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Cubs Fri Feb 21 2014
Over two years into Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer's reign running the Cubs organization, with 'The Plan' made known to the public from day one, there is still a large group of fans that are furious. They call sports talk stations, post on message boards, and whine through Facebook statuses that the team isn't pursuing and signing free agents to massive contracts. Or they write about it for a major Chicago newspaper.
The implication in the first place just isn't true. Almost every major news outlet in Chicago confirmed last month that the Cubs offered Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka a deal worth $120 million (he signed with the Yankees for $155 million). He's likely the only player in the last few years to receive a bid that high from the Cubs, but there are specific reasons for that. He would've filled a major need (starting pitching) for the team going forward, and would also be playing out the contract during the peak years of the MLB aging curve -- while syncing up perfectly with the projected arrival times of the team's top prospects.
Only looking at team's Major League payroll and denouncing a team's spending habits is about as useful as scouting the stat line of minor league players. It doesn't take into account the massive upgrades the Cubs have made in simple infrastructure, both in manpower and technologically not only at Wrigley Field, but down in Mesa and their facilities in other countries.
Those factors also don't touch upon the inherent risk of signing players to the bonkers contracts Major League teams are handing out these days. Tying up large amounts of cash in one or two players is dangerous in the same way that putting all your money in one stock is. Diversifying assets has long been considered by financial experts as the best way to minimize risk while still keeping a good rate of return. Is Apple Inc. stock a smart buy at $530 today after some great years, or was it a better buy in 2004 when it was $10-$20? It works like that in baseball too.
Here's a list of players that have signed contracts worth $100 million or more in the history of baseball: 52 players over 49 contracts. $7.78 BILLION worth of paper. So far, players have racked up only 11 World Series titles while playing under the terms of these massive contracts.
You might think that's a pretty great number considering most of those deals have been signed in the last decade, but the counterpoint is that those 11 titles have come over 169 accrued years (so far) of those contracts: or a 6.5 percent rate of return.
18 teams have made the dive into nine figure contracts, and just four of them have come away with a World Series title (BOS-2, NYY, STL, SF-2). That seems like an overwhelming figure, but nine different teams have won titles since 2000, when these contracts became more prevalent.
Just two players have won multiple titles while playing during one of these contracts, and one of them (Barry Zito) didn't even participate in the playoffs during one of the years he received a ring. The other (Manny Ramirez), was a key component on the Red Sox team's built by none other than Epstein himself.
Many teams have signed some of these massive contracts after building new stadiums or drastically enhancing the one they were playing in. The Cubs are still fighting for upgrades to theirs, and plan to do the project without a single dollar of public funding -- which is completely unheard of in this era of tax-built stadiums.
Many of these teams also have inked ludicrous local television contracts that have allowed them to spend more money. The Cubs have roughly half their games coming up for bid next year, with the other half stuck with Comcast SportsNet Chicago until 2019.
Epstein signed just one other player on the list to a massive deal (Carl Crawford), and left town less than a year later because he wasn't as in control of the team as his title and job description stated. It's also worth noting that two other players on this list (Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury) were drafted and developed under his tenure as well.
Part of Epstein's plan in Chicago was to spend extra money in the drafts like he had in Boston, but he was stripped of that strategy by the most recent collective bargaining agreement that greatly restricted team spending in the draft. Despite those restrictions, Epstein and Hoyer along with Jason McLeod have built a Top-3 farm system in Major League Baseball.
The idea is to build an organization that can compete for a World Series every single year. Signing players to these $100 million-plus deals while trying to build up the abysmal system Epstein was given to start the process is a moronic idea. Sure, the Cubs might've won 80-85 games the past couple years by signing a couple players from that list, but it would've precluded them from scoring guys like Albert Almora and Kris Bryant at the top of the draft, and the team would still be floundering below playoff position.
If you're still struggling with 'The Plan,' then ask a Yankee fan how much they love all those contracts they've signed. They project to have the highest payroll in baseball, yet they rank in the middle of the pack when it comes to talent, and their near future outlook is fairly bleak.
The Cubs GM is a proven winner. He's built a system from the bottom up exactly as he said he would despite countless roadblocks. Some of the best prospects in baseball are on the doorstep of playing their home games at Wrigley Field. Shut up, be patient, and enjoy watching a team constructed from the ashes of the previous regime.