The media loves to go on and on about how Cardinals fans are the best in baseball. The media says lots of stupid shit.
This week, Cardinals fans had a chance to show just how the best fans in baseball would react to a great player doing the a favor and not clogging up their payroll for a decade after he’s already started to slide down the backside of his career arc. Albert Pujols, long the best player in the game, and still one of the best, signed a ten-year $254 million deal to leave St. Louis for Anaheim. So how did Cardinals fans thank Pujols for 11 years, a rookie of the year award, three MVPs and three pennants?
Every time I see outrage on the Interwebs among Cubs fans I reflexively run to the side opposite the outrage. The reason? Cubs fans are idiots.
What caused the idiot horde to take their rage out for a spin yesterday? Busty Olney reported the Cubs would listen to trade offers on Matt Garza.
WELL HOLY SHIT MERLENE, GET THE PITCHFORKS AND TORCHES, WEEZE GONNA PAY THEO A LITTLE VISIT!
A quick scan of the Cubs 40 man roster is a depressing scene. There are two really good players on the roster. Garza is one. Starlin Castro is the other. The rest can be separated into three tidy piles. Shitty players. Shitty, expensive players. Young players who will someday prove to be shitty and possibly expensive.
So I understand the urge to put a wall up around the two good players. (And that thudding sound you hear is just Starlin and Matt trying to play catch, which, given their fielding exploits in 2011 is a mostly futile effort.)
Let me be clear. I doubt that the Cubs will trade either player. Castro is 21 and already has a pair of .300 batting seasons to his credit. He’s just scratching the surface of his hitting talents. He’s a gawdawful shortstop, but either he’ll figure it out, or they’ll find another spot for him in the field. Maybe him and Alfonso Soriano can share left field? I don’t mean platoon, I mean both play it at the same time.
Garza just turned 28 and he’s a stud. His record was only 10-10 because the team sucked so hard, but he was as good as advertised last year. (Well, except for when the ball was hit at him. He made seven errors in 33 chances. Holy shit. It would hard to make that any errors in that few chances on purpose.)
But consider that the Cubs new boy band front office seems to grasp the idea that it’s going to take a while to turn this team around. They hired Dale Sveum to prop up the dugout for three years while they shovel the crap out of it, at which point they’ll thank him and hire a real manager.
So what’s the harm in finding out what players like Garza and Castro are worth in trade? Just because you talk with other teams about a player doesn’t mean you’re going to trade the guy. Shouldn’t it be the obligation of every general manager to have a handle on what his players are actually worth? For whatever reason, Jim Hendry refused to talk to other teams about certain players. Do you think he really ever had a substantive discussion with another team about Ryan Dempster? Last year he wouldn’t even talk to teams about free agent to be Carlos Pena. I’m not even sure that if Marlon Byrd hadn’t broken his face last year that Hendry would have shopped him around. That kind of stuff never made any sense.
What Cubs fans are (hopefully) going to have to get used to with Jed and Theo running things is a different way of doing business. Players could now be traded (gasp!) at the height of their trade value, not the absolute rock bottom. Fan favorites could very well get shipped out of town, because often times the guys the fans like aren’t nearly as good as the fans think they are.
If Jim Hendry had inherited the Red Sox roster the year after they won the World Series in 2004, you know what he’d have done. Kevin Millar would have gotten a five year contract extension for being folksy and a “team leader.” Bill Mueller would have been given a lifetime deal for winning a batting title in 2003 and being a grit factory in 2004. Keith Foulke would have been given a 12 year extension.
You know what really happened to them? Millar wasn’t brought back when his contract expired after the 2005 season and ended up being annoying in Baltimore instead of Boston. Mueller was a Dodger by 2006 and out of baseball in 2007. Foulke’s arm fell off, he missed all of 2007 and tried to come back in Oakland in 2008 and then retired.
So how much did the Red Sox suffer on the field and at the gate with the loss of these three World Series heroes? They sold more tickets than they ever had before and they won another World Series in 2007.
And…if you really want to know what Jed and Theo think about making deals that make fans happy, just remember what happened on July 31, 2004. They traded the second most popular Red Sox player of all time…to Jim Hendry and the Cubs, and won the World Series three months later.
So yeah…they’re willing to trade anybody.
A lot has been made about how the new collective bargaining agreement and its archaic limits on what you can pay draft picks and international signings will do to screw up Theo and Jed’s plans. It throws a wrench in them, certainly, but, whenever the rules change it pays to have the smart guys on your side. Guys like Theo and Andrew Friedman in Tampa and Jon Daniels in Texas will be the first ones to figure out how to use the new rules to their advantage.
Right now they all throw big money at draft picks. It allows them to convince players who are sure to go to college to take the money and head to rookie ball instead. It allows them to get first round value in the third, fifth, or this year, the twelfth rounds. They stockpile as many top prospects as possible and use them to fill holes on the big league roster or package them in trades to get bona fide big leaguers for them.
To some extent, that strategy will still work. The spending limits on draft picks will bring average signing prices down. A guy like Bryce Harper or Steven Strasburg is still going to get paid, but most of the first round picks will get far less money than they would have in the past. Teams will good scouts will still have an edge. In fact, if you really trust your scouts and they identify the subsequent year’s draft to be weak, you could load up in the current draft, blow past your spending limit and tell Bud you don’t care when he takes your first…or even first and second picks in that next draft. For a team with means, a mid to low first round pick isn’t that much more important than a second or third round pick. So if you lose it, big deal, you’ll draft a hard to sign player with first round talent later on in the draft and hope to make up for it.
The Players Association pushed for the new draft rules to try to shift money more towards the big league rosters. It may be something that’s going to work. Take the Cubs for example.
Tom Ricketts gave Theo a budget for next year and it included (presumably) a lot of money to spend on the draft. Now that draft spending is ‘capped’ Theo and Jed are trying to figure out the best way to spend that money. According to Ken Rosenthal they’re now talking to the agents for Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
So how does that make sense if we’ve already acknowledged that the Cubs roster is terrible and it’s going to take several years to rebuild? It makes sense if you feel that player is still going to be a big time run producer three years from now. Fielder will be 30, Pujols will be in his mid 50s. Both will probably still be pretty damned good. There are risks. Pujols isn’t going to be a great player for eight or nine years, but you probably have to sign him for that long to get him. That seems foolish. Fielder is a tremendous offensive player, but he’s obese. At some point his tiny little skeleton (he’s listed at 5’11, but he’s barely 5’9) is going to start to crack under all of that blubber. It might happen in 2014, it might not happen until 2020. That’s why they pay guys like Theo big money…it’s to figure this stuff out.
One thing is for sure, business as usual gloriously doesn’t apply to the Cubs anymore.
The best thing about the Cubs getting a new general manager is that we can all live through the countless, pointless, “Ryno deserves it!” posts about the Cubs managerial job. Granted, there’s somebody in that job, but nobody has ever had any problem talking about Mike Quade like he’s not in the room.
I spent yesterday actually writing about the Cubs…writing the Cubs season wrap up for our good friend Kevin Kaduk and the Big League Stew Blog at Yahoo! Sports. And because of that, I had to halt the urge to rip a particularly awful (and that’s saying something) Phil Rogers shitfest.
Hah! Phil doesn’t get off that easily.