The latest Cubs’ storyline, thanks to a rash of injuries, is the infusion of homegrown youth to the team’s roster.
But the real story of the season has actually been the opposite: The Cubs have built the best record in baseball with lots of veterans who were either signed through free agency or acquired through trades. Or to put it another way, what Plan?
The Plan, the name given by media members to Theo Epstein’s franchise-construction project, was big on stripping down the big-league product and building a strong base through the minor leagues. The Cubs went through a stretch of prodigious losing that allowed them to choose Kris Bryant with the second overall pick in the 2013 draft and Kyle Schwarber with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft. But the Cubs’ accomplishments this year have come without the help of Schwarber, who suffered a season-ending knee injury April 7.
Cubs fans are ecstatic about the team’s chances of finally winning a World Series, as they should be, but it’s worth asking whether records of 71-91 in 2011, 61-101 in 2012 and 66-96 in 2013 were necessary to get here.
Look at the team’s marquee players and ask yourself if a team like this could have been built without The Plan:
— Centerfielder Dexter Fowler, 30, acquired in a trade from Houston in 2015 for pitcher Dan Straily (Oakland’s 24th-round draft pick in 2009) and 29-year-old infielder Luis Valbuena. Fowler re-signed as a free agent with the Cubs in spring training this year.
— Right fielder Jason Heyward, 26, signed as a free agent in 2016.
— Second baseman Ben Zobrist, 35, signed as a free agent in 2016.
— First baseman Anthony Rizzo, 26, acquired along with minor-leaguer Zach Cates in a trade with San Diego for pitcher Andrew Cashner and minor-leaguer Kyung-Min Na.
— Shortstop Addison Russell, 22, acquired along with minor-leaguer Billy McKinney in a trade with Oakland for veteran pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
— Pitcher Jake Arrieta, 30, acquired along with reliever Pedro Strop in a trade with Baltimore in 2013 for Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman.
— Pitcher Jon Lester, 32, signed as a free agent in December 2015.
— Pitcher John Lackey, 37, signed as a free agent in 2016.
— And Bryant, 24, the lone Cubs’ draft pick in the regular lineup.
The Cubs have built a strong farm system that could help in years to come. Bryant has been great, and Schwarber will help when he recovers. But players who came from the outside have done most of the heavy lifting. Do you want The Truth? The Plan had as much to do with ownership saving money during the down years as it did with getting high draft picks.