This Has Nothing To Do With The Podcast (A Baseball Musing)
I hope you’ll forgive me for using this for purposes outside the direct relevance to the ISKB Podcast. Part of the purpose of doing all this is to be slightly more creative, and part of that, ideally, involves writing more. I’m hoping to use this space, when I’m not using it directly for podcast purposes, to be sort of a catchall for whatever media and culture ideas I’m mulling over. So feel free to skip this if this is not your thing.
That said, I am so goddamn excited for tomorrow.
I haven’t gotten really excited about baseball since about a month into the Milton Bradley era in Chicago. This is, in no small part, a self-defense mechanism; once it became clear that the “most wonderful fans in all of baseball” weren’t going to give someone like Milton a fair shake* it was obvious that the Cubs were going to nosedive, and nosedive hard. After the borderline euphoric highs of 2008 (and the fairly inevitable disappointment of THAT team), I needed a break.
*Milton Bradley has taken a lot of grief for his 2009 season in Chicago, some of it deserved. Personally, I only know two things for certain: one, that Milton Bradley had the absolute best eye for the strike zone of any hitter I’ve seen outside of Barry Bonds. The man did NOT swing at balls out of the zone, and his confidence and understanding of the strike zone was, I’m sure, at least partly responsible for his well-documented difficulties with umpires over the years. Two, the Chicago media decided VERY early in the season that they didn’t care for Milton or his attitude, and framed the narrative for fans to reflect their views. Nevermind that there are a lot of hitters that get off to slow starts in Chicago’s cold Aprils, the deck was stacked against him in such a way that there would be no recovery from a slow start in the fans’ minds. This shall henceforth be known as the Jacques Jones Corollary. I could continue ranting about Milton Bradley, but nobody’s reading this anyway, so let’s save time.
Since Milton’s ignominious departure in the waning days of the 2009 season, there has been exactly one on-field moment worthy of sustained excitement for Cubs fans: the explosion of Starlin Castro through the minor leagues and onto the major league roster. Starlin announced himself early in 2010 with a record-setting 6 RBI performance coming off a homer and a triple. Particularly for an organization that hasn’t generated a genuine offensive talent in more than a decade, Starlin Castro represented hope that the Cubs organization could move on from its obsession with Scrappy White Guys* and generally mediocre free agent signings and actually begin to cultivate success at the organizational level. Loading up the farm with (at the time) quality prospects like Josh Vitters, Chris Archer, Andrew Cashner, and the like all seemed to suggest a club that was moving in the right direction.
*Reed Johnson, Mark DeRosa, Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Tyler Colvin, Darwin Barney….I really wish that list would have taken me longer than the 15 or so seconds it took to make it.
As is pretty typical with this organization, however, not much went right after this burst of encouragement. We realized Vitters had less plate patience than Neifi Perez and Cashner would be plagued by health issues. Archer (along with quality shortstop prospect Hak Ju Lee and Wikipedia Darling Sam Fuld) was shipped off to Tampa in a trade for Matt Garza (a trade that to this day makes no sense to me, given the state of the organization at the time). Castro lost some of his shine under the grind of a 162 game schedule, pounding out hits, yet making a ton of outs and getting somewhat exposed defensively at short, raising questions about his long term ability to field the position.
To sum up: it’s been an ugly 4 years since the highs of the 2008 season. Which is why tomorrow is going to be such an exciting moment.
Tomorrow Anthony Rizzo, the number one ranked first base prospect in baseball, joins the major league roster, hopefully for good. Older than Castro, Rizzo comes with slightly more polish, mostly by virtue of spending time in organizations other than the Cubs. Drafted by Boston originally, Rizzo went to the Padres as the centerpiece of the deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox. From there he was traded yet again for a package built around Andrew Cashner. What is notable about these deals is that in both trades, it was Jed Hoyer looking to acquire the young Rizzo. Hoyer seems to be a true believer in Rizzo’s talent and work ethic, a belief supported by Rizzo’s absolute rampage through the PCL this season. His gaudy slash line - .345/.408/.702 in 282 plate appearances, with 23 bombs in 69 games - reflects a dominance of the AAA level that I’m not old enough to remember a Cubs prospect matching. Everything about his performance — save for a disappointing stint on San Diego’s major league roster (in PETCO of all places) — suggests at worst a quality, cost-controlled first sacker that will allow the team to allocate resources elsewhere, and at best a superstar caliber power threat the team can build a future around.
But more than this Rizzo represents the first tangible step in realizing the plan laid out by Theo, Hoyer, and company when they assumed control of baseball operations this winter. This team is a long way from being good; I still fully expect them to contend for a league worst record and the number one overall pick in next year’s amateur draft. But Rizzo’s arrival brings us one step closer to the day when this organization can move past mediocre journeymen like Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker, Darwin Barney, and the rest. And for someone who’s favorite moment in this baseball season thus far has been the Cubs finally kicking Koyie Hill to the curb, it means something to me to see a tangible step forward in this long rebuilding process, to be shown a hint of light, way at the other end of this incredibly dark tunnel.
In all likelihood, the face of the Theo-led Cubs will not be Anthony Rizzo. It may not even be A-Ball folk hero Javier Baez, if and when his turn through the hype machine comes. But having Rizzo on the major league roster is tangible proof that the organization is starting to accumulate the right sort of players to achieve success. And that is a nice place to be.