MORRISSEY: The White Sox are loaded with top prospects. Now what?
Whether big-time prospects turn into big-time players is a crapshoot in baseball. Always has been, always will be.
But the Cubs’ success has advanced a different view, announcing loudly that everything turns to gold if you go young and rebuild a franchise.
It says that your best prospect will become a Most Valuable Player within two years of breaking into the majors. That another first-round pick will turn into Mr. October in two postseasons, despite a thin resume. That another team’s first-rounder gained via trade will end up as your starting shortstop as a 21-year-old. That other young players will make contributions in huge moments.
Oh, and that you’ll win a World Series within five years of the first whack of the wrecking ball to your roster.
Buzzkill reminder: That’s not how it has worked historically in baseball. I could take you through a tour of failed first-round draft picks that would last hours, but I wouldn’t want to put you or me through the pain of discussing David Clyde, Danny Goodwin, et al.
The White Sox’ farm system is bursting with top prospects, with two more added in the Thursday trade that sent starter Jose Quintana to the Cubs. The Sox acquired outfielder Eloy Jimenez and pitcher Dylan Cease, who were considered the Cubs’ top two prospects.
It means that the Sox now have three of the top 11 players in MLB.com’s 2017 Prospect Watch, including No. 1 prospect Yoan Moncada, and nine of the top 70.
So they have that going for them.
Now, what does it really mean? If you’re a Sox fan, it means your fun for the next few years mostly will be found in gazing at minor-league box scores. If you’re like many Cubs fans from four or five years ago, fans of a certain baseball orientation, it means you’ll purr in your sleep about a prospect’s on-base percentage in Class A ball.
It might even mean the Sox will have a winner on their hands. Might.
The Cubs’ success has conditioned Chicago to believe that this is how it works in sports, that if a team goes the rebuilding route, prosperity is inevitable. It’s probably more unlikely than likely, but let’s not beat a dead horse. The reception to what Sox vice president Rick Hahn is doing has been mostly positive, as it should be. A rebuild makes sense.
But it takes faith, some of it the blindest kind.
For now, every team owner going through a rebuild or pondering one is asking himself the same questions. How much of the Cubs’ success is Epstein’s doing? And is my architect as good? One thing is for sure: It’s not the blueprint. It’s the person making the decisions.
If Baseball America declares that your team has the best farm system, wonderful. But that will only take you so far. Hahn will be judged by how he responds to other situations.
Can he pull off the kind of trade that brought a very average Jake Arrieta to the Cubs, where he turned into a Cy Young winner?
Can he get a desperate team to part with a young player ready to play almost immediately, the way Epstein did with A’s general manager Billy Beane in the Addison Russell trade?
There are other ways to build a winner, but the Cubs have sold the sports world on the rebuilding route. It buys time for owners and management, and it’s much cheaper than spending on free agents. With so many fans obsessed these days with the building of an organization, it’s an easier sell than it used to be. In the past, owners feared that blowing up the roster in favor of a rebuild would lead to a fan revolt. And for good reason; there didn’t seem to be much of an appetite for it. Now a certain kind of fan is famished for it.
But not all of them. The 76ers have been universally mocked for what their former general manager, Sam Hinkie, called The Process. They tanked just like the Cubs did, and they had a top-three-pick in each of the last four NBA drafts. Injuries and bad decisions have led to four straight miserable seasons.
In contrast, Cubs fans treated The Plan, Epstein’s outline for success, with a reverence last used for two tablets that came down from a mountain.
But, again, it’s not the plan, the process or the operating instructions that come in the box. It’s the decisions.
Hahn has a plan, too, and it looks a like Epstein’s. Now it’s up to him to make the right moves. If all his top prospects turn into real players, that certainly will help.
It’s not a given, you know. No matter what the Cubs have taught us.