Monday, July 29, 2013

Will the Cubs ever win again?

Here we go again.  The Cubs dealt Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano last week, with closer Kevin Gregg probably next on the list to be shipped off this month.   Once again the Cubbies are sellers in July and out of the playoff race.  When, if ever, will we see the Cubs get to the playoffs and be a factor  there?   After missing the playoffs from 1945-1984, the Cubs have made it back just 6 times in the last 30 years.  Granted, it is a lot easier in the Wildcard era to make the postseason, but only once in those 6 times did they win a series and never made a World Series (que Bartman joke).

But here they are again in late July, 7 games under .500 and not much hope for the immediate future.  The 2013 Cubs are in the middle of the pack when it comes to runs scored, runs allowed, and run differential, but don't seem to have any type of aura around them to make you think they are close to becoming a contender.  They have a lineup featuring a lot of utility players and 4th outfielders that doesn't scare many MLB pitchers.  Anthony Rizzo is a good young player and Starlin Castro will be there for a while, but the lineup certainly needs more.  The rotation has been pretty solid, with Jeff Samardzija running up high K totals and Travis Wood putting up great start after great start.  But the rest of the staff has struggled, and it won't get any better now with Garza gone.  

There have been some good Cubs teams over the years, most notably 1984 and 2003.  The Kerry Wood/Mark Prior duo seemed ready to take the Cubbies to the next level, but both flamed out shortly after their run in 2003. 

So what has been the problem?  Ownership has given the team flexibility to spend, with a payroll in MLB's to half most seasons, including over 100 million in 2013. There have been free agent misses, most notably Alfonso Soriano, Todd Hundley, and Milton Bradley.  They let Greg Maddux walk in free agency in 1993, and released Jamie Moyer 25 years before he stopped becoming an effective lefty starter, and let Luis Gonzalez go before he led Arizona to a World Series title.

But where the Cubs have missed the most is the MLB Draft.  The draft is set up to help make the weaker teams stronger by giving them the chance to draft the top amateur players.  And while the draft is certainly not an exact science in baseball, you have to hit on more first round picks than the Cubs have recently.

But what is interesting is that when you look at the Cubs 1st round picks over the years, you see a lot of names of players that turned out to be really good.  Just not for the Cubs.  Andrew Cashner (2008) is a very good starter for San Diego,  Jon Garland has 136 wins in 13 seasons but 0 for the Cubs, and Josh Donaldson is starring for the 1st place A's this year.

While several other 1st rounders never made it to Wrigley, here is a list of the Cubs worst 1st round picks in the last 15 years.

5) Ben Christensen, 26th overall in 1999 - Known more for partially blinding an Evansville player while in college, Christensen was a character risk from the beginning.  Then, after 6 highly ineffective minor league seasons, he was out of pro ball.

4). Lou Montanez, 3rd overall in 2000 - Not that the 2000 draft was anything spectacular, but Montanez has 68 career hits in the bigs, most notably a HR in his 1st at bat.  Still hanging on, Montanez was signed last month by the Angels as he attempts to get back to the major leagues.

3). Hayden Simpson, 16th overall in 2010 - Simpson has had trouble getting pro hitters out ever since he signed with Chicago.  He has a 15.95 ERA in 2013 for an Independent league team after being released by the Cubs not even 3 years after being picked in the 1st half of the 1st round out of Southern Arkansas University.  Making things worse, other college pitchers taken in top half of the 1st in 2010 like Chris Sale and Matt Harvey are now MLB All Stars.

2). Matt Pawalek, 20th overall in 2005 - If there was a year not to whiff on your 1st rounder, it was 2005, where 37 of the 48 picks made the big leagues.  But the Cubs missed badly on Pawalek, a 6'3 lefty who was out of baseball by 2010 and his career included just 18 appearances above low A ball.  Looking for a starting pitcher with this pick, the Cubs could have taken Matt Garza, who was taken a few spots later by Minnesota.

1).  Ryan Harvey, 6th overall in 2003 - Another good draft with 27 of the 37 1st rounders reaching the majors, the 6th overall pick played just 16 games above A ball with the Cubs.  An outfielder with power, Harvey hit some home runs, but never hit for average and struck out at alarming rates.  The next 2 picks in the draft were Nick Markakis and Paul Maholm, who have turned into longtime major
league starters.

Now don't get me wrong here, every team misses on draft picks.  This is just a look at one team that has struggled over the years and an overview of what maybe led to some of their misfortunes.

On the bright side, it looks like the recent Cubs 1st rounders may produce some future stars.  I love their most recent pick in Kris Bryant who was the best hitter in the 2013 draft.  First rounder from 2012 Albert Almora is having a great year at Kane County and Javy Baez, the 9th pick in 2011 may be the clubs top prospect.  Plus, there is still hope 2007 top pick Josh Vitters could still make an impact.

So even with several misses, the latest group of Cub prospects may be the group that gets them headed back to the playoffs.  And maybe in a few years we can enjoy a trade deadline period where the beloved Cubbies are using a deep and talented farm system to be the ones acquiring a veteran star for a long awaited playoff run.

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