Friday, March 16, 2012

2012 vs. 2003...5 reasons they're not the same

I've heard some arguments by people saying that the Cubs may surprise us this year just as they did in 2003 and 2007.  First off, 2012 is not even close to 2007.  The Cubs went out and spent a ton of money in 2007 to compete again, and overall, there just isn't any comparison.  Many people expected the Cubs to at least be competitive that year (though it took Zambrano punching Michael Barrett to really get that team winning).

None of this in 2003 or 2012.
An argument about the 2003 season holds a little more water, but I believe there are some substantial reasons why we won't see a repeat of the turnaround that was seen in the 2003 season.  In fact, I've listed 5 reasons after the jump...

1.  No Mark Prior or Carlos Zambrano
The Cubs already had Kerry Wood, but both Carlos Zambrano and Mark Prior were just starting to get their careers moving as 2003 approached.  They also had Angel Guzman waiting in the minor leagues.  All of these guys were impressive prospects that the Cubs had hoped would lead them in the future.  In 2012, the Cubs really don't have any big pitching prospects that are ready to move to the next level.  Garza is the star of the staff and Dempster is a fading veteran.  After that, the Cubs have some rehashes and the mid-level prospects, not really anything to get excited about.
"Damn you, Marcus Giles, for ruining my career!!!"
2.  Sammy Sosa is not here
Regardless of the steroids, Sammy Sosa was still a feared hitter.  In 2003, Sosa was coming off a 49 homer, 122 RBI season, and was only a year off what was arguably his best year in 2001.  Sosa was still a superstar.   The Cubs have nothing close to a Sosa type of players in 2012.  Castro is the best player on the team and at present he is iffy on defense and doesn't have much power.  There's a big difference.  Castro just isn't nearly the presence that Sosa was.
Some cork always helps too.
3.  Very little veteran leadership
The Cubs in 2003 looked to veterans like Eric Karros, Moises Alou, Alex Gonzalez and Joe Borowski to lead the team.  Once the Cubs became competitors in the NL Central, they brought in Kenny Lofton, who had a history on playoff teams, to add to this veteran leadership.  The 2012 Cubs Wood and Ryan Dempster?  Sure, there is Soriano and Byrd as well, but I think we all expect these two players to be gone at some point during this season.
Veterans teach younger players to throw fans under a bus.
4.  Unproven manager
In 2003, the Cubs brought in Dusty Baker who, despite what we eventually discovered about his managerial style, was coming off a World Series appearance with the Giants and was a 2 time Manager of the Year.  Dale Sveum can hang his hat on the fact that C.C. Sabathia led the Brewers to the playoffs while he was managing them for the last few weeks of the 2008 season.
This explains everything.
5.  Cubs are looking to add prospects, not trade them away
I think most all of us can agree that the Cubs got the better end of the mid-season trade with the Pirates in 2003.  Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton for Jose Hernandez and Bobby Hill?  Hernandez wasn't a prospect by any means...but Bobby Hill definitely was.  His stock had plummeted quite a bit by the time the trade was made, but Cubs fans were still hopeful that he might become the next big thing in the Cubs infield.   In 2012, the Cubs are a team that is looking to add more prospects and at every turn this off-season, the management of this team has looked to trade away veterans, and some older prospects, in favor of prospects with much more club control, not visa-versa.

"But Steve Stone said I was going to be an All-Star"

Look, I know I've been pretty negative about this coming season.  I don't intend to be, but this is a very different year than any we've seen in a long time for the Cubs.  For once the goal of a season isn't defined only by an all in effort to win a single World Series championship.  This is about setting a foundation to attempt to win a World Series each of the next 10 years and beyond.  Jed and Theo are not willing to sacrifice the future to try to win today.

That doesn't mean they can't compete, but the reality is that the chances of them doing so are extremely slim, and very little help is going to be given to this team to try to put them over the top this year.

Instead, this is a season to look for improvement...improved defense, improved baserunning, improved plate discipline.  This is all to set up the foundation for a team that will compete in 2013 (optimistically) and beyond.  Enjoy watching a team that is going to be trying very hard, taking risks, and being smart.  The Cubs might not be able to compete this year, but we can hope that they play good baseball.  Most definitions of "Good Baseball" would imply winning, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will win this year.

The Cubs, even with all the prospects they've brought in, have a big talent gap at the Major League level compared to other teams.  They're minor league system is ranked in the bottom half of baseball.  It takes time to develop players and it takes time to acquire talent and that process to address both of these things is moving forward.

Unfortunately, with the talent gap the Cubs have right now, there isn't much else we can hope for this season.