Cubs fans are asking me with more frequency how much longer before our boys in blue are competitive again?
What I can say with certainty is: not next year, and probable not the following season, either.
A best case scenario, meaning most of the Cubs’ young prospects and draft picks pan-out, is three years from now in 2015–and that might be pushing it.
A more cautious, but realistic prediction, is actually four or five years down the road before we’ll see the Cubs in championship form. That feels like eons from now, but such is life for a rebuilding baseball franchise.
LOOK NO FURTHER THAN THE REDS
A current example of a proper rebuild is the Cincinnati Reds, who coincidentally, were busy taking three of four games from the Cubs at Wrigley over the weekend.
It’s already been seven years since Bob Castellini purchased the Reds and promised the return of championship baseball to the Queen City.
The Reds, of course, haven’t won a championship or even appeared in a World Series during Castellini’s reign, but it hasn’t been from a lack of effort.
Similar to the Cubs recent state, Castellini was rebuilding the Reds from the ground-up in 2006.
He began by breaking the franchise’s frugal traditions and re-signed top of the rotation arms Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo to major extensions.
He then signed high-priced manager Dusty Baker, parted ways with over-valued stars such as Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, and sought the services of general managing guru Walk Jocketty.
The Reds maintained its emphasis on the June amateur draft (Homer Bailey & Jay Bruce were 1st Rd picks in 2004-05) selecting Drew Stubbs, Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, Mike Leake, Brad Boxberger and Yonder Alonso–the later two being dealt this past December to San Diego for starting pitcher Matt Latos (10-3, 3.81). The others are regulars in the Reds everyday lineup.
Castellini also surprised the entire league with a Jorge Soler-type commitment to Aroldis Chapman, signing the Cuban Missile to a 6-year, $30.25M deal in 2010.
And that’s just a brief look at the over-haul, which doesn’t include the emergence of Joey Votto as the National League MVP or the acquisitions of key veteran players such as Scott Rolen and Ryan Ludwick.
However, it took the Reds five rebuilding years before they posted a winning record, an NL Central division title in 2010.
But even then, the young club was caught in the headlights of postseason baseball, no-hit by Phillies’ Ace Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the NLDS and quickly swept out of October two games later.
Last season was another down year with a few more additions needed to complete the rebuild. And finally, seven years later, the rebuild has come to completion.
The Reds, at long last, are poised for a World Series run, and should be for the foreseeable future.
DAVE OTTO KNOWS BEST
Former Cubs pitcher, Dave Otto, a part-time radio/television analyst on Cubs broadcasts, reinforced the patience of a rebuild during his on-air interview with Len and Bob Sunday afternoon.
Otto was a member of the Cleveland Indians during the 1991-92 seasons when Cleveland’s recommitment to rebuilding through the amateur draft brought in the likes of Manny Ramirez, Chad Ogea, Paul Byrd and Paul Shuey.
These players joined the ranks of the Indians other young core players such as Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Mark Lewis, Charles Nagy, Carlos Baerga and Julian Tavarez.
The Tribe, mind you, lost 105-games in 1991 and 86-games both the following two seasons.
In 1994, however, Cleveland was on its way to a winning season before the infamous strike, but rebounded in 1995 with a 100-win campaign.
The Indians lastly surrounded its young core with talented free agents such as Dave Winfield, Orel Hershiser and Dave Martinez, among others.
The 1995 season marked the first of seven consecutive winning seasons, including six playoff appearances and two World Series births–all over the stretch of 10 years since the beginning of its rebuild.
REBUILDING THE RIGHT WAY
The example of the Reds and Indians are just two of many successful rebuild stories that have happened in my time following the game.
But I choose these two franchises because they rebuilt the right way; from the ground-up using draft picks to create a young, talented core surrounded by quality veteran free-agents.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are taking similar action with the Cubs rebuilding efforts. Out with the old, in with the new and waiting to sign big-name free-agents as icing on the cake. And as we understand from the two examples above, that doesn’t happen in one offseason.
So to best answer the question “how long will it take the Cubs to rebuild?” is–not any time soon. But however long it does take should be well worth the bumpy ride in the long run.
As Tom Petty would sing, ‘it’s the waiting that’s the hardest part.’