Ricky was launched and in came Joe. The best manager in the game, convinced by the amount of talent in the organization, the track record of the guys in the front office, a big pile of cash and the chance to become immortal by winning a World Series with the Cubs.
The Cubs had Jon Lester’s name circled on a whiteboard over by the Golden Tee machine for months. From the time the Red Sox lowballed him in spring training, it was apparent he was going to become a free agent at the end of the season. When the Red Sox traded him to Oakland at the deadline, it made him even more attractive by taking the draft pick compensation off of him for any team who signed him.
At the end, Lester had to choose between the Red Sox, the San Francisco Giants and the Cubs. Two teams who have combined to win six of the last ten World Series against a franchise that hasn’t won one since the telephone was invented.
In the end, Lester was swayed by the amount of talent in the organization, the track record of the guys in the front office–guys he knew from his days in Boston–, a great manager who he saw first hand fight off his mighty Red Sox and the behemoth Yankees with a plucky little band of Tampa Bay Raymonds, a huge pile of cash, and the chance to become immortal by winning a World Series with the Cubs.
If you were jolted awake around 1 am Central time last night it was because of a seismic shift in the baseball landscape. Basically, it was the sound of 29 other teams going, “Oh shit,” all at the same time. Until now, the Cubs rebuild has been more theory that practice. Yes, the young players in their system are talented, but prospects are just prospects until they aren’t anymore. Most go home to find a real job, a few turn out to be something useful to a baseball team. It was easy to dismiss the Cubs efforts as “cute” or “cheap.” People who are paid to know better insisted the franchise was going young because they didn’t have any money. Others leaned on the tried and true, that the Cubs always find a way to screw things up.
But things are not the same. These are not your same old Cubs. There are men in charge who know what they are doing. Tom Ricketts has been eating shit for four years. Sure, some of it he basically cooked and plated for himself, but mostly he’s had to let Theo work his plan, while he circles the park in his weird white dress shirts with the Cubs logo on the cuff listening to fans bitch about the troughs and Edwin Jackson. I make good sport of mocking the Rickettses (by keeping Crane around they are practically begging for it) but you have to admit, other than botching countless public relations matters, this franchise is in much better shape than it was before they bought it. New facilities in Mesa and the Dominican, the long-overdue modernization of Wrigley, the hirings of Theo and Joe. Holy shit, it’s like they’re a real team now!
That was apparent last night. Jon Lester had to weigh offers from three franchises. Two that have recently put tortured histories behind them and are among the elite in all of sports, and….the Cubs, a franchise trying desperately to do the same thing.
Whatever was said, Jon Lester bought it. He was going to become even more ludicrously richer than he already is by signing with any of those three teams. He hitched his future to the Chicago Cubs. If that doesn’t tell you how the rebuild is going…well, it’s going pretty goddamned good.
In fact, the “rebuilding” is over. The Cubs will continue to feed their farm system, but no longer fuel it on the rewards of high picks and signing pool money that comes from losing lots of games. Now they’ll draft a little (hopefully a lot) later in each round.
Now we get to see Theo and Jed in full shark mode. Crane needs to funnel them that sweet, sweet Jumbotron money while they chase Jordan Zimmerman and Justin Upton and whoever else around.
Buckle up. Things are about to get fun again. Oh, I’m sure they’ll break our hearts a few more times. But we’re Cubs fans. We wouldn’t have it any other way.