To Cubs’ Tom Ricketts: Tanks for empty platitudes, but this rebuild is far from a sure thing
Tanking and rebuilding has worked on both sides of town in Chicago, as it has to varying degrees in Houston, Atlanta, currently in San Diego and elsewhere in the major leagues.
Perhaps it’s sound business strategy even in a market the size of this one and even in an organization such as the Cubs, who reportedly have quadrupled in value during the decade-plus ownership of the Ricketts family.
We can argue that another time. In fact, I’m certain we will.
Meanwhile, we should all be able to agree that the Cubs are stretching the truth when they try to characterize their current state as retooling — while staying competitive — rather than rebuilding. The lineup we’re seeing post-Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez and Kris Bryant is a hollow shell. The pitching staff is more of a dried husk. Wait, is there a difference?
It’s 2014 again, only with the prospects in the pipeline — particularly those who came last week in deadline trades for the Cubs’ three most popular players — younger and less-ballyhooed than they were when Baez, Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and others were getting close.
And speaking of empty rhetoric, we really shouldn’t let chairman Tom Ricketts just skate by after some of the language he used this week in a letter to season-ticket holders.
While referring to Cubs prospects who were traded for veterans since the 2016 World Series, he wrote: “We do not regret pouring everything we had into keeping this championship window open as long as possible.”
“Everything we had”? “As long as possible”? Way to crank up the ol’ Platitude-o-Meter.
Alas, there was lint in the Ricketts’ pockets and dust in the family piggy bank — how unbelievably tragic (emphasis on the “unbelievable”). Otherwise, Yu Darvish would still be here. The departure of Bryant, a 29-year-old former MVP who can be plopped most anywhere on the field, wouldn’t have dragged out for years as one of the saddest foregone conclusions Chicago sports has seen.
In reference to the Cubs’ previous rebuild, Ricketts also wrote: “You believed in our plan to win and trusted us to deliver on our commitment to play championship baseball in the greatest ballpark in America. We did, and I assure you, we will do it again soon.”
So he’s guaranteeing championships now? Here on Planet Earth, the proverbial five-year baseball rebuild comes with no actual guarantees. Ask former Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, just to name one. His rebuild didn’t take. Sometimes, you sign Jon Lester to legitimize your efforts and take you over the top. Other times, you sign Jake Arrieta. Guess which one the Phillies did.
The Phillies have moved on from Klentak and are still trying to win, but they’re a .500 team. What’s the best-case scenario for them? Getting to the postseason as the worst team in the playoff field? Oh, what fun.
Imagine if, four or five years hence, that’s where the Cubs — after trying afresh without Theo Epstein, without Joe Maddon, with all new player pieces — find themselves. I can think of at least 108 reasons why it could play out in that manner or worse. Ownership and management will be held to the fire like never before if this rebuild stalls, let alone if it fails.
Ricketts painted a picture for season-ticket holders that looks identical to one they’ve seen before, writing: “Highly anticipated call-ups. Wrigley Field debuts. Immediate big-league impact. It’s all part of what makes our game so special. We’re grateful for the chance to share in that joy and journey together again.”
That sure is taking a heck of a lot for granted. Maybe it’ll pan out like he says. Maybe it won’t. As an old boss of mine used to say: We’ll cross that bridge when it collapses.
Tuesday was the 42-year anniversary of Tony La Russa’s debut as White Sox manager. That first game was so long ago, the scent of Disco Demolition Night — held three weeks prior — still hung in the Comiskey Park air. ESPN was still weeks away from launching. Somewhere off in the vast distance, a 2-year-old by the name of David Ross toddled around.
All of which is to say: Anyone who poked fun at La Russa over the weekend for his “sprint” from the dugout after Jose Abreu got hit in the head with a pitch totally missed the point. Sure, the memes were funny. But to still have that juice after all these years? At 76, the third-oldest manager ever?
That’s a gift.
• Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, Alex Caruso …
This is good, people. This is very good.
Unless the new-look Bulls don’t mesh together at all, in which case I’ll say I told you so.
• Seriously, there’s nothing not to like about Bulls big cheese Arturas Karnisovas adding playmaking ability, shooting and defense to the mix in large doses. Minutes will have to be earned more than they were before. The team will be tougher and have more answers. Games will be — I can hardly believe it — tolerable to watch.
But it’s hard to see where second-round pick Ayo Dosunmu fits into the picture. Illinois fans barked all last season that he was the best player in the country, even though he wasn’t. They barked that he should be in mock lotteries, even though it turned out he wasn’t close. Now they’re barking that he’s a first-round talent — the steal of the draft — but he’s swimming upstream with all this perimeter talent around him.
Dosunmu’s work ethic is truly exceptional, though, and he made enormous improvements to his body and his game in three years at Illinois. He’ll find a role eventually, in his hometown or not.
• Tampering rules?
Ball, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry and others all jumped to new teams, like, 10 seconds after Monday’s opening of free agency.
What tampering rules?
It’s a wild-west NBA. At least Karnisovas has a horse and a pistol, unlike his predecessors.
• The Cowboys are doing HBO’s “Hard Knocks” again?
Sure, that’ll go well for all involved.