As the Chicago Cubs try to sweep the Boston Red Sox in Fenway, do they have the better foundation?
The Chicago Cubs are on the verge of pulling off a three-game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Go ahead and read that again. It’s just one of many surprises that the 162-game regular season MLB schedule provides. The lowly, rebuilding Cubs are going to win–and again possibly sweep–a series against the defending World Series champions in their own back yard.
But wait a second. After closer examination, those defending World Series champions have just as many losses as the lowly Cubs rebuilding the wrong way–46.
Thank the law of expectation for the perception of each club. The Cubs are doing everything wrong by not spending their market-value and trading all of their players right when they get good.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox are just in a slump that they’ll surely get out of. “It’s early” for the Red Sox. Even if it doesn’t happen for them this year, they’ll bounce back and be just fine next year while the Cubs still sit in the NL Central basement waiting on the fate of “prospects”.
Are we really sure that these two teams are that far apart?
Don’t close the screen yet. It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
The Red Sox currently sit at 38-46, 8 games back in the AL East. The Cubs, meanwhile, are 36-46 and 13 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs are known sellers, while the Red Sox are still trying to talk themselves into being buyers at the trade deadline.
If we count both teams out of the race this year–Red Sox fans will eventually–then we have to look at the coming years. It’s hard not to think the Cubs have the advantage.
The Red Sox current roster has a higher average age than your local nursing home. Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, A.J. Pierzynski Koji Uehara are all free agents at the end of the year. That’s the starting catcher, two starting pitchers, the unhittable closer and DH/outfielder.
Of course the Red Sox could re-sign Lester, but the two sides seem miles apart. Red Sox fans can’t get Drew and Pierzynski out the door fast enough, but you’re still talking about replacing 40 percent of the starting rotation and 33 percent of the starting position players.
Things don’t get better in 2016. John Lackey comes off the books, as does Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Craig Breslow (who cares) and David Ortiz. David Ortiz probably has a few one-year deals left in him. And perhaps the Red Sox look to resign a couple of these guys in the next two years.
In the next two years, the Red Sox are scheduled to lose three starting pitchers, the starting first-baseman, starting right-fielder, starting DH, starting catcher and starting shortstop. The Red Sox probably bring Ortiz back, but who knows how much he’ll have left in two years. They’ll probably bring Lester back after spending more money than they want. The only player under a long-term deal is Dustin Pedroia, who’s 30 years old and signed until the 2022 season.
Then there’s the Cubs. They’re the team that consistently puts out the worst lineup in baseball. Yet they’re only slightly worse than the Red Sox in terms of scoring runs. Unlike the Red Sox, they have proven young players who are locked up for the future. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are both signed to long-term deals, and both of them are performing well. Castro has 94 hits on the year, has raised his average to .286 and added 11 homers. Rizzo’s hit 17 home runs while driving in 44.
They’ll lose Jason Hammel either via trade or free agency next year. Carlos Villanueva, Nate Schierholtz and Emilio Bonifacio are also gone. Good riddance.
The only significant player the Cubs stand to lose in the next two years is Jeff Samardzija. If they trade him, it’s because they bring back quite the haul of prospects. If they keep him, perhaps they end up re-signing him when his contract expires after next season.
So who replaces these guys and who gets these teams to the top?
In Boston, it’s Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts stealing headlines. They’re the ones Boston fans are excited about. They’re excited about Bradley Jr. in the outfield, despite his .208 batting average on the year. Bogaerts is at just .245. Betts just debuted this week. They’ve got Will Middlebrooks and Ryan Lavarnway, too.
The Cubs boast prospects better than everyone mentioned above. Kris Bryant has 28 homers in the minors this year and might be the best hitter on the Cubs right now were he in Wrigley. Javier Baez is rated better as a prospect than Bogaerts and projects to be a major-power hitting infielder. He’s hitting .364 in his last 10 games with a .488 OBP.
Pitching-wise, the Red Sox blow away the Cubs with Henry Owens and Allen Webster at the top. The Cubs are banking on CJ Edwards and Pierce Johnson.
The lazy argument is that “it’s the Red Sox, they’ll make the right moves and get back into the playoffs next year.” Will they? Because many of the right moves that got them where they are is because of the guy holding the power in the Cubs front office.
The Cubs are banking on prospects, but that hasn’t worked in 100 years, right? Please bring that argument up so anyone listening can immediately dispose of any argument you ever present again. Theo Epstein and Co. have nothing to do with anything that’s happened with the Cubs in the past. If the Red Sox can say that Bradley Jr., Bogaerts and Betts are locks to work out, then why can’t the Cubs do the same for Bryant, Baez and Arismendy Alcantara?
Well, even if the Red Sox prospects don’t work out they can always go out and sign a free agent. Except now that the Cubs are starting to call up the future, they’re in a position to do the exact same thing. If the Red Sox go after a Max Scherzer, don’t think the Cubs won’t have a competitive bid in as well.
The Cubs just have more long-term depth and options than the Red Sox. If it’s not more, than it’s equal. The Cubs could sign Hanley Ramirez, move Bryant to the outfield and shore up two spots with one signing. They can afford to get a young player like Colby Rasmus until Jorge Soler is ready. They can sign Scherzer, or take a flier on a Brandon McCarthy. Do I need to remind you how the Jason Hammel, Paul Maholm and Scott Feldman fliers worked out?
If the Cubs boast a rotation of Jake Arrieta, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and some combination of Jeff Samardzija or whoever the acquire for him, McCarthy, Scherzer, Francisco Liriano/Justin Masterson type free agents with a CJ Edwards or Kyle Hendricks, then what makes that any worse than the Red Sox? Jackson and Wood have pitched better than their ERA’s suggest.
By May of next year the Cubs could have Bryant at third, Castro at short, Baez at second and Rizzo at first, giving them perhaps the best offensive infield in all of baseball. Add Alcantara to the outfield, a free agent outfielder and even Ryan Sweeney in the other spot and you’ve got a formidable lineup to build on.
Can the Red Sox say the same? After Pedroia, there are far more question marks in the lineup. Will Ortiz be a shell of himself by then? Will Bradley live up to the hype? Give Bogaerts the benefit of the doubt and say he becomes what his prospect ranking projects. Is there anyone else on the cusp of making this team a contender in the AL East immediately?
In the next three years, there’s nothing the Red Sox will be able to consider financially that the Cubs can’t. If there’s a free agent on the market that the Cubs want, money won’t be a factor in losing out.
The way things are shaping up, the Red Sox might be the ones losing a lot more. The Cubs might not even have to wait until next year to be better than Boston. The Cubs -11 run differential compared to the Red Sox -36 run differential might suggest it’s already the case.