The Chicago Cubs offseason to this point has been a great breath of fresh air in building toward the ongoing success of the franchise. No outlandish contracts, no high profile players just finishing their eventual decline. Low risk with nice upside has been the order of the day of the Cubs’ 2011-12 offseason. But there is one team that has outsmarted all of baseball and it’s not even close. They’ve been doing it their way for quite a while and so for it has worked. The Rays pinch pennies in a stadium that can’t even be mentioned in the same sentence with the likes of Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, or even Camden Yards of which they compete with these respective franchises in the same division and have come up big at times over the course of the last four years.
So how could a team like this remain competitive over time? They are literally brokers of talent and buy blue chip type commodities and “trade” the rest. Their creative signings of Evan Longoria and most recently Matt Moore is absolutely pure genius. Their dominance in the draft, even after their ascent from the cellar for many years has continued to show its face regularly. They landed James Shields in the same fashion and it has been fairly obvious the dividends it is paying. The deal they made with Moore is risky, but a very calculated risk with tremendous upside in buying time to build around a guy who has the potential to be a Steve Carlton type star for many years. In the “trades” they’ve made in patching holes with veterans this year with Carlos Pena they landed him for a lesser price than the Cubs did with Carlos coming off a ridiculously improved year from the year prior to last. These guys are scary.
All right, enough talk of my infatuation how the Rays are the real “Moneyball” franchise in baseball today. The Cubs need to make a move similar to what the Rays did with Moore and it is much less a gamble on their young star Starlin Castro. Outside of the recent allegations that are yet to be proven true or false, there is much less that can go terribly wrong with Starlin. He has proven over the course of not quite two years of being among the most durable players in the game. There needs to be a deal set up with Castro (prior to no later than the trading deadline this year) that shows fans and more importantly Castro the Cubs mean business and he is going to be a central building block of their franchise.
I would have liked to see some type of dialog when Epstein had a chance to look him in the eye and take a long look the player and the person. If they like at all what they’ve seen they need to visit with him and inform him of some circumstances that effect his immediate future compensation. First, once the allegations are cleared up (or believed to be cleared eventually) management needs to reach out in telling him, after you show up to spring in shape, and truly focused we are willing to begin negotiations on a contract. After seeing him play for a contract NOW in spring and perhaps four to eight weeks into the season feeling he is truly committed to get his attention. The negotiations should include the coming year as there is leverage due to his arbitration status and continuing his true focus. The contract should be incentive laden and in the neighborhood of five to seven years. Each year his base should go up to some degree beginning in 2013 in the neighborhood of 3-3.5 million to show they mean business. The incentives should include performances of defensive improvement among other personal offensive areas that can be measured in improvement with ceilings if he goes nuts and does something crazy like hitting .350 or something like that. When this guy is motivated he has been one of the more special young players in the game. When he is not he becomed somewhat of a distraction and that needs to stop right now as far as management should be concerned.
With money being flashed in his face will bring along some long term consequences that can be very desirable. You give yourself a great shot at getting a future hometown discount to bring in more talent down the road if he is made a Cub for the productive years of his career and this deal like what the Rays have done, buys you time and creates the opportunity to build around a guy and virtually cross off a spot in the organization for years to come, wherever the spot ends up being.
Hopefully something similar to these actions have already been taken and the Cubs can take a page out of the Rays book, even though their “money under management” is whole different story than the Rays books.