With increasing noise, Cubs fans are taking residence in one of two camps — those still on board with the rebuild, and those fed up with it.
Those in the first camp — I’m an unwavering member — were thrilled to turn 10 weeks of Matt Garza into three legitimate prospects, as the Cubs did Monday.
Less than a calendar year ago, Mike Olt was considered the No. 2 prospect in the Rangers system, behind only the consensus top prospect in all of baseball (Jurickson Profar). He’s had a bad year, from the standpoints of health and performance, but has been better in both regards for a month.
Justin Grimm seems a solid bet to be a decent back-end rotation piece for the next several years (which was a similar to what Travis Wood was supposed to be when he came over from the Reds). C.J. Edwards has a higher ceiling but a lower floor; I’ve seen him described as a potential mid-rotation guy, and I’ve seen him described as a likely reliever.
Those in the second camp range are somewhere between annoyed and livid about the Cubs dumping a guy who’d gone at least 6 2/3 innings and given up two or fewer runs in each of his last six starts. Garza had been one of the few reasons to enjoy watching the 2013 Cubs. With Scott Feldman already dealt and Alfonso Soriano, among others, supposedly about to be, those reasons are quickly dwindling.
As the Cubs muddle through the second half of the second season since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over their front office, I’m hearing less and less optimism about the duo and more and more disgust with moves like the Garza trade. Some of the outraged were people that were never fans of the Epstein regime, I’m sure. Some, however, are fans whose feelings have changed.
I get that the losing isn’t fun. I got no more enjoyment out of watching the failures with runners in scoring position, the defensive breakdowns or the bullpen meltdowns than anyone else. The White Sox being even worse has made it a miserable month for the Chicago region’s sports diehards since the Blackhawks stopped playing.
What I don’t understand is the jumping off board by so many fans who initially supported, and were in my cases thrilled by, the Epstein hire. The front office has been unfailingly transparent with its plan. Never was it hinted at Epstein’s introductory press conference that a magic wand would be waved and the Cubs would be good again in a year and a half.
When Epstein took over, the Cubs had virtually no proverbial building blocks on the big-league roster and a farm system that most critics ranked in the twenties. By this February, the Cubs had acquired enough young talent that Keith Law of ESPN ranked their system as the fifth-best in the game.
That was before they drafted Kris Bryant, who Law now ranks as the No. 15 prospect in the game, or got the returns they got on the Feldman and Garza deals.
It does seem weird to say this about what, prior to Tuesday, was a 44-53 team, but I’m thrilled with the progress of the Cubs under Epstein. I’ve been supportive of almost every move they’ve made (I’ve been able to see through my Theo love enough to disagree with a few, though one of those — the Nate Schierholtz pickup — looks good in hindsight). The Cubs aren’t good, but they’re really not that far away — I think they’ve got a real shot to finish at .500 or better in 2015, and to only get better from there.
What I never hear from the Cubs fans that don’t share my views is a viable alternative to the plan the Cubs are following. Epstein and Hoyer are good at what they do, but they weren’t going to come to town and trade Soriano and Carlos Marmol for Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. The one way to quickly infuse talent into an organization lacking it is to spend big in free agency. Look where that’s gotten the Angels.
No, the best path for the Cubs given where they were late in 2011 was the one they have chosen. It may not seem like it, but that plan has been executed extremely well thus far. We’re not to the top of the mountain yet, Cubs fans, and the climb is excruciating, but for once, there may be gold on the other side.