View From The Bleachers

Talking Cubs Baseball Since 2003

Friday

22

July 2011

65

COMMENTS

Let's Talk Blueprints

Written by , Posted in General

Every team needs a blueprint—some plan of action laid out by the front office.  For example, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ blueprint has been to trade away young talent and stock up their farm system.  And although the cycle of dumping young stars before they became too expensive to keep seemed endless, they are finally starting to reap the rewards.

Contrast that with the Yankees’ blueprint of routinely outbidding the rest of the league for free agent talent, and largely using their farm system to trade for the players they can’t buy.

Our own Jim Hendry’s blueprint for the Cubs looks like the maze from the back of a children’s restaurant menu, covered in crayon and ketchup stains.

But rather than further railing on Hendry’s failures and inadequacies this week, I want to look ahead to what the future of the Cubs could be by looking back at the past of one recent “worst-to-first” success story: the Texas Rangers.

In 2007 the Rangers finished dead last in the AL West, nineteen games out of first place.  Just three years later, they represented the AL in the World Series.  How did they make such a dramatic turnaround?

Any story you read about the Rangers’ success starts with Jon Daniels.  Daniels was twenty-eight when he was named GM of the Rangers—the youngest GM in baseball history, and he was an unpopular choice with some Rangers fans before his team ever stepped onto the field.  After taking over in the 2005-2006 offseason, he traded away Alfonso Soriano, who went on to have a 40-40 year for the Nationals*.  He also traded away Texas native Chris Young and minor league prospect Adrian Gonzalez (yes, that one) to the Padres.

*Daniels made the controversial deal to open a spot for 2B prospect Ian Kinsler.  Rangers fans would quickly get over it.

In 2006, Texas hovered in and out of contention.  Daniels tried to put the team over the top at the trade deadline with a deal to bring Carlos Lee to the Rangers, but the team was never able to fight their way back into a playoff spot, finishing the season in third place, thirteen games out of first.

That following offseason, Daniels let Lee, Mark DeRosa, and MVP-candidate Gary Matthews Jr. go in free agency, and traded away John Danks.  What was left of the team in 2007 team quickly took up residence in the AL West cellar.  Spending almost $70M on a team entrenched in fourth place for most of the season, Daniels was faced with some hard choices and a seething fanbase.

That’s when the young GM laid out a five-year strategy that emphasized player development and long-term growth.  Under Daniels, the Rangers would target and acquire young prospects in trades, put an increased emphasis on the draft and developing talent, and build a young, winning team from the ground up.

He kick-started “the plan” at the 2007 trade deadline, sending Mark Texeira and Ron Mahay to the Braves for young catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and minor league prospects Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Beau Jones.  He also traded veteran reliever Eric Gagne to Boston for Kason Gabbard, David Murphy, and Engel Beltre.

The Texeira trade in particular was a major risk.  The power-hitting 1B had one more year of arbitration ahead of him, but when he rejected a long-term contract extension from the Rangers, Daniels seized on the opportunity to restock his farm system.  And while Saltalamacchia was the only big leaguer at the time of the deal, Daniels and his staff were confident in the investment they had made.

At the same time, Daniels wasn’t tight-fisted with his prospects.  After the 2007 season, he traded Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera to the Reds for OF slugger Josh Hamilton**.  Hamilton’s past made him a questionable investment to many teams, but Texas gambled that his best baseball was still ahead of him.  He rewarded their confidence by becoming a four-time All Star and the 2010 AL MVP.

**The Cubs briefly had possession of Hamilton, but sold him to the Reds as part of a pre-arranged deal.  I’m not sure of the price tag, but I can’t imagine it was enough to stomach the season Hamilton had for the Reds, and the career he has had in Texas.

Daniels also took a risk on noted head-case Milton Bradley in 2007, signing him to a one-year deal***.  Bradley thrived in the Texas clubhouse, posting one of the best statistical and most controversy-free seasons of his checkered career.

***Daniels had similar success in 2010 signing another slugger with something to prove—Vladimir Guerrero.

The results?  The 2008 Rangers showed a slight improvement in the standings.  They preached patience to the fans and fielded a team of veterans like Gerald Laird, Michael Young, and Bradley, while developing younger guys like Ian Kinsler and Chris Davis.

However, the 2009 Rangers were much more competitive.  They posted the team’s first winning record in five seasons, and finished second in both he AL West and Wild Card races.  More important, that young core of players began to take shape at the major-league level.  Kinsler was already a fixture, but Andrus and Feliz were just making their debuts.  And young OF Nelson Cruz (part of the Carlos Lee deal) reclaimed his starting spot in the lineup.

The rest you already know.  The Rangers jettisoned older players like Vincente Padilla, Marlon Byrd, and Kevin Millwood before the 2010 season, and Daniels’ core of young stars carried them to the World Series.  Kinsler, Andrus, Hamilton, and Feliz were All Stars, and Feliz set the save record for rookies (40).  Maybe the best indicator of how far the team had progressed is that they were buyers at the 2010 trade deadline, not sellers, picking up Cliff Lee to bolster their pitching staff for the playoff run.

Daniels had built a winner—one that beat the Yankees’ collection of expensive talent.  He had transformed his team from a perennial doormat to a legitimate contender—not just in 2010, but for the foreseeable future.

The question is, can Jim Hendry or his replacement do the same for the Cubs?  The current roster has more overpriced veterans and no Texeira-esque trade bait—the closest we’ve got is Aramis Ramirez (who doesn’t want to be traded yet) or Sean Marshall (who, it seems, is too valuable to trade).  So while one clutch trade probably won’t kick-start a team-wide transformation like it did for the Rangers, the Cubs could—and should—follow Daniels’ simple blueprint for success.  We need to shed some wasted payroll, get younger, and build for the future.

What that looks like is up for discussion.

  • MJ

    Carlos Lee a Ranger????

  • Buddy

    Yep. For 236 AB’s in 2006.

  • Buddy

    Barring trades, we likely know who will be at C, 2B, SS, CF, and LF next year. Who do you guys see at 3B, 1B, and RF?

  • What your analysis is missing is what what changes, if any, were made in the management of the minor league clubs to help develop the players.

    I often get the feeling that coming up through the Cubs minor league system is not exactly a plus for a young player.

    Otherwise, I would love to see the Cubs do this and it is why I find it distressing when the news is that Jeff Baker will not be traded.

  • Jedi

    Nice post – I think this would be a welcome addition as well.

    http://espn.go.com/chicago/mlb/story/_/id/6792956/sources-pat-gillick-open-talking-chicago-cubs-role-team

    Gillick would undoubtedly hire a quality GM who would resolve our position of manager in a similar fashion. The triumvirate of evil could be on their way out in a hurry if we roped in Gillick. Plus, he’s definitely a guy who would bring in young talent.

    • PackerCubBull

      But the Cubs won’t do it, it makes too much sense. Just like not hiring Girardi

  • Jedi

    Buddy, I think if you talked to Hendry, he’d tell you that Baker is probably playing an infield position – and I’m not convinced that Darwin Barney has earned the right to be locked in yet. So maybe Hendry sees Baker at 2B, or possibly at 1B or 3B. Aramis and/or Pena could both be back, but a lot of that will be determined on how and where they finish the season this year.

    As for the outfield – isn’t Hendry behind by a year now? We didn’t sign a starting outfielder last off-season, so he’s got two that he needs to sign this year.

  • Norm

    RF, Brett Jackson (or Marlon Byrd)
    1B, Prince Fielder
    3B, Aramis Ramirez

  • Buddy

    I’d love to see Byrd and Soriano dealt (for a fair return of course), but I’m not holding my breath. Assuming that’s correct, RF would be the only open OF spot next year. As far as 2B, I’m assuming it will be Barney or Baker, so I didn’t include that position in my question.

    • PackerCubBull

      Do you think Byrd would have value as a 4th OF on this team in 2012?

  • Jedi

    I didn’t mean to suggest that we’d have to open OF spots…only that Hendry might sign two OFs. The two have been mutually exclusive.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Rich–In my research for this post, I never saw anything that indicated a major overal of the farm system staff. That’s not to say there wasn’t one–for all I know there could have been, it just never showed up in anything I read. It’s possible I completely missed a big piece of the puzzle, but then so did most of the writers whose work I consulted.

    It did seem like the major parts of their youth movement (Andrus, Feliz, Hamilton, and Kinsler) were varying degrees of can’t-miss. Andrus had been targeted by the Rangers and even turned down a contract offer from them before he signed with the Braves, so they knew what they were getting. I think with him and Feliz especially, it was just about giving them the time to mature into big leaguers. On the other hand, Nelson Cruz was demoted for the 2008 season to fix his game, and now he’s back as a starter in the OF. Can’t say for sure what they’re doing right–if there’s a story there, I haven’t heard or read it yet.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Norm–what kind of deal would you like to see the Cubs give Fielder? His talent is undeniable, but I’m afraid of paying more big money to watch another slugger disappear before our eyes.

  • Jedi

    The Phillies bought out Ryan Howard and then extended him. Those two deals cost them 8 years at $179mil. Their service time is nearly identical, but Prince is actually hitting the market. The kicker – Prince is 4.5 years younger. So you have to think that Fielder is going to approach the deal that Howard got…maybe something like 6 or 7 years, $20-22mil/year. For a team that isn’t built to win in 2012, that’s just way too much.

  • I would love to see Colvin get his stroke back and take control of right. Or first…anyone know where they have him playing in Iowa? I still think Rami is our best option at third.

  • Buddy

    I’d love to see Fielder in Chicago, but not for a six or seven year deal.

  • Jedi

    Oh, and Prince has Boras for an agent – I can only imagine what he’ll be asking for after he waits and watches Pujols sign for more than $30mil/year.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    jswanson–I heard the minor league update on the broadcast today. I guess Colvin hit a triple in the game last night, and his BA is somewhere in the .270s. I wish they had given more detailed stats, but I think that’s all they said. I think most of his starts have been in the OF.

    And I’m with you–I was a big fan of him last season, and I’d like to see him take back a starting spot in the OF.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    jswanson–Also agree with you on Ramirez. The problem for me is the price–if he’ll take a buyout and a discount, then I’d give him one or two more years. But if the $16M option for next season is the starting point for any extension, I think we have to let him go.

  • Buddy

    Colvin’s hitting .274 in the minors with a whopping .289 onbase percentage.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Buddy–So that’s why they didn’t give any more stats. Bummer.

  • Jedi

    If I got stabbed in the chest with a bat, I’d be avoided the basepaths too! 🙂

  • CubbieDude

    Isn’t Nolan Ryan involved with the Texas Rangers? That might have something to do with it. He seems to have his head in the right place.

    It seems to me that with an owner (or president or CEO) like Mr. Ryan, even a casual observer like myself notices immediate positive results.

    I believe that’s called leadership (in the right direction).

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    CubbieDude–Yes, Ryan is the team President and a part owner. But he didn’t take the job until Feb. of 2008, and from what I could tell he did not make any changes regarding the plan Daniels had put in place. I ‘spose the fact that he kept Daniels on as GM is a fair indicator that Ryan was on board with the direction of the team at that point.

    That’s not to undervalue the influence of the team President–look no further than Cubs President Crane Kenney for evidence of the impact baseball executives can have. But since I found nothing that pointed to Ryan as being directly responsible for the on-the-field transformation between the 2007 and 2010 teams, I left him out of it.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    CubbieDude–Also the point you made about leadership in the right direction is why I was so happy to read the article Jedi linked to above. I won’t say Gillick is the only guy who could fix the Cubs, but even the possibility of him as President of the team gives me some small measure of hope for the future. I relish the choice between a Hall of Fame executive with a proven track record of success and a corporate stooge holdover from the Tribune days, and I’m optimistic that Ricketts would make the right call.

    • PackerCubBull

      What’s the right call? Keeping the stooge?

  • PackerCubBull

    Again, someone brings up the Cubs having Josh Hamilton. smh
    He was never a Cub. The Cubs had no intention of using their Rule V draft pick that year, and the picks can’t be traded. So the Cubs worked out a trade with the Reds, they asked them to take Hamilton. So the Cubs were picking for the Reds

  • Jedi

    “So the Cubs were picking for the Reds”

    This is the fact that always troubles me the most. If anything, that only shows the unbelievable stupidity of the Cubs. 1) Don’t use a free pick, check. 2) Give to your division rival, check. 3) Absolved of guilt because the plan was stupid to begin with, check.

    If the Bears had the final pick of the NFL draft, and worked an arrangement with the Vikings whereby the Vikings would supply a nominal amount of cash, the Bears would pick a player chosen by the Vikings, and then the swap would be made – if that player turned into a league MVP and four time All-Star you can be sure the Bears would be ridiculed.

  • PackerCubBull

    The Cubs had no plans of playing a Rule V pick on their MLB roster that year. That’s where it starts with. In the NFL, you can trade draft picks. Can’t trade them in MLB.

  • Jedi

    I’m well aware of Hendry’s stated reason – it’s still a dumb reason. To be THAT bad in 2006 and proclaim that you couldn’t possibly waste a roster spot on a Rule 5 pick for the following year is just dumb. It’d be like if we did the same thing this off-season – the Cubs should be exploring several Rule 5 options, otherwise what’s the point of being bad? With as much Campana, Montanez, Snyder, Davis, Lopez, Ortiz, Carpenter, and every other schlub who’s taken up time on our roster this year, we can afford to have a Rule 5 pick – so we don’t like him after we get him, big deal he just goes back to his former team. But it’s an abdication of his duties as a GM to have such a bad team and PLAN to not use his pick. Then to turn and make it available to a division rival…well, that’s unbelievably bad decision making.

  • PackerCubBull

    Where would he have been on the roster that year with Soriano, Murton, and Jones as the starting OF, with Pie waiting in the wings in AAA?

  • Jedi

    Hamilton getting Cliff Floyd’s 282 at-bats would’ve been fine with me. Never thought we needed to sign Floyd in the first place.

  • PackerCubBull

    Wow, I totally forgot about Floyd. Ok, then, I agree it was stupid. But then what would you have done with Hamilton after 2007? Send him to the minors? Trade him away? And in regards to the writer mentioning the Danks trade that Texas made, that one hurt them. Because Brandon McCarthy was garbage. I wish Texas didn’t make that trade.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    PackerCubBull–I said at the beginning that I was going to lay off Hendry this week and for the most part, I did. I threw in this one side note because it’s pertinent to Cubs fans–even if we never intended to keep Hamilton, we did get the extremely short end of that deal. Moreover, I think it’s a good example of why you shouldn’t do favors for your division rivals. That’s it and that’s all.

  • Jedi

    If Hamilton had gotten 282 at-bats with the Cubs in 2007, we never would’ve signed Fukudome.

  • PackerCubBull

    Everyone wanted Fukudome, and for the first 2 months of 2008, he was all the rage in Wrigleyville. He even had the game-winning hit on his bobble-head night. I was at that game, good times.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    PackerCubBull–I should have been more specific about the Danks trade. Rest assured I wasn’t counting it as an achievement. I was trying to imply that the team that was left in 2007 was less than what he had in 2006 because of the players he let walk or traded away. I could have worded it more thoroughly, but I didn’t want to bore you guys with all the aspects of their fourth place finish. Good catch.

  • Norm

    Again, the Hamilton complaints are only coming because of hindsight.
    You’re talking about a 25 year old that had 55 plate appearances in Low A Ball after a 4 year hiatus. Low A is like Peoria. Let me repeat for emphasis; FIFTY FIVE plate app’s in *LOW A* as a *25* year old after a *FOUR* year layoff!!! Why a 4 year layoff? Because he was a suicidal heroine addict!!
    How would we feel about Tyler Colvin, also 25, playing in Peoria this season? Would we think he’s a prospect worth taking a flier on?
    I’m sorry, but faulting the Cubs for not taking a 25 year old suicidal heroine addict who played in 15 games over the previous four seasons is just revisionist thinking.

    As for Fielder, I’m just throwing it out there. But I would hope it wouldn’t be more than 6 years.

    @Jedi, the Phil’s didn’t buy out Howard, they extended him beyond his current contract. His new contract hasn’t even started yet.

  • Buddy

    I have to agree with Norm. Nobody could have predicted Hamilton’s amazing turnaround, not even the Reds.

  • cap’n obvious

    Lindsay Lohan is my favorite suicidal heroine….addict.

  • PackerCubBull

    Speaking of suicide, I just got back from a bike ride and it looked like a guy got run over by the Metra train. No word if it was a suicide.

  • Jedi

    Norm, the Phillies DID buy Ryan Howard out and then they DID extend him…Just as I said on both counts. He won arbitration before 2008 and was bought out of remaining arbitration before 2009.

    Colvin wasn’t ever the overwhelming first pick in the draft. And you didn’t have to predict Hamilton’s meteoric rise to make him a Rule 5 pick that we otherwise weren’t going to use.

  • Jedi

    Norm, what do you think we should Fielder to for those six years? I really doubt his sign for as little as six years, but even if he does, isn’t anything more than $20mil/year unreasonable for the Cubs?

  • Jedi

    And by the way, I don’t fault the Cubs for not taking Hamilton nearly as much as I fault them for completely wasting the pick. But then I’ve already said that.

  • Norm

    ah, I thought you were talking about Howard’s most recent contract extension from last year that was simply added on to the end of this current one.

    the Rule 5 pick would’ve had to stay on the active roster the entire season. And for a team that just spent over $300 million on contracts and eyes on a World Series, that wasn’t going to happen.
    There are plenty of things to rip the Cubs on, but not signing a suicidal heroine addict, should not be one.

  • Jedi

    Norm, one more time for emphasis. THE CUBS SHOULD NOT HAVE WASTED THE PICK. We finished last the year before, we signed an aging and ineffective Cliff Floyd so we obviously had roster spots to burn. And the fact that we’d spent so much would seem to indicate that we could’ve used an inexpensive player to rot on the bench in hopes that he might be something special – which happens to be the purpose of the Rule 5 draft.

    If you prefer Hendry’s method of filling the roster with free agents fine. Just say it. I don’t; I would prefer that we constantly have young talent getting playing time. That seems to be the substance of your disagreement with me, no need to keep pushing it.

    Did you notice that in none of that I mentioned a suicidal heroine addict?

  • cap’n obvious

    Its clear that Joe needs to get both the words heroin and heroine into the anti-spam rotation…

  • Buddy

    I’d prefer the Cubs fill their roster with talented players. I don’t really care how they get them.

  • CubbieDude

    Jeremiah:

    It would be OK with me if Mr. Ricketts chose to keep Crane Kenney as President for Business Affairs (TV, advertising, merchandising, and other revenue streams), while adding a qualified individual as President for Baseball Operations, lets say. A little bloated on the corporate flow chart perhaps, but acceptable (if he’s married, as he seems to be, to the idea of having a “money guy” at the top).

    It just seems clear to me that the Cubs need help with the baseball side of things. Mr. Gillick is, as you say, a HOF guy with experience and expertise and a history of success in just the areas with which the Cubs need help.

    I, too, enjoyed reading the article which Jedi linked to. Everyone here should read that one.

    And I enjoyed your entire “Blueprint” post, Jeremiah. Thanks for a nice piece of work.

    • Jeremiah Johnson

      My guess is a guy like Gillick–who apparently spends a TON of time traveling around to check out young players–would want someone to oversee the non-baseball side of things. If Gillick (or whoever we get) trusts Kenney, that’s good enough for me. I’m not a fan, but I’m also not an expert on what it takes to do that kind of job. Not sure Kenney would take a demotion though–what little I’ve read about him makes me think he enjoys the prestige of being team president. Whatever. That would be a welcome problem to deal with compared to the ones facing us now.

      Thanks for the good comments, Dude.

  • Doc Raker

    It wasn’t Soriano that got run over by the metro train was it PCB?

  • Doc Raker

    Nolan Ryan is part of the Rangers renaissance. He did away with pitch count as such a dominant feature, they throw their pitchers with the philosophy of building arm strength and endurance. They don’t baby their pitchers. I like thins philosophy, I would rather find out if someone is going to break down while they are in the minors vs when they are in the bigs. Pitch them, play long toss and reward those who make it, at least then you know they aren’t fragile.

  • Eddie Von White

    Once again, Doc makes perfect sense. I see no reason why pitchers shouldn’t be going deep into the games with many more complete games. I also relate to Yavelberg’s comment yesterday about all the stats. They have a stat for everything – like “the last time he pitched in the second inning after a sea gull landed behind the mound on a Tuesday with runners on 2nd and 3rd…”

    If Nolan can get away from pitch counts more power to him. When did pitch count become a statistic? Again, Fergie and Bob Gibson must be laughing at the fragile arms they call Big League pitchers today.

    • Lizzie

      They have a stat for everything – like “the last time he pitched in the second inning after a sea gull landed behind the mound on a Tuesday with runners on 2nd and 3rd…”

      Too funny Eddie. And so very true!

    • Doc Raker

      Fergie does get a hardy laugh about pitch counts when we bring it up at dinner, ask Seymour, he knows.

  • Buddy

    I never thought I would live long enough to read the words “Once again Doc makes perfect sense.” Now I have seen everything.

    • Doc Raker

      Can you handle the truth? It will set you free.

      • Eddie Von White

        Well played Doc, well played.

  • Norm

    I don’t think pitching deep into games is as much about the pitchers not being able to do it, as it is as to do with the monetary investment in pitchers these days.
    Seattle did it about as perfect as possible with Felix Hernandez. The Cubs threw Mark Prior 120+ pitches in consecutive games as if he were a machine.
    Risk vs. Reward.
    The other thing about pitchers from the old days, is that while they were more apt to throw a lot of pitches, they were also pulled much earlier. There would be many more game of less than 80 pitches thrown for a starter than there are these days.
    Sandy Koufax averaged 114 pitches per start. So while he threw a lot of games at 130+ pitches, he also threw a lot of games with less than 100 pitches per start.

    http://www.tangotiger.net/pitchLogKoufax.html

    Managers didn’t let them throw 5-6 innings if they didn’t have it that day; they’d take them out after 60, 70, 80 pitches and the next start, assuming they “had it”, would be able to stay in for those 130-160 pitches.

  • Buddy

    Agreed Norm. Teams pour tons of money into starting pitching. You can’t blame them for trying to protect their investment.

  • Doc Raker

    Rumors say Sean Marshall is a most wanted in the trade talks. Hendry needs to bundle Soriano with him, like “You can have Sean Marshall if you take Soriano and his contract and I will throw in a dinner with Seymour.” That would be worthwhile for the Cubs rebuilding process.

  • Buddy

    Any reports on who’s interested or what they’re offering?

  • Doc Raker

    No, I was listening to XM and whenever the Cubs come up the most wanted name is Marshall. Any contender could always use an elite lefty out of the pen and with his youth and relative payroll costs he could go easily. I don’t want Marshall traded but I want Soriano traded more than I want Marshall to stay. I don’t think the Cubs can move forward with a true rebuilding process with Soriano still on the books so in order to achieve that full rebuilding process I would trade Marshall and Soriano together for that reason only.

  • Doc Raker

    For that matter I would bundle anyone but Castro along with Soriano to see Soriano go, anyone or anyones save Castro.