Of Strasburg and Rose… and Windows
There is a fair amount of BS in talk about professional sports. The vast majority of player interviews are the same meaningless clichés we’ve heard a million times. At the beginning of every season, every team that has no real chance of winning, including the most recent Cubs teams, talk about how every year is sacred. There is little truth or meaning to learn from these conversations.
But one recent figure of speech is true in the world of big money sports: windows. A window is a period of time that a team legitimately competes for a title. Windows close when teams can’t afford their good players anymore, or their good players get old, or they will go over the salary cap. The franchise quarterback in football can make windows last the better part of a decade, but even those end. The lack of a salary cap in baseball can allow big spending teams to keep windows open a long time, but even the Yankees are likely to be facing a rough couple of years. Sometimes a window closes much more quickly than expected due to injury.
And yet, in just over a year, a team and a player have spat on their windows. In 2012, primed for the playoffs and arguably the best team in baseball, the Washington Nationals front office decided to shut down Stephen Strasburg, one of the best pitchers in baseball and their ace, for the last month of the season and the playoffs. The internal thought was that the Nationals were on the front end of their window, and would be right back in the playoffs in 2013. The Nationals got off to a bad start, and missed the playoffs. Their window remains open, they have the resources to keep it open, but they gave up their best chance at a World Series to this point.
Last season, the Chicago Bulls knew they would be without Derek Rose, one of the best players in basketball, for most of the season due to a torn left ACL in the first round of the 2011-2012 playoffs. The Bulls surprised in the season, gaining the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and getting to the Eastern Conference semifinals against the eventual NBA champions, the Miami Heat. Team doctors cleared Rose to play late in the season, but Rose chose to sit out the whole season, not fully confident in his abilities coming off the knee injury. The Bulls would make one more run with their current core this season, the clear last year of a four year window. Then, in the twelfth game of this season, Rose tore the medial meniscus in his other knee, and he was declared out for the season after surgery Monday morning. The Bulls’ current window is closed, and they’ll likely have a couple years of retooling around Rose before they can make another run.
So what does this have to do with the Cubs? The entire Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer plan is to open up a long window through the establishment of one of the best farm systems in baseball. While the window is closed, the Cubs can take their time with player development and injuries. Once the window opens, though, the cliché becomes truth. When the window opens, every season becomes sacred because that window can close very, very quickly.