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Tankers beware: Copying Cubs process ain’t cheap – or guaranteed

Between Jon Lester (left) and Jason Heyward, that's a $339 million high five.

MESA, Ariz. — As the Cubs looked across the diamond at their opponent Monday, it didn’t take much imagination to think they were looking at something more -familiar than just their former manager, Rick Renteria.

In fact, just seeing Renteria manage a Chicago team rebuilding by trading off veterans and trying to identify a new young core, what could be more familiar than that to the Cubs?

But if the White Sox or Reds or Phillies or Padres — or anyone else — think that a Cubs-like tank-and-rebuild is the proven, gilded path to October glory, then let the buyer beware.

“It doesn’t work for everybody,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who presided over the final stages of a rebuild with the Rays and the competitive turnaround on the North Side.

Just ask the Pirates and Reds, who recently built around young cores without getting past the wild-card game or division series, respectively. Or the Diamondbacks, who bailed on their rebuild, then face-planted after spending big bucks on free agent Zack Greinke and trading for Shelby Miller (goodbye, Dansby Swanson).

“It’s born of necessity, obviously, for some organizations,” Maddon said. “And I think there’s a lot of patience involved. Sometimes groups may lose their patience. It’s not easy to go out there every year and know you’re going to get bashed a little bit. And then you have to be able to absorb media scrutiny or fan scrutiny to the point where they may cause you to abandon your plan. And you can’t.

“And, of course, you have to have good evaluators. It’s always about scouting and development first. If you’ve got that, then you’ve got a shot on the rebuild. If you don’t, then you’re going to be rebuilding for a long time.”

And this: Even in a copycat industry, the paper tray needs to be checked often if you plan to use the copier.

And if you plan to copy the Cubs, the tray better include a ream or two of U.S. currency.

Sox general manager Rick Hahn looks at the Cubs as one of his club’s models.

As far back as November, when he only hinted at trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, Hahn said of the “taking-a-step-back” process: “There certainly would be other examples throughout baseball, certainly the most recent one being the Cubs.” He then added the Astros “and others in the game.”

Nobody has done it quicker or with more dramatic results in recent memory than the Cubs, whose front office admits to some “luck” with trades and the fast-track development of key prospects.

The Cubs also have an advantage that those Reds and Pirates teams don’t have and that the Sox have never shown the appetite for. That’s the ability to sign free agents for nine figures — in back-to-back years, no less — at the end of the rebuilding process.

The biggest contract in White Sox history remains the six-year, $68 million deal they gave Jose Abreu.

“I think what Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer] and Mr. [Tom] Ricketts have done is utilized all components,” Maddon said, “whether it’s drafting and development, wise acquisitions, some really good trades.”

The Sox, for instance, might not even be in full tank mode yet — the means for securing not only the highest possible draft pick but also the bonus-slot allowance that comes with the low finish.

But see what the team looks like at the trade deadline and what uniforms lefty Jose Quintana and closer David Robertson are wearing in August.

“It’s our duty to get this organization where the Cubs are right now,” Hahn said recently, “so our fans can enjoy what their fans had the privilege of enjoying last year.

“They are where we want to be.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.