Losing Isn’t what Rebuilt the Chicago Cubs

Chicago White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson certainly isn’t the first one to say it, but because he said it during the Crosstown Classic between the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox, perhaps it rang a little louder this time.

After Steve Stone let listeners know that the Cubs have the No. 4 farm system in baseball (I’m unsure of his source), Harrelson fired back in a way that should surprise no one:

“Well, when you finish that low for so many years you should have a good system.”

I get Harrelson and his shtick. He’s the biggest White Sox fan that there is, and he just so happens to have a microphone for every game. The White Sox are caught in the middle of No Man’s Land–they don’t know whether they’re contending or rebuilding. And with White Sox fans listening, maybe they’ll feel better by giving a backhanded compliment to Cubs fans by suggesting that the main reason why they’re currently in the playoffs is because they had to lose for so many years before.

All that is doing is discrediting everything that the Cubs have done to get to this point, which isn’t nearly as easy as the organization is making it look.

The losing was hard to watch and hard to experience for the players and fans. It was necessary, but there’s so much more to it than that. If losing created winners, we wouldn’t see teams go in 10-year droughts in between playoff appearances.

By finishing “that low for so many years”, it’s suggested that the Cubs have had higher draft picks, thus can get better players.

June 18, 2012 - Chicago, IL, USA - Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein is seen before the game against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois, on Monday June 18, 2012.

It took a lot more than losing for Theo Epstein to orchestrate what the Cubs look like today.

In Epstein’s first draft, he selected Albert Almora, a high school outfielder from Florida. Almora is currently the team’s 6th-ranked prospect according to MLB.com, but he has nothing to do with the team’s success this year. He’s still in Double-A.

The rest of that draft can’t be credited to a losing record, because the players they took after Almora were players that anyone else had the chance to take. Pierce Johnson and Duane Underwood were taken that year–No. 5 and No. 8 ranked prospects, respectively–but they also haven’t pitched above Double-A. They have nothing to do with the team this year.

Losing certainly played a part in grabbing Kris Bryant No. 2 overall in the 2013 draft, but he wasn’t a sure thing either. In fact, many Cubs fans were shouting for a pitcher like Jon Gray over the hitter out of San Diego.

And of course losing helped get the Cubs the No. 4 overall pick in last year’s draft, where they selected Kyle Schwarber out of Indiana. But losing had little to do with the actual selection. As Grantland’s Jonah Keri noted this week, Schwarber was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 19 prospect in the draft. Baseball Prospectus had him at No. 77.

It wasn’t just as easy as losing to nail a pick at No. 4 with a much-lower “ranked” prospect.

13 August 2015: Chicago left fielder Kyle Schwarber (12) [11203] signing autographs prior to playing in a MLB game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, Chicago, Il

Credit Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the scouting department for the selection of Kyle Schwarber, not losing.

Across the lineup on Friday, Schwarber and Bryant were the only two players in the starting lineup that the Cubs drafted.

Losing had nothing to do with trading Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily for Dexter Fowler. It didn’t have anything to do with trading Andrew Cashner for Anthony Rizzo. Losing wasn’t the reason the Cubs were able to steal Addison Russell from Oakland for Friday’s White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija, the owner of a 4.62 ERA coming into the game–a number that will only grow after Friday’s game.

The Cubs signed Starlin Castro before the Epstein regime came to town, traded for Miguel Montero and signed Chris Coghlan and Chris Denorfia. What did losing have to do with those moves, including signing Coghlan to a minor league deal two winters ago? Yes, the same Chris Coghlan with a career-high in home runs and stolen bases who is providing defensive versatility.

The starting rotation was developed through free agency and trades, as well. Jason Hammel was signed, traded with Samardzija, then signed again. Jake Arrieta was acquired with Pedro Strop for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger.

Read that sentence again.

Kyle Hendricks was brought to the Cubs in the Ryan Dempster trade. Dan Haren was just acquired at the trade deadline, and losing certainly had nothing to do with the signing of Jon Lester.

09 August 2015: Chicago Cubs Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (49) [4002] deals off the bump in a MLB game between the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants, at Wrigley Field, Chicago, Il. The Cubs   swept the Giants, four game set, by defeating San Francisco, 2-0.

Acquisitions like Jake Arrieta have made the difference this season for Chicago.

Look at the Cubs’ current top prospects in the minors. Per MLB.com, Gleybar Torres is No. 2. He was signed in 2013, not drafted. Billy McKinney, the team’s No. 3 prospect, was included in the Addison Russell trade from Oakland. The No. 4 prospect Carl Edwards Jr. was part of the Matt Garza trade to the Texas Rangers. Javier Baez was drafted by the previous regime before the teardown began.

Oh, and the Cubs didn’t draft Joe Maddon, either.

Losing played a part in the rebuild, no doubt. But losing doesn’t mean anything to this roster and organization without a variety of shrewd trades and signings.

Don’t discredit the hard work that took place in the front office and on the field for the Cubs to be in the position they’re in, which is slotted in a Wild Card game with six weeks left to play. And regardless of this year’s result, there’s nothing that can discredit what the organization has done.

But White Sox fans sound like they’ll still try.

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