After speaking with several baseball sources over the past few days I am hearing that a complete and total rebuild of the Cubs is more likely than ever to take place during the remainder of the off-season. I have confirmed that Sean Marshall has been dealt to Cincinnati for Travis Wood and two minor leaguers, pending a physical.
However, Marshall along with several other players on the Cubs roster are all being shopped as Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and company look to maximize their value as they look to completely overhaul the team. In speaking with a current major league executive from outside Chicago who would only speak with me on the condition of anonymity he was brutally honest in evaluating where the Cubs are right now.
If you are completely honest about the current roster that Theo and Jed inherited I dont see more than a handful of pieces that a championship type team would want to have on their roster. Garza, Castro, Marshall, perhaps Marmol if they can get his wildness under control, and maybe another bullpen piece or two and thats about it, he told me.
As I questioned him further he told me that the talk around baseball when it comes to the Cubs is that they need a full scale house cleaning. There is no doubt that the Cubs need a major overhaul and with that comes a couple of seasons of teams that will have more than its share of struggles. However, if Theo and Jed can make astute deals for the few pieces that they do have the rebuild can get off to a very good start. In the addition, the farm system is not in good shape in terms of nearly major league ready starting pitching so if they can make some very solid deals they can reload in the minor leagues as well, he said.
A look at the current makeup of the Cubs roster shows a handful of big contracts that the Cubs are having trouble trying to move despite their willingness to eat significant portions of the remaining dollars. From Alfonso Soriano to Carlos Zambrano, to Ryan Dempster, the Cubs have approximately 50 million tied up in players who do not figure to be a part of their future when they are ready to win. Add in Marshall, Carlos Marmol and Marlon Byrd along with a handful of others who do not figure to be a part of the Cubs long term future and you have current 2012 salary commitments that total 72,850,000. Add in deals that would have to get done with Matt Garza, Geovany Soto, and others who are arbitration eligible and the Cubs 2012 payroll climbs into the 90 million dollar range.
Now with that much money already committed you have a 71 win team from 2011 that has lost one of its top power bats in Carlos Pena and has only added David DeJesus and Ian Stewart which cannot at this point be considered major additions to the roster. The starting pitching is still among baseballs worst and the everyday lineup has a number of holes in it. Question marks include first base, third base, left field, at least two if not three spots in the rotation and a couple of spots in the bullpen.
That doesnt include the question marks that occupy the other positions of the current team. Is Soto really worth the 4-5 million or so that he will earn in 2012 and is he the catcher of the future? Is Darwin Barney the long-term answer at 2nd base?
A look at the pitching staff shows more questions that need answers such as the closer role where Marmol has a world of talent but is coming off of a horrific 2011 when he blew 10 saves and saw his Ks per 9 innings drop by four strikeouts from his record-setting 2010 season. Is he the long-term answer in that role or could the Cubs get a solid return if they were to move him in a deal?
The Cubs roster is devoid of impact position players with the exception of Starlin Castro. So the question that must be asked is does it make sense for Epstein and Hoyer to spend significant dollars to try to patchwork a lineup that has virtually no chance of contending? Or should they use this one opportunity to truly tear the team down to its foundation and rebuild it the right way knowing that major on field success is a few years away?
One thing that Tom Ricketts has shown in his statements to the media and the fan base ever since he purchased the franchise is that he is in this for the long haul so from that perspective a complete rebuild makes a lot of sense. When Epstein spoke to the media before the winter meetings he gave this assessment of the potential for the Cubs to sign a free agent to a mega contract. Weve been consistent from Day 1 that our priorities are building this thing the right way, for the long haul, mainly through scouting and player development and through the acquisition of young players. The second priority is to take advantage of every opportunity to win that you have. But were not going to do anything to serve the second priority that disrupts the first. So any rumor that you hear, its probably worth your while to assess it through that lens. Not saying that were not going to make a move that might be unanticipated or catch people by surprise or might not on its face fit perfectly into that box. But generally thats our philosophy. Thats how were evaluating moves as we try to build this thing.
Two other sources confirmed to me today that the Cubs are not players in the Prince Fielder negotiations and are not preparing to make a major offer to land him. In fact, the same major league sources expect the Cubs to try to move most of their valuable assets before spring training and that a complete overhaul of the team will definitely happen. As one current NL executive told me it is about time that it happened. The Cubs have never had the guts to completely blow up their roster and build it the right way. They have to have a plan for sustained success instead of always trying to patchwork a roster for a surprising season. They should have done that when Andy MacPhail took over but for whatever reason they couldnt or wouldnt. By the time Jim Hendry became the GM they had some young starting pitching and a mandate from management in 2006-09 to try to buy their way to a championship. It never worked out so the rebuild is the right way to go, he said.