The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Cubs embark on second round of re-tooling

Chicago Cubs player transactions over the winter indicate the team is going into re-tooling mode again. Five years ago (2016), the Cubs dramatically won their first World Series in 98 years, following a complete make-over of the team that started four years earlier. However, it begs the question of whether re-build strategies provide sustaining benefits.


The Cubs’ strategy worked as they became a frequent contender for the playoffs. By their management’s own admission, their rise to prominence during the re-build came sooner than they had anticipated. Since claiming their most recent World Series ring, they have made the playoffs in three of four seasons, although admittedly the last two have been as wild card entries. They now find themselves in a position of sacrificing several upcoming seasons to re-build a championship club again.


At about the same time as the Cubs started their make-over in 2012, the Houston Astros took a similar approach, ravaging their roster by jettisoning their older, higher-priced players in favor of acquiring and grooming prospects and supplementing them with a few strategic trades. They also achieved similar results with a Word Series championship in 2017 and another World Series appearance (although losing to the Nationals) in 2019.


The Astros made the playoffs last year, but their season was marred by a losing record during the abbreviated regular season. Free agency has taken its toll on the roster since 2019, including the loss of several players like Gerrit Cole, Marwin Gonzales, Jake Marisnick, Wade Miley, Will Harris, and more recently Josh Reddick and George Springer. The Astros aren’t completely starting over in 2021, but they’ll be relying on a stable of relatively inexperienced starting pitchers and outfielders. They aren’t the clear favorite to win their division any longer.


The Cubs have off-loaded most of their starting rotation from the past two seasons, including a recent trade of Yu Darvish to San Diego for a bevy of prospects. Jon Lester and Jose Quintana weren’t re-signed over the winter, while Cole Hamels left the year before when he became a free agent. Only Kyle Hendricks is left from that group. The Cubs are now looking for reclamation projects to augment Hendricks.


Cubs outfielder/designated hitter Kyle Schwarber found himself without a job over the winter and signed as a free agent with the Nationals. After the dramatic start of his career in 2015 and 2016, his stock fell because he was a liability in the outfield and he never fit the leadoff role the Cubs often put him in. Outfielder Albert Almora Jr. was also released to free agency.


Third baseman Kris Bryant’s future in Chicago had been questionable since last season and then carried over into the off-season. Apparently, the Cubs didn’t get any compelling offers for him. They wound up re-signing Bryant, shortstop Javier Baez, and catcher Willson Contreras to extensions in January. Combined with first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Jason Heyward, they represent the last vestiges of their championship season. Some would argue the Cubs aren’t undergoing a complete re-tooling with those five position players still on the team. However, their subpar pitching staff will cause them to struggle in an increasingly competitive division.


Cubs president Theo Epstein, the architect of the Cubs’ revival that led to the 2016 championship, surprised everyone when he reached a mutual agreement to resign over the winter. It raised questions about his lack of desire to go through another arduous re-tooling period with the Cubs.


The Boston Red Sox are currently in a similar position as the Cubs when it comes to pitching. Just three seasons ago they won 108 games and captured the World Series with the best staff in the American League. Now they are having trouble finding five serviceable starters. Combined with the trade of superstar Mookie Betts last year, there is a distinct atmosphere of a rebuild effort in Boston.


The Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers are into their fourth seasons of re-building, but it appears they will have a longer resurgence period than the Cubs or Astros. They are still several years away of becoming competitive within their divisions, much less contending for championships. The Cleveland Indians is the latest team to embark on a re-tooling, after having averaged 95 wins from 2016 to 2019.


Re-building or re-tooling (I’m not sure there is a big difference) efforts have been shown to work successfully for several major-league clubs. It appears more teams are going down that path. But what is becoming evident is their results don’t last forever without continuing roster management. If teams don’t have a strong emphasis on drafting and player development to provide a continuous pipeline for their big-league rosters, they will have to settle on second- and third-tier players in the free-agent market. Furthermore, teams have to manage their payrolls so they can retain their franchise players with contract extensions. Otherwise, they could find themselves in a frequent cycle of having to turn over their rosters.

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