LOS ANGELES — Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer said after trades last month that the plan for next year is to avoid being sellers at the trade deadline — for the first time since they took over the operation in the fall of 2011.
Whether they can start gaining traction toward a first winning season since 2009 is another matter.
Either way, it probably starts with their top prospects at Class AAA — and maybe AA — getting to the big leagues to start earning jobs, if not helping win games.
And that should start now, in these last two months of the season, say many fans, some media and even a few guys in the clubhouse.
All-Star building-block slugger Anthony Rizzo has never made a secret of how he feels about letting the minor leaguers try to prove themselves at the big-league level — suggesting as far back as spring training that some of the Cubs’ better prospects in camp should get their chance early in the season.
“Obviously, my feeling is the sooner guys get up here and learn this league and fail in this league and succeed in this league,” he said, “the sooner we’re going to find out really where we’re at.”
So has anybody seen Javy Baez? Not Friday, when the Cubs delayed the major-league debut of Baseball America’s seventh-ranked prospect despite a roster opened wide in the middle infield by the trades of Darwin Barney and Emilio Bonifacio.
Baez is the Cubs’ hottest Class AAA hitter, has performed among the best hitters in the Pacific Coast League since a five-week slump to open the season, and the Cubs say he has looked especially good in the field at second base since making that shift from shortstop two weeks ago as part of a better path to the big leagues.
Hoyer said after Thursday’s trade that it wouldn’t affect any prospect’s timeline or plan. On Friday, the Cubs called up versatile infielder Chris Valaika, who has hit well all season and has big-league experience.
“There’s no hurry,” manager Rick Renteria said of Baez’s conspicuous absence. “There’s not any pressure to do anything right now.”
Isn’t that the point? Doesn’t the lack of pressure over these last two months provide the ideal conditions to let Baez start making adjustments in the big leagues?
“Everything will be based on when it’s appropriate for him to be here and how he can use this time to garner experience,” Renteria said.
Most importantly, players who have the biggest stake in the rebuilding plan have bought in. They believe in the front office, including the moves in July that gutted the clubhouse of several popular veterans.
“Good things are happening,” All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro said. “There are a lot of great guys [coming up].”
“The moves have been good in my opinion,” Rizzo said, “and a lot of other people’s opinions, too. Obviously, our job’s to play. But anyone would be lying in saying that they don’t follow every single transaction that goes on.”
So why not keep moving after the deadline deals?
Rizzo said he feels “definitely a different vibe” at this point in the process than when he got to the big leagues with the Cubs.
He sees something coming in a big way, maybe in a big enough way that next year can be about winning.
“There’s big guns down there that everyone up here and everyone around baseball wants to see succeed and do well,” he said. “It’s always exciting when new young talent comes up.”