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Hey Theo, in major league baseball, 78 isn't just greater than 73, it is much greater.
The Cubs' general manager opined last week that he didn't want his team to get caught in the middle ground of not really competing for championships. He said he would rather break up a mediocre team in the middle of a given season and use trades to try to add more prospects than hang in there, maybe add a piece or two, and hope for a hot streak that might put the team over the top.
The money quote: "There's no glory in 78 wins instead of 73. Who cares?"
And the reaction from Cub fans and the local media was positive. Which means it is time to insert your favorite joke about Cubs fans (of which I am one) here.
The problem, again, is that Mr. Epstein is still selling a plan that doesn't synch up with basic baseball truths. And so many folks around here are still buying.
People! Please remember that the vast majority of successful baseball teams are a mix of veterans and young players. They do not suddenly come together all in one season (2015, 2016?) when a wave of young players crests and rushes into a big league ballpark.
And let's remember, too, that a team that gets to 78 victories is a winning streak away from 83, which of course is the number of wins the St. Louis Cardinals posted in 2006 on their way to a Central Division crown and an eventual World Series championship, their 10th of 11.
That team wasn't an anomaly. The San Francisco Giants have won two of the last three World Series. Can you name a singular bonus baby superstar, let alone a group of them, who led the team to those championships? Of course not. They have used great pitching depth and just enough hitting to outlast postseason foes. Let's be clear, 2012 World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval, also known as the Kung Fu Panda for his roly-poly physique, was never a highly sought after prospect.
Now, there is one element that has come into play in the past few years that adds a little more credence to Theo's thesis, and that is the fact that the teams with the worst nine records in a given year now get a bit of a bonus. Thanks to the most recent collective bargaining agreement, their first-round picks the next year are protected. That means if they go out and sign a big ol' free agent, they lose their second-round pick rather than their first as compensation.
Not that losing a second-round pick is any great shakes either, but that does mean the worst teams don't get hurt quite as much by signing the most valuable free agents.
But even if it takes losing a firs- round pick (and I did not advocate the Cubs doing that last season and I probably won't advocate it in the 2013-14 off-season either), a good enough free agent is obviously worth a very high price.
One final thing to remember: All of us North Siders are hoping that Theo and Jed Hoyer have put in place a scouting and development system so comprehensive and clever that it will eventually overwhelm other teams' systems. But who knows if that will come to fruition. The most important thing for the Cubs during the next few seasons will be for them to take advantage of their one, undeniable advantage over most of their foes: The fact that they are in the top five in the league in total revenues year after year.
Everyone loves the idea of young prospects coming up through the system and leading the way to glory. The reality is that all successful teams have to be a mix of a few such players, preferably playing up-the-middle positions (hello Buster Posey), augmented by others obtained in all sorts of different ways.
Those are the guys who will account for the five additional victories that will put a team over the top.
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