COMMENTARY | No matter your stance, 2013 is a season the Chicago Cubs will gladly put behind them.
While there's no argument that the team has struggled, fans have been vehemently defending their opposing views on the direction of ownership and the front office.
Cubs fans are nothing if not passionate, and there appears to be little to no middle ground on the topic of rebuilding. While there are those who equate being a Cubs fan with attending a Phish concert , an event that's more about the experience and nostalgia, many more are clamoring loud enough to drown out a Pearl Jam show.
On one side are those who claim that Theo Epstein's days as a hotshot wunderkind were merely fueled by luck, money, and more luck. We've seen this all before, they say, only now it's an effort to hoodwink us and make more money for the Ricketts family.
And on the other side are those who take the long-term rebuilding plan at face value, believing that Epstein and Jed Hoyer are baseball's Batman and Robin. Together, these super-friends have razed the Cubs to the ground but will eventually raise them to the sky.
So who's right? I will take a look at both sides of a few key points of contention to see if we can find some common ground.
Hyde: The Ricketts family doesn't care about the product on the field; they only want to line their own pockets. They have ordered the slashing of payroll and are putting up gaudy and unnecessary signage in order to squeeze as much money as possible out of the Cubs fans and Wrigley tourists as they can. Wrigley is being bastardized, turned from a ballpark to an amusement park, and there won't even be team worth watching on the field.
Jekyll: When they bought the team, the Ricketts family leveraged nearly $1 billion in debt, which put the team's debt-to-asset ratio well above the MLB-established threshold. The new revenue streams created by additional advertising and retail opportunities improve the club's debt position and will allow them to spend more on the payroll sooner.
The funding for the changes is all private, so rather than create a burden on the city and state, the Ricketts family has their own money on the line. That said, the best way to make money is by winning, so they want to win because that puts them in the black much quicker.
The Product on the Field
Jekyll: As I wrote in an earlier piece, the Cubs do have a solid foundation of power hitting, and even some building blocks on the pitching staff. They have a wealth of talent in the minors and those guys should start making their way to the majors over the course of the next 2-3 years. When you build a home, you start with the foundation and go up from there. It's going to take a while, but when this thing turns around, it'll do so in a hurry.
Hyde: Nice try. I also wrote this article, which presents the Cubs' shortcomings in gory statistical detail. It's great that they've got all those prospects, but what happens when they don't pan out? And even if a couple of them do pan out, Theo will simply trade them away to acquire more "talent" for the minors.
It's like a shell game perpetrated by a street performer. In this case, Theo is keeping the fans distracted with his sleight of hand, while his owners prowl the crowd and pick pockets. They're keeping the flame of hope flickering long enough to steal your attention AND your money.
Rizzo and Castro
Hyde: We can't discuss talent without coming around to the two would-be phenoms. This is your strong foundation? Castro has the attention span of a 4-year-old and Rizzo is batting .229 on the whole and only .177 with RISP. The only rudders this sinking ship had are now playing in New York and Tampa, respectively, so the Cubs have to rely on these two as leaders.
Talk all you want about having better protection in the lineup, but these guys are damaged goods at this point. The team needs to trade these guys to a team that doesn't know any better and sign some proven talent.
Jekyll: Castro was basically a .300 hitter from the moment he entered the league, and he's been improving since being inserted back into the leadoff spot. He led the NL in hits 2 years ago, for crying out loud! Rizzo's average leaves something to be desired, but he's also hit 22 HRs with 75 RBIs on a team that has struggled to score runs.
Neither player is even 25 years old, so they still have room to grow and improve. They have little protection in the lineup, so they're not seeing many pitches to hit. I think the expectations that come with long-term contracts have affected both of them as well, but I believe that both will return to form next season.
There's really no way to know for sure who's right on this, as no one can predict the future. And given that the Dr. Jekyll view is that of a 5-year plan, a final assessment can't truly be made for another couple of seasons.
While both points of view skew toward the extreme, I share some of each of their thoughts. But when it comes down to it, I fall mainly in the Jekyll camp. Hyde's got his merits, though, and it's not easy watching your team suffer nearly 200 losses in 2 years.
If Jekyll's right, everyone is happy because the plan worked and the team is competitive. If Hyde's right, he and those in his camp will only be happy about being right.
Evan spent his formative years on a farm and a sleepy town in Northwest Indiana in the days before Wrigley Field was illuminated. As a result, every summer afternoon was spent watching or listening to the Cubs on WGN, a practice that ingrained the team into his DNA. His kids are named after the team and years of frustration have made him a self-loathing, yet still unapologetic, Cubs apologist. And, yes, he knows that that is contradictory.
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