We Are Regal Radio co-founder and former Los Angeles Dodger scouting personnel Sean Terry continues his in-depth analysis of the Chicago Cubs and their playoff chances
With the squad fully rested and ready to scale towards the summit of Major League Baseball, Chicago Cubs fans now have less than 48 hours to try and sit idle before the real season begins.
Due to their overall great play in the regular season the Cubs experienced a lack of meaningful games in September, which brought on a short lull and a small dose of anxiety that tested the guys’ collective mettle over the final three weeks of the season.
One would have looked to easy-as-it-comes manager Joe Maddon to provide a calming stimulus to hold the team over as the clock ticked into October — and he likely did in the team’s clubhouse refuge — but publicly, it was team owner Tom Ricketts and the front office who have done the most recently to let everyone known that things are in order for this year’s trek (and many more treks to come).
In extending the contract of the top front office personnel responsible for ingraining a 180 degree shift in Cubs culture, Ricketts pulled off a savvy ownership move with last week’s extension of Theo Epstein and his prized front office management team.
The 5-year, $50 million extension given to President of Baseball Operations Epstein, was a maneuver fans anticipated would occur at some point this fall or winter, but in finalizing the extension within weeks of the start of the second season, the Cubs quite frankly executed on a picture perfect opportunity to give the organization a major jolt heading into October.
Not only does the Theo extension lock in the best executive in the business for another five years, but the signing essentially eliminates the chances of an ominously looming distraction from growing into an unnecessary national story line this October – a time when all underlying story lines become free game for narrative on the national stage.
And while the Theo extension stole the headlines, the autonomy he was given to also retain his most heavily relied upon front office cabinet members — Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod — was a deft move that sets the stage beautifully for a coherent chain of command over the next five years and underscores an organization being in perfect harmony as it makes the climb towards its first championship in 108 years.
Since joining Epstein in the Cubs front office, Executive Vice President and General Manager Hoyer, has emerged as a much more recognized cog to the Cubs operations engine. Hoyer was widely speculated to receive several offers to take over as the leading front office executive from other organizations; however, to his credit, Jed has always spoken of the importance of keeping the structure intact and finishing what was started in 2011.
After the subsequent signing of his extension to remain in Chicago, Jed went on to state “It’s OK to be Pippen,” – a clear indication that he realizes what dynasty material in Chicago is all about.
And while Hoyer self-describes himself as the Pippen to Theo’s MJ, it’s the Cubs Vice President of Scouting and Player Development McLeod, who aptly personifies Pippen’s “Silent Assassin” alias more so than Hoyer.
McLeod is truly the unheralded front office cog who’s been instrumental in the rapid development within the organization since the Theo regime came aboard. Credit McLeod and his department for doing the heavy lifting with key draft findings and trades that have propelled the Cubs forward by leaps and bounds.
And while the “sustained success” blueprint coined by Theo began with the acquisition of cornerstone Anthony Rizzo years ago, several subsequent moves requiring extensive scouting that the Cubs have hit on would never have come to fruition without McLeod’s oversight.
By putting their egos and individual agendas to the side for another five years, Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod have emphasized mutual respect and collective interdependence to solidify their place in Chicago’s sports franchise history and in the process have formed the fiercest offensive attack in Chicago sports since the Bulls’ triple post-offense.
The Day It All Changed…
The clear and obvious move by the Cubs’ front office that shifted the trajectory of a flat, sustained success model into a 3D sketch up occurred in July 2014, largely due to McLeod’s input.
In 2014 — year number three in Theo’s regime — the Cubs were already bottomed out for the current season but were trending up as a possibe .500 ball club in ’15. Many fans saw the writing on the wall, leading to a resurgence in gate attendance as soon as key draft selections like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber began falling in place.
Later that year, with an assist from pitcher Jeff Samardzjia who had declined to sign a five year extension of his own, the Cubs decided to do an about face instead of getting into a lengthy back and forth with Samardzjia, leading them to deal him and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s for prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney.
This trade was less a wave of the proverbial white flag and more of a stunning shift that validated everything Theo stated in 2011 when he said he was building for “sustained success” and not a one shot deal.
Many fans may overlook the fact that Russell was on the shelf with a major hamstring injury when this deal culminated, but the fact remains had he not been thoroughly scouted by McLeod and his department, the Russell deal very likely would not have occurred.
Planned fireworks for the 4th didn’t match the culmination of the Samardzjia-for-Russell deal on July 5, 2014, which resonated within Cubs nation like an Independence Day Emancipation Proclamation for the ages. Theo’s address to the union wasn’t just side talk and fluff, it was straight to the point — baseball would be better for the Cubs than it has in a long while.
What It Means to be a Good Neighbor
When owner Ricketts sought better days at Wrigley, it wasn’t just the product on the field that fell under scrutiny. To get the on-field product clicking on all cylinders, the players would need modernized locker rooms and strength and conditioning spaces to help off-set the grind of playing a 162 game schedule, particularly one that includes around half the home schedule being played during the day.
As a fan himself, Ricketts also understood the importance of improving the fit n’ finish in the ballpark in order to create a more dynamic and pleasant fan experience, while also emphasizing the extension of a positive fan experience to the ballpark amenities to the areas around the ballpark.
Credit Ricketts, who locked horns with 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney and took it to Chicago’s city council for three years all in the name of broadening the Wrigley experience. While the back and forth with the council wasn’t an easy road, the Cubs would eventually turn a corner, slowly but surely modernizing a ballpark that will be on full display beginning this Friday.
I, like most fans, don’t have the coin to be a part of history inside the ballpark – $143 for a standing room only seat, or $600 for a non-refundable seat on Murphy’s Rooftop, or even $5,000 for an opportunity to re-define Bartman territory just isn’t in the budget.
While most fans will watch in Cubs blue from afar, perhaps we the unlucky working poor can take solace in knowing many of our local elected officials will be in the house, as all 50 of the Chicago’s aldermen were extended the right to purchase face value tickets for each home playoff game at Wrigley Field through the World Series.
Beggars Can’t Be Choosers
This time around there will be no sprinkling of holy water in the dugout before Friday’s Game 1 NLDS start, but best believe there will be plenty of watch parties this Wednesday to find out who will be next to put themselves in the way of Cubbie destiny for the National League Division Series. If last night’s Blue Jays/Orioles 11-inning affair is any indicator, tonight’s wild card showdown between the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants plans to be epic.
For a rabid fan base that has waited all season long for this moment, the collective Cubs nation can take a collective page out of Jake Arrieta’s increasingly surly register of diatribes – “Who gives a s&*! about who we see in the NLDS.”
That said, not everyone can afford such a laissez-faire approach with respect to Friday’s preparations. Given the history and magnitude of the moment, anything less than absolute preparedness by Maddon’s boys is simply unacceptable.
Not one to cut corners or stop short of seizing on every advantage, you can bet money Maddon and the data guys will be working overtime to complete a final numbers crunch ahead of Friday’s showdown as soon as tonight’s Wild Card winner is determined.
For what it’s worth, crunching baseball numbers isn’t reserved for those reporting the Cubs EIN on the Form 1040 EZ – here at WARR, we have our own motivations for nerding out on the data as well to cover the angles you won’t get between now and Friday.
The Cubs are slotted for prime time this Friday evening, so make sure to check back in with us here to take a deep plunge Strat-O-Matic style into the Cubs and their 2016 NLDS opponent. Until then, don’t stop the clap…
Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under Regal Radio; Sean Terry can be followed at @craftbeersochi