There are many words/phrases that one could use to describe the Chicago Cubs as their Major League roster stands right now. Dumpster fire is one that comes to mind. And they only get worse from there. Regardless of the adjectives used to describe them, it doesn’t take an English wizard to note that the Cubs are heading straight toward yet another 100-loss season. At 106 years since they won their last World Series, this team still doesn’t appear ready to turn a corner. Is there any sort of hope for the future?
The short and quick answer would be yes. The Cubs’ front office tandem of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have made it clear from Day 1 that they had every intention of building this organization from the ground up. To this point, they’ve done that, building up one of the worst farm systems in all of baseball into the best. They have several marquee prospects including potential offensive superstars Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, along with notable pitching prospects like Arodys Vizcaino and C.J. Edwards, among plenty of others.
However, while there is room for optimism in the distant future, the Cubs as they stand right now have not improved as a Major League club in any way since Epstein and Hoyer took over. They have a couple of established core pieces on the roster right now, in Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Those two appear to have rebounded after rough 2013 campaigns. Welington Castillo is off to a horrid start, but projects as their starting catcher for the foreseeable future. What happens after that is where things get really rough.
This is a team that trots out Darwin Barney and Nate Schierholtz as starters on a daily basis. Calling Barney useless at the plate would be a gross overstatement of his offensive abilities, while Schierholtz is nothing more than a platoon outfielder. Speaking of platoon outfielders, they make up all five outfield spots on this roster. None of Justin Ruggiano, Ryan Sweeney, Ryan Kalish, Junior Lake, or Schierholtz are guys you could count on to play every day.
In addition to their shortcomings as far as the outfield is concerned, they have a coach obsessed with bunting and playing the matchups, meaning a potential impact bat like Mike Olt is only playing two or three nights a week, as Rick Renteria tries to get the lefty/righty matchup going with Luis Valbuena more often than not. To a point, there isn’t anything wrong with that. But a guy like Olt, a former top prospect in the Texas Rangers organization, needs to be playing as much as possible at the Major League level, or he needs to be playing in Iowa.
On the bump, the lone true impact starter for the Cubs is likely on his way out, in Jeff Samardzija. After Samardzija, it’s a bust of a signing in Edwin Jackson, a solid no. 3 or 4 in Travis Wood, and another sign-and-flip starter in Jason Hammel. The bullpen, while improved, features new faces like Jose Veras and Wesley Wright, neither of whom project to make it through the summer with this club due to poor performance. There are bright spots like Justin Grimm and Hector Rondon, however.
The Cubs have done an impressive job building up their depth throughout the organization. However, whatever optimism has been present in wake of the minor league performances of guys like Baez and Bryant is beginning to wane. Even when these types do make it to the big league level, far from a guarantee for most prospects, there is still major work to be done to the roster as it stands right now. Outside of the likes of Castro and Rizzo, as well as perhaps Castillo and Olt, it’s difficult to find pieces that could still be around when this team is competitive.
That’s not to say that the Cubs are not approaching the rebuild in the wrong way. However, fielding a competitive big league roster should not be something that is on the back burner for one season, let alone three. There’s still a glimmer of optimism thanks to the marquee youngsters, but one would have to imagine that whatever timeline was established for the Cubs competing by 2015 is likely going to be pushed back, as this team seems destined to hit the century mark for losses once again this season.