Over the last two or three days, I've read a few articles that have mentioned that the Cubs could contend as early as next season. I don't want to single anybody out, because I have a lot of respect for both of these writers. The first time I read it, I thought "what the hell?". The second time I read it, I thought what the hell am I missing?".
If I read this from some super optimistic Cubs fan on twitter, I wouldn't give it any thought. The people I read this from are smart. They're good at what they do. I have to be missing something, so what is it?
The Cubs don't have any prospects that we could expect to get any sizable amount of playing time from next year. The Cubs have not been quick to promote their top prospects. There's really nothing going on in Chicago right now that could cause the Cubs to do so any time in the next calendar year.
Javier Baez has basically spent a year at each level so far and I expect we'll see that same sort of schedule looking ahead. That would mean we should see a promotion to Tennessee at some point this year and a promotion to AAA Iowa around a year later.
We have less information on Jorge Soler, but based on his contract it appears the Cubs are ready to give him at least 2 to 3 years in the minor leagues. Both Baez and Soler have aspects of their game they can work on and there's no hurry to get them to the big leagues. It's highly unlikely we'd see either of these players prior to September 2014 (at the earliest).
The Cubs top pitching prospects entering the season were Arodys Vizcaino and Dillon Maples. Vizcaino was recovering from Tommy John Surgery. He's since had a second surgery and won't be pitch at all this year.
Unlike Vizcaino, Maples has actually thrown pitches, but they're not finding the strike zone very often. He's shown horrible control in his career even though it's still a small sample.
Kyle Hendricks and Pierce Johnson have emerged as the system's top pitching prospects. Johnson has been very good in his first full season of professional ball. Hendricks has similarly good results at a higher level. Of the two, Johnson likely has the better future ahead of him. Like Hendricks, Johnson has very good control, but has struckout a lot more batters. Still, scouts see Johnson as a mid-rotation to back of the rotation starter at the big league levels. Dave and I gave him a grade of 6D entering the season and Myles and I bumped that up to 7D. That strikeout to walk ratio is quite good.
Hendricks will probably get to the big leagues more quickly since he's due for a promotion to AAA Iowa anytime. Johnson is still at least a year away and it's doubtful we'd see him in Chicago prior to mid 2015.
In other words, if the Cubs are going to be contending in 2014 or 2015, isn't this going to have to come from what they currently have and/or acquire in free agency? If this team is close enough to contention that we're talking next season, why are the Cubs apparently so eager to trade Matt Garza? He's young enough that an extension makes sense. Losing him only makes success in the short-term more difficult.
For that matter, why are the Cubs even entertaining phone calls about Jeff Samardzija? If the Cubs think they can contend in 2014 or even 2015, Samardzija will have to be an integral part of that run. The core of the team we see right now would more than likely be the core of the team that would lead them to the postseason.
Can we really say that the current core is that good? I sure as hell can't. Maybe I'm just not watching this team frequently enough. Perhaps the games I watch are the ones in which Starlin Castro looks like one of the worst everyday hitters to wear a Cubs uniform that I've ever seen.
I can't possibly see a successful Cubs team in the next year or year and a half in which Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and a pre-shitty Castro aren't huge parts of the team. Anthony Rizzo has been pretty good. Maybe not great or anything, but consider his age he's been alright. He ain't that good though.
I don't get the impression the Cubs are going to go wild this offseason on free agents. I don't even think there are even enough of the kinds of free agent players the Cubs would sign that are available. Instead of gearing up for spending a bunch of money, the front office seems poised to sell a lot of players over the next month. I don't see the Cubs getting back the kind of MLB ready talent that's going to help them contend right away for the likes of Ryan Sweeney, Nate Schierholtz, Matt Garza, Kevin Gregg and possibly Scott Feldman. If that was possible, the Cubs would probably be contending right now.
I'll admit that 2014 or 2015 sounds like the year the Cubs should be contending. About 5 years ago I thought the Cubs could be contending by 2014 or 2015 if they made the right moves and got a little lucky. That doesn't mean that it's still all that reasonable.
I think the earliest we can talk about a Cubs team contending is 2015 and that will require a great deal of luck. Realistically, we're looking at 2016 and beyond.