Kaplan: The Cubs must have philosophy change

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Kaplan: The Cubs must have philosophy change

Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011Posted: 7:25 p.m.

By David Kaplan
CSNChicago.com Insider Follow @TheKapman
While Cubs ownership searches for the next general manager and everyone who follows the team ponders the possible changes to the major league roster, it has become apparent that before players are added or subtracted, the culture of the organization must change dramatically. And nowhere are those changes more needed than at the major league level.

For far too many years, the Chicago Cubs have tried a Band-Aid approach to improving the major league team. Year after year, we see veteran players come and go in hopes of ending a century-long drought between championships. Until the arrival of Tim Wilken in 2006, the minor league system has been somewhat of an afterthought when it came to spending and developing the best players for the Cubs future.

Whether it was not spending the necessary dollars to sign players that wanted above recommended slot money or bypassing highly regarded prospects entirely because of what it would cost to sign them, the Cubs have lagged far behind the upper echelon teams when it comes to developing premier major league talent.

Wilken is considered one of the best scouting directors in baseball and brought several players to the big leagues during his tenure in Toronto and in Tampa Bay. Since taking over the Cubs drafts in 2006, he has seen 14 of his picks make it to the big leagues which is among the Top 5 in the game. Armed now with an increase in money to spend on amateur talent, the Cubs landed a bumper crop of players this past June and had the financial commitment from ownership to sign those players by the Aug. 15th deadline.

In talking with both players and scouts from around baseball, it is apparent that the truly good organizations have rosters filled with players that developed together and matured together through their days in the minor leagues rather than adding the bulk of the team through trades and free agent acquisitions.

Of course, great teams are a blend of homegrown players and smart baseball decisions in free agency and trades, but look at the teams that are always in contention and what do you see? Teams that have a solid, homegrown core that are filled with players who developed together. That is what creates a family atmosphere that is essential to developing a winning organization.

Take the Phillies, who just clinched their fifth consecutive NL East championship. Sure they have added some tremendous players in Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay through either free agency or in a trade. However, the core of their team was built in their minor league system where they developed Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley and had enough depth in the minors to make the trades for Halladay and Hunter Pence just to name a few.

Look at the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, who are both consistently contending to win a World Series. Both have core groups of stars who were developed in the minor leagues and understand their respective organizational philosophies.

Boston is led by Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Jed Lowrie and a handful of youngsters who all came through the Boston system. They have combined with veterans such as Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez who were added by trading from a talent rich farm system to upgrade the major league roster.

The Yankees have a core of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, Robinson Cano, and veterans who are considered outstanding leaders in Mark Texeira, C.C. Sabathia, and Alex Rodriguez who all embrace the Yankee Way to play.

Look at the Twins, Rays, Angels, Rangers, Brewers, Cardinals, Giants and Braves. All of those franchises have stars who embrace the concept of leadership and were raised in the minor league system.

Whether that is Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer in Minnesota or Shields, Price and Longoria in Tampa the concept remains the same. Build a solid core from within and then add the pieces around it necessary to improve the roster.

Sure, the Brewers went out and added Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum last winter to upgrade their rotation but they were adding to a roster that already had Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Yovani Gallardo and a handful of others who were all immersed in the Brewers philosophy from the start of their professional careers.

For far too long, the Cubs have been built on mercenaries who came to Chicago knowing very little about the team, Wrigley Field and all the pressure that goes with being part of a team that is trying to end the longest drought in professional sports history.

It is time that the Cubs build from within and only add players who are about one thing--winning. Doing whatever it takes to win has to be their ultimate goal. There is no family atmosphere in the Cubs clubhouse and it is not a team that is built on a sense of togetherness with everyone pulling in the same direction for the betterment of the team as a whole.

Manager Mike Quade paid his dues throughout a long career in professional baseball and the opportunity to manage the Cubs was his chance to make it on the biggest of stages in major league baseball.

However, as he fights to keep his job, he continues to play veterans at the expense of young players who could be a part of the Cubs future. How do you continue to leave Bryan LaHair, Tony Campana and Tyler Colvin on the bench while continuing to trot out veterans who have no chance at being everyday players for the Cubs going forward?

It was on management to tell Quade that once his team was clearly not going to be a factor in the division race that he needed to worry more about evaluating and preparing the team for next year than worrying about a few more wins that are meaningless in the big picture.

Instead, once again, the Cubs are left with questions about some of the prospects on their major-league roster as they head into the offseason. The only thing worse than a losing season is having a losing season and not knowing what you have on your roster that can be a part of the long-term future of the organization and unfortunately, that is where the Cubs are at once again.

Add all of it up and it is painfully obvious that a philosophical change in direction is necessary and a culture change in the clubhouse that embraces a consistent philosophy throughout the organization is a must going forward.

With the resources that are available and the division that the organization plays in, there is no reason that the Cubs can't become the dominant team in the NL Central.

But for that to happen, everyone has to be on the same page and the organization has to adopt a baseball philosophy that every player that wears the Chicago Cubs uniform, no matter the level in the system, buys into or else they are not kept no matter how talented they may be.

David Kaplanpublishes his thoughts at The Kapman on CSNChicago.com every Monday,Wednesday, and Friday and whenever major news breaks. Follow him onTwitter @thekapman.

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How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

In the span of just over a week, Ian Happ has gone from arguably the Cubs' biggest trade piece to the 2017 savior.

OK, "savior" is extreme, but Happ has been an unlikely stabilizing force for the defending world champions.

In a week's worth of big-league action (seven games), Happ has smacked six extra base-hits, scored seven runs and posted a 1.182 OPS. But his impact has been so much more than just the numbers on the back of his Topps card.

Happ's presence has helped the Cubs reinvent themselves.

The plan heading into the 2017 season was to have Kyle Schwarber lead off and Ben Zobrist reprise his 2016 role as lineup protection for Anthony Rizzo.

But with Schwarber struggling atop the order, Happ's presence has freed up the ever-patient Zobrist to become the team's new leadoff as the week-old rookie is now protecting a perennial MVP candidate in Rizzo.

"It's all based on Ian Happ," Joe Maddon said. "I'm still very aware of protecting Rizzo. And that's where Zobrist came in handy. Now to this point, I'm looking at last month's numbers, Zo's really ascending and Schwarbs has come back a little bit regarding just getting on base.

"So Zo's the most likely candidate among all the groups to try to get on base more often and Rizzo's still protected with Ian. Just moving everybody down one slot with Ian there taking the role of Zobrist, I kinda wanted to give it a try."

It's only one game, but the refurbished lineup scored 13 runs Sunday, collecting 10 extra-base hits and scoring in seven of eight offensive innings.

Happ was right there in the middle of it all, smoking a 108 mph double off the right field wall in the first inning and doubling again later in the game. 

Zobrist homered. Rizzo homered. Bryant — who said hitting third is where he's most comfortable in the lineup — crushed a pair of homers and reached base five times. Schwarber went 1-for-3 with an RBI and a walk.

With Happ's presence bumping Schwarber down in the order, Maddon also has moved back to hitting the pitcher last.

"In my mind's eye, I'm more able or wanting to hit the pitcher ninth again because Schwarber is moved back," Maddon said. "Part of the method was to try to feed Schwarber with a nine-hole hitter."

With Happ in the lineup, the Cubs are averaging 6.3 runs per game. 

Again, it's a small sample size and the Cubs were due for an offensive explosion after a slow start to the season, but Happ has been a central figure.

"Nothing surprises me [with him]," Bryant said. "We all saw what he can do in spring. It's not surprising at all. He's definitely provided a spark for us since he's been up.

"He's just been great out there, moving all over the field. I don't even know what his main position is, but if it's center field, he's out there doing a good job, too."

Willson Contreras helped provide the 2016 Cubs with a jolt of energy when he made his debut in mid-June. Happ is doing the same thing this season, though his arrival has come a month earlier in the 2017 campaign.

Happ has only played one full season of professional baseball and appeared in just 91 games above A-ball before making his big-league debut.

But he's looked like he belongs from the outset, blending into a clubhouse that has welcomed so many young position players over the last few years.

Maddon's message to Happ upon arriving was simple: Why don't you stay a while?

It's not as catchy as "try not to suck," but it has helped Happ relax.

"Sometimes, we underestimate the impact we have on anybody," Maddon said. "In my situation, as a manager to the player, so you say something like that just trying to get somebody to relax and who knows?

"Like Javy with 'try not to suck' a couple years ago, who knows how it's processed and how it permits the player to process the day? I knew how good [Happ] was in spring training, I knew how good he's been this season and I just know how he is.

"So there was no reason for him not to approach it like, 'I want to stay a while.'"

Happ spent most of his time in the minors as a second baseman, but with Baez and Zobrist around, Maddon doesn't see a way to work the rookie in the infield at this time.

But then again, two weeks ago, nobody could fathom how the Cubs could possibly work another position player into the lineup on a consistent basis, but that's worked itself out. Right now, it's Albert Almora Jr. being relegated to the bench as Happ has taken over in center field.

Of course, there's still more than four months left in the season and things will undoubtedly change again. 

But for now, Happ has forced the issue and altered the entire identity of the 2017 Cubs.