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A Tale of Two Cities

Posted by mike8791 , 31 August 2018 · 1,181 views

Sorry Dickens' fans, this is about the Twins, the Cubs and White Sox. As a lifetime Senators/Twins fan and a longtime resident of Chicago, I've followed all three franchises quite closely - thru thick and thin. Don't worry, we're not going all the way back to 1961 - just wanted to review all three team's recent "rebuilds" and see what lessons we might draw, particularly in regards to the Falvey team going forward.

Might as well start with the one success story, the Cubs under Epstein. Taking over after the 2011 season when the Cubs were 71-91, Theo and company took a meat ax to the roster and organization structure, with a corresponding drop in victory totals in 2012-2014 to 61, 66 and 73, respectively. While the farm system was not totally barren(Baez and Contreras had been drafted by the earlier regime), the Cubs essentially rebuilt the team by trades, starting with Anthony Rizzo, followed by such future stalwarts as Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrietta, Addison Russell, and Dereck Fowler. Benefitting from a high draft position, Kris Bryant was added, followed by Kyle Schwarber. Following the 2014 season, the Cubs used their deep pockets in the FA market by adding to the core Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and John Lackey, The stage was set for a 24 win improvement to 2015 and, of course, a World Championship in 2016. This was not a fluke as the Cubs have averaged 97 wins in the regular season over the past five years, assuming they keep the same winning percentage the remainder of 2018.

So, a huge success story here on the North Side. Let's remember it started with the Rickett's purchase of the Cubs and their subsequent stated commitment to end the 100+ year championship drought. They put their money where their mouth was by spending heavily for Epstein, arguably the best baseball executive on the market. In turn, Theo hired his guys, replaced many old Cub coaches and when Joe Maddon became available, jettisoned Rick Renteria and hired Maddon as manager. After the 2017 season, when the Cubs were bounced out of the NLCS by the Dodgers, Theo did not stand still. He fired the pitching coach and hitting coach, hiring two highly respected men in Jim Hickey from Tampa and a familiar name, Chili Davis, as hitting coach.

In summary, Theo took three years to bring the Cubs back, primarily by trading whatever assets the club had, drafting astutely for a MVP in Bryant and when the team was coming together, dove into free agency, adding Jon Lester to anchor the staff and win the World Series in 2016. Their lineup is deep and talented and their rotation has remained on or near the top, abetted by timely additions such as Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana. The Cubs' future looks bright with a young lineup and deep rotation, especially if Yu Darvish returns to form.

On the south side, with a lot less money but with the commitment by the owner for a complete rebuild, following up three mediocre seasons in 2014-2016(73,76 and 78 wins), Rick Hahn pulled the plug and unloaded Chris Sale, Adam Engel and Quintana. The results were unsurprising with a 95 loss season in 2017 and a certainty of another 90 loss season this year. But the improvement over the course of 2018 has been noticeable, with the Sox compiling a 16-11 record in August to date, including 11-3 on the road. If it weren't for two late inning bullpen implosions, they would have won 3 in a row against the Yankees in NY and last night against the Red Sox.

What gives the southsiders hope for the future is a very talented future rotation, anchored by Carlos Rodon, with strong performances by Lopez, Giolito and now Kopech - the 100mph flame-thrower. Awaiting a call up is Eloy Jiminez, a top 3 minor league prospect obtained from the Cubs in the Quintana deal. Yes, the Sox have some holes, primarily their bullpen, but have some promising hitters who have shown signs of becoming legitimate major leaguers. The Sox are not in the Cubs' stratosphere but they have made some strong strides in year 2 of the rebuild and should push the Twins(in 2019) and Indians(in 2020), in this observer's opinion.

So what parallels can we draw with the Twins' rebuild under Falvey. As many on TD have noted, the surprise success in 2017 has probably been a setback to the five year plan. Instead of continuing the rebuild this year, they kept their veteran players and tried to fill obvious holes in free agency in order to keep the momentum going. They cannot be criticized too severely for the 2018 slide, as the most egregious failures were from two supposed cores of the rebuild - Sano and Buxton. Falvey is not responsible for this and to his credit, finally unloaded players like Dozier who would not be a part of a future contender. It is too early to say how successful this year's selloff will be but early indications are that the Twins Minor League system is now in the top ten with possibilities of top 5 in the near future.

What Falvey has failed to do is use the trade route, unlike the Cubs and Sox, to revamp the roster. Yes, I know he tried to trade Dozier a year ago and the market was supposedly not there. The only trade of note was picking up Odorizzi who looks like a competent #4 or #5 starter if he can ever figure out how to go deeper in the game. Pineda might be a future useful starter but certainly cannot be counted on. As things stand now, the rotation is far from solid and could very well fall behind the White Sox next year unless some significant additions are made. Ditto for a bullpen that is still looking for help from the minor leagues.

While I do not expect the Twins to compete for the top free agents, they have the money this offseason to spend heavily, especially given the deep pockets(at least as deep as the Rickett's family) of Pohlad to add quality to the roster. I don't mean someone like Logan Morrison, Lynn or Rodney, but a true shutdown reliever and cleanup hitter. As for the rotation, no minor leaguer looks ready to help next year, at least based on year-to-date performance in the bigs. What Falvey must do to build on his first two years is to trade some of the existing minor league(or major league) talent for top starting pitching. If some other team likes Romero, Gordon, Gonzales, et.al., then take advantage and give them up for proven starters. Take the risk Ryan never would! And yes, if some team dangled a proven starter, don't be afraid to let Sano or Buxton go in the right deal. The Twins still have a young core that with a bit of luck, good FA signings and increased attention to trading for talent could contend again in the next two years. But if Falvey wants to attain the success that Theo has had( and that I think Hahn is about to have) then he must be active this offseason, take the kid gloves off and go for some top talent. If not, the Twins will be stuck in that dreaded middle quagmire so familiar to Twins' fans over the past umpteen years.

Hope you've enjoyed this view from Chicago! Feel free to add your two cents!!