Key to Cubs' future success lies within Minors
Chicago's loaded farm system may be key to club becoming contender
MESA, Ariz. -- Older Cubs fans talk about The Curse of Billy Goat, which dates back to 1945, when then Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley had a man and his goat ushered out of Wrigley Field.
A younger generation will bemoan the Steve Bartman incident in the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins for the struggles of the Cubs.
The Cubs, however, know better.
Getting things turned around on the North Side of Chicago is a lot more challenging than lifting curses and removing jinxes.
And it is not easy. It takes commitment to a plan. And most of all, it takes patience.
"Patience is a difficult thing," admitted general manager Jed Hoyer, hired shortly after Theo Epstein became the team's president following the 2011 season. "Theo and I want to win in the worst way, and get back to the playoffs.
"We also know you only get one chance to build the right way. You don't want to change a seven- to 10-year run by not doing things the right way. Short-term moves can make people feel good, but ultimately it takes you the wrong way."
"If you look at the Cubs, there hasn't been a long-term, successful run," he said.
The Cubs have:
• Won one postseason series since 1908. They beat Atlanta in the 2003 NL Division Series, but it wasn't all good that fall. After taking a 3-2 lead on Florida in the NLCS, the Cubs lost the last two games at home. The Marlins rallied for eight runs in the eighth inning of Game 6. All eight runs scored after Bartman, a fan, battled left fielder Moises Alou for a one-out foul ball that fell to the ground instead of becoming the second out of the inning. The Marlins won that game, 8-3, and would go on to win the World Series.
• Enjoyed 20 winning records the last 69 years, and had multiple winning seasons in only four stretches in that time -- 2007-09, 2003-04, 1967-72 and 1945-46.
• Compiled the worst winning percentage among the 16 original Major League Baseball franchises since the onset of expansion in 1961. It's even worse than five products of expansion -- Toronto, Milwaukee, the New York Mets, Washington Nationals and Kansas City Royals.
"We've resisted some temptations because we are looking to create a new direction," said Hoyer.
The challenge of reviving a franchise has become bigger in the last couple of years with baseball limiting the amount of money teams have to sign players in the First-Year Player Draft each June, and also foreign players, and also with the limiting of Draft picks for free-agent players. If a player is traded in the midst of the season before he becomes a free agent, the team that signs him does not lose a Draft pick.
The Cubs, however, feel they have made progress, even if it doesn't show in the big league win-loss record.
"The hardest part for me has been the Trading Deadline deals," said Hoyer. "Both years we were competitive at the time, and both times August and September were difficult. But we can't look at short-term, we have to look at what the deals are going to mean, and we feel they can pay dividends down the road."
Five of the top 15 prospects in the Cubs' farm system, as ranked by MLB.com, did come in trades the last two Julys -- third baseman Mike Olt (No. 5), and right-handed pitchers C.J. Edwards (No. 11) and Neil Ramirez (No. 12) were acquired last July from Texas for right-handed pitcher Matt Garza; third baseman Christian Villanueva (No. 14) came from the Rangers a year earlier in the Ryan Dempster deal, and right-hander Arodys Vizcaino (No. 6) was part of the package for Atlanta in the July 2012 deal for pitcher Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson.
Six of the top prospects were already in the organization when the leadership change was made -- shortstops Javier Baez (No. 1) and Arismendy Alcantara (No. 8), outfielders Matt Szczur (No. 9), Brett Jackson (No. 13) and Jae-Hoon Ha (No. 15), and first baseman Dan Vogelbach (No. 10) were signed prior to 2012.
Four others have been signed as amateurs in the last two years -- outfielders Albert Almora (No. 2) and Jorge Soler (No. 3), third baseman Kris Bryant (No. 4) and right-hander Pierce Johnson (No. 7).
Thirteen of those 15 players are projected to appear in the big leagues by the end of next year.
That won't mean instant success, but it will provide hope.
"We're excited with where the farm system is, but we have to continue to develop them in the Minors and in the Major Leagues -- the challenge will be continuing the development at the big league level," said Hoyer. "We have to do a good job of fitting the pieces around [veteran] guys who we can bring in to provide leadership."
The development aspect is a big reason the Cubs hired Rick Renteria to be their manager this past offseason.
"Guys don't come up often and 'click,' they are ready to be impact players," said Hoyer. "We realize we needed a manager who wants to teach and is patient."
It is a necessity for the Cubs if they are going to exorcise the demons of their past.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.