1908. The Called Shot. The Miracle Mets. Right through Durham’s legs. Will Clark. Steve Bartman. Swept in both 2007 and 2008.
We all know the amount of pain and suffering that Cubs fans have been through for the past 106 years, but lucky for them it is all about to end. I'm predicting that the Cubs will win a championship within the next five years.
When the Cubs acquired Theo Epstein and signed Jed Hoyer to be their GM in October of 2011, they had just come off of 2 straight losing seasons. The previous year's payroll was $134,004,000 and only produced 71 wins. Epstein and Hoyer realized that the best route to take to build a consistent winner in Chicago was to bottom out, shed the lofty contracts, and build from within.
In the new regime's first off-season they dumped Carlos Zambrano and all of the baggage that came with him on the Miami Marlins, agreeing to pay all but $2.5M of his remaining $18M for the 2012 season. They knew that they wouldn't be able to build a contender until they rid themselves of the past front office mistakes. The biggest mistake was a 8 year $136M contract handed out to Alfonso Soriano in 2006. The Cubs sent Soriano back to the Yankees at the trade deadline last year and agreed to pay $17.7M of the remaining $24.5M through 2014.
The Cubs, who had a $144,359,000 payroll as recent as 2010, lowered their salary obligations down to a very modest $92,677,368 by opening day 2014.
The first big move the new regime made was acquiring first basemen Anthony Rizzo. Epstein and Hoyer knew Rizzo well as they drafted him in Boston and Hoyer traded for him as G.M. of the Padres. In 3 seasons with the Cubs, Rizzo has hit .260/.345/.465 with increasing home run total in each season (15 home runs in 2012, 23 in 2013, and already reached a career high of 30 in 2014). They signed Rizzo to a 7 year $41M contract extension in May of 2013; he will obviously be one of the center pieces of the Cubs' future. The Cubs also locked up shortstop Starlin Castro to a 7 year $60M extension in August of 2012.
Theo and Jed weren't satisfied with only two very talented position players to build their team around, so they went out and got more. While bottoming out and losing games can be frustrating for the fans, it can prove to be very helpful for the franchise's future. The Cubs picked in the top 6 of the first year player draft in each of Epstein's first three seasons. They used their 2012 1st round pick (6th overall) on outfielder Albert Almora, their 2013 1st round pick (2nd overall) on a polished college 3rd basemen named Kris Bryant, and their 2014 1st round pick (4th overall) on the most college ready bat in Kyle Schwarber. Almora is ranked as the 39th best prospect in baseball by MLB.com for his above average outfield defense and ability to hit the ball to all fields. Bryant is ranked as the 3rd best prospect in all of baseball for his incredible right handed power (he has 43 homers in 2014). The Cubs could play Bryant at either 3rd base or the corner outfield. Fresh off of being drafted, Schwarber is already ranked as the 75th best prospect in the MLB for his polished hitting ability. He played a lot of catcher in college but he also could also be moved to the corner outfield.
To add more offensive talent to the farm system, the Cubbies signed a talented Cuban outfielder named Jorge Soler to a 9 year $30M contract. Soler has struggled to stay healthy and out of trouble (he was suspended five games last season), but when he has been on the field he has been productive. He has hit 340/.432/.700 with 15 Hrs in 200 at bats this season. Soler will be making his MLB debut tonight.
Just when you thought the Cubs had enough of an offensive core for the foreseeable future, they went out and acquired another top 50 prospect. At the trade deadline this year the Cubs traded both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics for the #6 prospect in all of baseball, shortstop Addison Russell as well as 2013 1st round pick Billy McKinney and bought low on pitcher Dan Straily. Russell was the 11th pick in the 2012 MLB draft by the Athletics and has the potential to be a five tool player. He's batting .300/.359/.525 with 12 home runs in 240 minor league at bats.
One of the things that Theo and Jed do better than most rebuilding teams, is they will always trade off pieces at the deadline. If the player is having a good season but isn't in your future plans, why not trade them away for some prospects at the trade deadline? They traded away Scott Feldman at last year's trade deadline and in exchange bought low on Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. This season Jake Arrieta has broke out, he's 7-4 with a 2.53 ERA, 1.01 Whip, and has 127 Ks/32 BBs in 124.1 inning pitched. Pedro Strop has been solid out of the bullpen with a 2.31 ERA, 1.09 Whip, and has 56 Ks/23 Bbs in 50.2 innings pitched. Not a bad return for a rental starting pitcher eh?
Could Dan Straily be the next buy low to work out for the Cubs? How about Jacob Turner? Felix Doubront? They just acquired a solid prospect I personally like in Victor Caratini who can play behind the dish or at the hot corner in exchange for Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell. The Cubs are always looking to acquire pieces that could potentially help them for the future and other rebuilding teams could learn a thing or two from them.
Assuming all of the Cubs' top position prospects continue to play well and stay healthy, we could see all of them in Wrigley Field at some point in 2015. I didn't even mention Arismendy Alcantara yet who was a top 100 prospect coming into the 2014 season. He's a speedy 2nd basemen (has also seen time in the outfield) with solid hitting ability who was the first of the rookie crop to make his MLB debut. A few weeks later the Cubs called up power hitting middle infielder Javier Baez, who according to many scouts has the fastest bat speed since Gary Sheffield along with enormous power upside. The main gripe against Baez is that he strikes out too much.
With Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, and Kyle Schwarber the Cubs have nine players for eight spots. If Kyle Schwarber can't stick at catcher it would become nine players for seven spots. The Cubs have a good problem on their hands right now, they have too many talented young position players.
They could keep all of the prospects since you never know if any of them will wind up being a bust, but the most likely scenario out there is they could go out and trade one or two of those prospects for an established major league arm. Could they trade for Cole Hamels? They claimed him on waivers a few weeks ago, showing that they would be willing to pay his remaining 4 years $96M. What about Zach Wheeler? The Mets are the opposite of the Cubs, as they have a plethora of young pitchers. If the Cubs are willing to trade any of their talented position prospects or even Starlin Castro, they would be able to get the pitching that they desperately need.
The Chicago Cubs 2015 rotation will include Jake Arrieta as well as two other pitchers who have finally broken out. Like Arrieta, Tsuyshi Wada did not live up to the hype in Baltimore. He had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and never left his mark with the Orioles. This offseason he signed a minor league deal with the Cubs and has pitched beyond Chicago's wildest dreams. He had a 2.77 ERA, 1.16 Whip, and 120 Ks/28 BBs in 113.2 IP in the tough Triple-A Pacific Coast League. In 8 starts after getting called up to the Cubs he has a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 Whip, 41 Ks/11 BBs in 45.2 IP. The Cubs acquired Kyle Hendricks in a 2012 trade deadline trade of Ryan Dempster and he has been fantastic. In 8 starts with the Cubs, the 24 year old has a 1.78 ERA, 1.01 Whip, and 31 Ks/11 BBs in 50.2 IP.
All signs points to the Cubs being interested in the top pitching free agents this off-season. They need an ace by any means necessary. Last off-season they were reported as the runner up for starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields will be hitting the open market in November and it would not shock me if the Cubs tried to sign two of them. They will be officially done paying Alfonso Soriano this winter and will have even more money to spend. The Cubs are the sleeping giants of baseball.
The Cubs haven't won a championship since 1908 but better times are ahead for the North Side of Chicago. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have an incredible plan in place that is starting to take shape. They have a few more big moves to make, but once they acquire the top of the rotation pitching they need, the Cubs will be perennial contenders.
I expect the Cubs to have a winning record in 2015 and be a championship contender as soon as 2016. Will the 106 year curse finally end? I think it will within the next five years.
My name is Seth Guttman and I'm a writer for First and Ten Sports. You can follow me on twitter @RavenNation21 for my instant reaction to all things sports. I also announce when my latest articles and podcasts are going up. Thanks for reading!