These Cubs Are Not the 1997 Marlins

Dave Kaplan wrote a post on the CSN Chicago site where he poses the question: Will the Cubs follow Marlins’ blueprint?

I clicked on it because I thought maybe, just maybe, he would have some information from speaking with Jim Hendry or Tom Ricketts or anyone within the Cubs organization that would indicate the Cubs were actually considering such a strategy.  Instead, it was just a bunch of stuff telling us what we already know if we’ve ever heard or read anything from Kaplan before.

I’ll paraphrase.

Soriano is useless and doesn’t hustle and he has to go.  Ramirez is a waste of money and Kaplan will dance a jig when the Cubs don’t pick up his option for 2012. Castro is a superstar on the horizon that shows the Cubs farm system is getting better and Darwin Barney is a fine player as well.

After five full paragraphs (not Telanderesque one word paragraphs, mind you) there really was no mention of any blueprint for success from the Marlins or from anywhere, really.  Finally at the end, after mentioning all the salary that will come off the books from expiring contracts, he ends his piece:

After watching the Florida Marlins win the World Series in 1997 then blow their roster up and rebuild it and win another title in 2003 the Cubs have a chance to follow that blueprint. But will they?

The end.

I have seen the Cubs compared to lots of things… the Keystone Cops, a steaming pile of dung, and a gang of thieves, but I’ve never heard them compared to the 1997 Florida Marlins before.

The thing is, the 1997 Florida Marlins had a boatload of talent, but not enough money to pay them to continue to be Marlins, so they were sold off for parts.  Below is a quick summation of the players they traded shortly after the 1997 World Series, including the total WAR accumulated by the player for the rest of their career and how many of those remaining years were at a level of 2 or more (everyday starter value).

Player WAR Years of 2+ WAR Players received
Gary Sheffield 42.5 8 Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile
Devon White 3.8 1 Jesus Martinez (minors)
Moises Alou 22.1 7 Manuel Barrios, Oscar Henriquez, PTBNL (Mark Johnson)
Bobby Bonilla -4.8 0 Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile
Edgar Renteria 27.9 6 Alfredo Almanza, Braden Looper, and Pablo Ozuna
Jeff Conine 11.9 3 Blaine Mull (minors)
Charles Johnson 13.5 3 Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile
Kevin Brown 30.2 6 Steve Hoff (minors), Derrick Lee, Rafael Medina
Al Leiter 24.9 7 Robert Stratton (minors), AJ Burnett, Jesus Sanchez
Robb Nen 11.8 3 Mike Pageler (minors), Mike Vilano (Minors), Joe Fontenot

It should also be noted that Piazza was a Marlin for about as long as it took me to get the above table to load correctly on this site.  He was quickly traded for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz (minors).  Todd Zeile lasted a bit longer, but was also quickly traded for Daniel DeYoung and Jose Santo.

So what can we learn from that?  Well, for one, the Marlins had a whole bunch of players that were quite good and were still good.  Do the Cubs have anyone like Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, or Al Leiter on the team?  The guys of that quality that are still reasonably priced could be Geovany Soto, Carlos Marmol, and Matt Garza.  Kap doesn’t say if they should be included in the fire sale, but I think 90% of the Cubs fan base would be against that.

Second, Bobby Bonilla and Devon White were the only real contributors that they dealt that didn’t wind up having multiple productive years for other teams.  The Cubs whole roster is loaded with Bobby Bonillas and Devon Whites.  Ryan Dempster?  He’s starting to show his age.  He may have a few halfway decent years left, but given his salary expectations going forward and what he has left in the tank, he’s not bringing much.  Carlos Zambrano? Probably the same thing.  Aramis Ramirez looks like he is done.  The power is gone.  And MB has made his case that the Cubs might actually be better off by just cutting Alfonso Soriano.  That isn’t someone who is going to bring anything in a trade.

The window for the firesale that is actually somewhat productive is probably all but closed.  They could have gotten something decent for Marlon Byrd last year, or even at the trade deadline this year, but now he’s hurt and his future is very uncertain.

Dempster was more tradeable in the offseason as well.  Granted, he has no-trade rights and probably would have vetoed any deal since he likes Chicago and his little girl’s doctors and support system are all here, but that doesn’t change the fact that dealing him now will bring less than if they had been honest with themselves last year.

Fukudome won’t bring much.  His skills aren’t sexy.  If he’s anyone on that list, he’s Jeff Conine and Conine brought back a minor leaguer that never amounted to anything.

Lastly, the Marlins sold off 44 productive major league seasons for a total of 183.8 WAR at an almost All-Star average rate of 4.2 WAR per productive season and basically got Preston Wilson, Derrek Lee, A.J. Burnett and Braden Looper in return.  That’s OK, but the fire sale isn’t what netted them Miguel Cabrera, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Dontrelle Willis, Ugueth Urbina, Juan Pierre, Pudge Rodriguez as the other key pieces to the 2003 World Series team.

The rebuild is going to take more than just unloading the current members of the team that we don’t like.  It is going to take gutting it of just about anybody that won’t be a part of a Cubs World Series contender once the rebuild is complete.  That’s pretty much anybody over 25 years old.  And it is going to take a few years.  2003 is six years separated from 1997.  That’s 2017 if the Cubs start right now and also rebuild as well as the Marlins (which is unlikely), and the Cubs aren’t bitten by the small sample sizes of the playoffs again once they are good enough to get there (you never know).

I’d personally love for them to take that route, but they never will.  They can’t sell $70 bleacher seats for a team featuring flailing prospects that don’t know balls from strikes and pitchers that can’t throw strikes for the next six years.  I don’t know how much more the TV ratings could fall after a season like the one we are currently going through, but I bet we would find out really fast if they gutted the roster.

So it’s all well and good for Kaplan or us bloggers to say the Cubs should burn the roster down and start over, but the Ricketts are in a financial position where they can’t be cavalier about falling revenues.  They have debt obligations to meet.  They have serious renovations that need to be done to Wrigley. Not the cosmetic, revenue-building kind either.  I’m talking about strengthening the foundations so the place doesn’t start to cave in on itself in 20 years or so.

Personally, I’d love to see it happen with a new front office calling the shots, but I’m not the one making the debt payments and trying to figure out how to be financially viable in an ancient park with bitchy fans that don’t like any change to their utopia.  It is a far more complicated situation than two sentences tacked onto the end of a blog post seem to give it credit.


About aisle424

I used to write lots of things about the Cubs. Now I sometimes write things about the Cubs.