Frankie O: Playing the game

Frankie O: Playing the game
May 25, 2012, 2:13 pm
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By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

I dont know what it is about this Anthony Rizzo situation but for some reason its driving me crazy. Welcome to the Cubs 2.0. As much as anyone would want to have hope for this season, this year, and next year, are all about one thing and one thing only: building a foundation for a promising future.

The fun starts when we debate when that future is. Ive had many debates in the bar where one of us would always suggest blowing a team up. Fan talk. Well, look what we have here. This could get ugly. Its beyond looking at wins and losses now because they dont matter. What matters is building an entity on and off the field that can be state-of-the-art.

Off the field is going to take a lot of money. Boatloads. The stadium needs to be upgraded to the level where it can enable the team to be on the same financial footing as the other heavyweight teams the Cubs want to compete with. Increasing the size and talent level of the front office and building baseball academies in Latin hot-beds are also smart but costly moves. Home-grown talent is a proven, cost effective method, but like any other business, the start-up costs can be a burden.

Something this means is not being frivolous with cash spent on the field. Every dollar counts.

That sounds like an effective business model that anyone would want to emulate.

That is if there arent millions of people who spend millions of dollars who are watching with a child-like impatience. That would be the ticket buying faithful.

With the fact being that this could take a while, it is important to have your core followers on-board with the path being taken. In other words: Something that gives them hope. People who go to games spend a lot of money to do so. These folks usually come from the ones that tune in to games on TV and radio on a regular basis. Its part of who they are.

I found it interesting on my 45-minute drive into work the other day, all I heard on my radio was talk about the Bears OTAs. Think about that. Its MAY. I know this is a diverse sports town and both of the winter teams met with an early demise, but, really?
Further yet, that night at the bar, out of my 13 TVs I only had 2 of them on the local nines, mostly because I put them on TVs at my end of the bar so I could watch them.

I think at some point the Sox will get our collective attention, this weekend against division-leading Cleveland would be a good start, well see.

But as far as the Cubs go, it is going to be the pieces that come here that we know will be around in three years, since that will realistically be the start of the new regime. Kind of like a college football coach needing a couple of recruiting classes before he can truly claim his team and be held accountable for their play. By that time there should be more than a few pieces in place that fans can be excited about.

It will also be the first guaranteed non Alfonso Soriano season which I know many fans will be very excited for. I know that many hope hes gone before then but there still are 44 million reasons why that is not going to happen three years from now maybe.

So that takes us back to Rizzo.

At the beginning of the year I listened to Theo Epstein explain as one of his theories that he would ideally like to have a player spend a year at Triple A before he starts his Major League. This was a big question since the marquee acquisition by the new regime was Rizzo and he had appeared in the majors for two stints last year accruing 68 days of service-time. For someone who touts bringing up players through the system service-time is the holy-grail, since it is the measure by which the team bringing up a player is able to keep him before he can become a free-agent for the first time after 6 seasons. For a good player, these are the best years for the team since they are the cheapest, and usually money spent for current production. Not like in free-agency, in which which a player is guaranteed a considerable sum for future production. This can often blow-up in a teams face, for proof look up- Soriano, Alphonso.

The thing it took me a little while to realize that no matter what Rizzo did this year, he was never going to accrue enough service-time to be a two-year player by the end of it. This season is a wash, so any move made has to be done with the future interest of the franchise in mind.

The question from fans is, what are we paying for now? When you see a kid dominating in Triple A for the second straight season, fans want to see him. Rizzo has hit 16 homers and has 43 RBI in 44 games. His geek numbers are .355.414.7101.124!! Those are ridiculous numbers. But they arent very different than what he had in Tucson last year before being called up. Thats when the problems started. I know because I had him on my roto team. The kid looks like a ballplayer, but struck out a ton (46 times in 49 games) and hit .143 in his time in the bigs.

What does he has left to prove down there? Not one thing, but thats not the point here. Again its all about the future and players are going to come up when it makes financial sense for the future.

It just makes me wonder about the kid. Hitting Major League pitching is not a given for anyone. If a kid is ready, let him grow, since the evolution of just about every hitter we have ever watched is full of up and downs. Its the ability to recover from failure and make adjustments that defines who a player is going to be. The sooner you start, the sooner you get to where you should be.

This situation reminds me of a John Madden quote about returning to coaching football. Madden, whos in the Hall of Fame as a coach, was asked if he was ever interested in returning to the sidelines. I was always fascinated by his response. He said he would have problems coaching in the todays NFL because it wasnt always about having the best players. Due to the salary cap, which he never coached with, financial considerations where as important to whether someone made the team as much as how good he was. He said he had a problem with that. He always wanted to field a team with the best players, period.

Theres a fine line in remaining relevant. Right now there isnt a lot of interest in what is going on, and its still very early. The last two seasons weve watched a lot of fans come dressed as empty seats in August and September, whats going to happen this year?

Culture change doesnt come easy. Were seeing that first-hand. But if no one cares about whats going on, they arent going to spend any money to see it happen. I would think that would include public cash for stadium renovations. Everybody loves a winner.

But the regime in charge now is all about the numbers, and when it comes to controlling players they have them down pat.

One thing they should remember though is that the fans know numbers too and all too well. They hear wherever they go: 104.

Coincidentally thats the same number of games Rizzo needs this year to vest for year two of service. Hes not going to see 104 this year, if only Cubs fans were so lucky.