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SportsMonday: Cubbyball

I have had issues with the people who are paid to commentate on sports in Chicago in the past. But I have never found them, as a group, to be more clueless than they are right now.

It would be comical if it wasn't so infuriating. Theo Epstein made a ridiculous trade on Friday in which he exchanged two accomplished and yet still up-and-coming major league starting pitchers with ERA's under 3.00 - Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija - for two prospects who are still years away from playing in the majors, if they are lucky. Given the rate at which prospects turn into major league pros, the Cubs will be fortunate if one of them turns into a solid, everyday player. Neither will be as valuable as a top-of-the-rotation starter.

And yet so far on local websites, sports pages and broadcast outlets, the reaction has been almost uniformly supportive.

Come on!

Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane had to be fighting desperately not to laugh out loud as he finalized the terms of this deal. He fleeced the panicking Theo, who at this point has no clue what to do other than to keep adding more prospects, as opposed to actually starting to build a winner.

Beane will laugh all the way to a top seed in the playoffs this year and will almost certainly return to the post-season next year before the A's lose Samardzija to free agency. They will probably lose Hammel to free agency at the end of this campaign. Remember also that there were no real signability issues with Samardzija and Hammel, i.e., if the Cubs had wanted to (especially given the billionaire Ricketts family's unlimited deep pockets) they could have offered both pitchers well more than what anyone else will offer them in free agency.

In the process, Theo announced he is tanking a third straight season. And let's be clear, with virtually no truly promising starting pitching at the major league level other than Jake Arrieta, the Cubs are tanking next year as well.

And yet the perception is this was a good deal for the Cubs because these are really good "prospects." And so many people continue to overlook the fact that the Cubs, who were among the top three major league franchises in revenues when Theo took the job, are still losing on purpose four years later! What in the Sam Hill is going on around here?!

Will someone please tell Theo it isn't impressive to re-stock a farm system by drafting in the top five year after year because his team sucks? Little Leaguers could make make those picks.

What's funny is this year Theo and his minions didn't even do that well. They went the bargain route with the fourth pick and drafted a guy, Kyle Schwarber, who no one else had rated in the top 10 and only a few people rated in the top 20. It must be said, Schwarber tore it up in all of five games in rookie ball (short-season Boise) and was already promoted to Class A Kane County. We wish him well.

But here is where it was once again clear what the Cubs' real goal is in everything they do. Team owner Tom Ricketts is determined to pump up profits no matter what. The Cubs were able to sign the lower-rated Schwarber for considerably less than what had been the projected price for the fourth pick in the draft. Then they supposedly were going to use the leftover money to sign other draft picks (there is an overall salary cap for all of each team's picks in a given year).

Local commentators bought that BS without a second thought. Strangely enough though, we still haven't seen any stories about the Cubs spending extra on any of their other picks. Also, wasn't it delightful for the Rickettses that by trading Samardzija and Hammel a month before the trading deadline, the Cubs avoid having to pay them during that time. An obscenely small payroll gets even smaller! The Cubs accountant is fired up!

Not fair to call Theo desperate? It was just over a month ago that he hired Manny Ramirez, the drug cheat/egomaniac/assaulter of his spouse and elderly baseball staff members, as a minor league player-coach.

All the jokes have been made already about how the main thing two-time loser Ramirez can teach the young players is how to use performance-enhancing drugs. And of course the next joke is that maybe then the Cubs can bring in Sammy Sosa to teach the kids how not to get caught.

The thing that isn't a joke is that Theo actually said when he hired Ramirez that while the only reason Ramirez would take the job was the fact that he would be able to play once a week (he still harbors the delusional idea that a major league team will sign him to play again even though he has a 100-game suspension hanging over his head if he returns), Ramirez wouldn't be taking at-bats away from prospects when he was in the lineup. So far no word from the baseball commissioner about the Cubs receiving a special 10th spot in the lineup for Ramirez when he's playing. So it can't be true that prospects on the team don't sit when Ramirez plays. Again, come on!

Regarding the prospects coming over from the A's, Addison Russell had managed to return from injury in time to play 13 games for the A's Double A team so far this summer. His batting average is over .300 but of course that is a ridiculously small sample size. The kid Billy McKinney is hitting .240 in Class A - clearly he is can't miss. Epstein also picked up possible innings-eating pitcher Dan Straily, who failed in the majors earlier this year and has spent most of the season in AAA. Then there is the ever-popular Player To Be Named Later. As far as prospects go, Phillips and McKinney were especially valuable because they haven't proven yet that they can't play. In other words, Beane sold them high.

Epstein loves to talk about how the cupboard was absolutely bare when he took over Cubs baseball operations and that's why the team has been forced to engage in a rebuilding process that has lasted a ludicrous three years plus.

Let's see now, the Cubs have Epstein favorite Anthony Rizzo because they were able to acquire him from the Padres in a trade for Jim Hendry draft pick Andrew Cashner. The team's best player this year, shortstop Starlin Castro, was brought in by Hendry. Pitching prospects Kyle Hendricks and C.J. Edwards came in the Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza deals. They were both acquired by Hendry. Oh by the way, there was Garza tossing a complete-game shutout on Saturday for the first-place Milwaukee Brewers.

And of course the centerpiece of the latest deal was Mr. Samardzija. Who drafted him again?

The team's top prospect? That would be Hendry draft pick Javier Baez. Isn't it obvious that this team has virtually no one above Double A (and half of what they have in Double A) if not for the work of the previous GM? You remember, that was the guy who constructed teams that went to the playoffs in 2007 and 2008 and were in contention into the final month of 2009 before finishing 83-78? Theo is hoping to send a single team to the playoffs by the end of this decade.

And yet it is projected that Theo will sign a contract extension with the Cubs at some point in the next calendar year. I'm sure the local commentariat will applaud that as a great move.


See also: The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour: Cubs Get Beaned.


Jim Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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