An open letter to Chicago White Sox beat writer Scot Gregor:
Welcome to the world of a rebuilding baseball club.
I’ve been there.
When Theo Epstein and Co. hit town in the fall of 2011, they had a clean slate from Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts to do with the baseball operation what they chose.
They chose a total teardown and rebuild. Truth be told, there wasn’t much to tear down, as the major-league club had declined badly since back-to-back playoff appearances in 2007 and 2008.
The farm system was bare, and it was clear Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting and player-development chief Jason McLeod were going to use what remaining assets they had (or could acquire) at the major-league level to rebuild it.
You’re now witnessing a similar plan with the White Sox. I listened to Sox GM Rick Hahn on a conference call when he traded lefty Jose Quintana to the Cubs for a couple of pretty good prospects plus two other minor-leaguers.
First, kudos to Hahn for ignoring whatever silly taboo there might have been against trading with the Cubs. Second, from what I’ve read, seen and heard, it looks like Hahn is on the right track.
Here are a few things to expect over the next two or three years.
A lot of losing:
Just as Epstein and Hoyer said when they got here, each regular season is sacred. Yes, the players on the field each day and the manager would go out and try to win, but the deck was stacked against them.
The 2012 team went 61-101, and on some nights Wrigley Field was as quiet as a library.
The Cubs had a couple of pretty good pitchers in their rotation to start the season in Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm, but Dempster was dealt to Texas in a deal that brought Kyle Hendricks to Chicago, and the Cubs traded Maholm to the Atlanta Braves for Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chaman. That deal didn’t really pan out, but the starting rotation was pretty well decimated, pretty much guaranteeing a 100-loss season.
The next year, the Cubs traded starter Matt Garza to Texas in a deal that brought Carl Edwards Jr. and Justin Grimm to Chicago.
In another key trade, they sent pitcher Scott Feldman to Baltimore for a guy named Jake Arrieta and a reliever named Pedro Strop.
The Cubs fared a little better that season, going 66-96, but manager Dale Sveum got himself fired, partly because he talked of sending young players Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro to the minor leagues.
The end of the painful process was signaled on July 5, 2014, when the Cubs again depleted their rotation by sending pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland in the Addison Russell trade.
Manager Rick Renteria — you may know him — didn’t get to enjoy it, as he was fired in the fall to make room for Joe Maddon.
A revolving door of players:
Don’t get me wrong, any player who makes it to any level of professional baseball deserves undying respect, no matter how they do and how far they go.
Just as the Cubs did from 2012-14, the White Sox are likely to trot out a lot of players who couldn’t make it on other major-league clubs.
In the early years of the rebuild, I watched a “finesse” right-hander named Justin Germano get lit up. I saw a guy named Jason Berken, who looked like your bowling-league buddy, make 4 starts for the Cubs in 2012. He never pitched again in the big leagues.
I saw reliever Alex Hinshaw pitch the final two games of his big-league career in 2012. He gave up a homer to Ryan Braun that may be passing Jupiter about now.
I got to interview Adrian Cardenas, Alex Burnett, Cole Gillespie, Joe Mather, Dave Sappelt, Blake Lalli, Brooks Raley, Scott Maine, Cody Ransom, Donnie Murphy, Julio Borbon and Thomas Neal, all nice guys but all guys who were fodder for the process.
There were some good stories, though. Get to know these kinds of players.
Some lighter moments, too:
In 2012, I saw outfielder-infielder Mather pitch. Catcher John Baker had his moment in the sun (or a couple of hours before the sun rose) when he pitched a scoreless inning and scored the winning run in a 16-inning 4-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies in July 2014.
Baker got the full clubhouse celebration in the middle of the night, and he held court with the media the following afternoon. That’s OK. The journeyman parlayed his good-guy role into a front-office job with the Cubs.
Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but the object is to “build a foundation for sustained success,” as I heard a couple of execs say about two million times.
Through good scouting and player development, the Cubs were able to watch their young players come up and contribute to a deep playoff run in 2015 and a World Series title last year.
If the White Sox can do something similar, I will hold a seat open for you in the renovated Wrigley Field press box for the 2020 Cubs-White Sox World Series.
Cubs vs. White Sox at Wrigley Field
TV: ABC 7 and Comcast SportsNet Monday; Comcast SportsNet and WGN Tuesday
Radio: WSCR 670-AM and WLS 890-AM
Pitching matchups: The Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks (4-3) vs. Miguel Gonzalez (4-9) Monday; John Lackey (6-9) vs. Carlos Rodon (1-3) Tuesday. Both games 1:20 p.m.
About the Cubs: Hendricks will come off the disabled list and pitch the series opener. He has been out since early June with tendinitis in his pitching hand. The defending ERA champion in baseball has a mark of 4.09. Cubs starting pitchers came out of the all-star break with an ERA of 2.16 over their first 8 starts. Cubs pitching entered Sunday fourth in the NL in ERA (4.06). Kris Bryant’s .402 on-base percentage was seventh in the NL entering Sunday.
About the White Sox: They have dropped nine in a row, their longest losing streak since 2013. The Sox are batting .220 during the slide, and .154 (10-for-56) with runners in scoring position. Sox pitchers have a 6.00 ERA during the losing streak. Left fielder Melky Cabrera is one of the White Sox’s few hot hitters, but he exited Sunday’s loss vs. Kansas City with a bruised left foot. Yoan Moncada is only 1-for-13 since joining the Sox, but he has 4 RBI and 2 walks. Gonzalez is 1-9 with a 6.24 ERA over his last 10 starts.
Next: Cubs vs. White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, Wednesday-Thursday
— Bruce Miles and Scot Gregor