As Cubs fans we’re used to not getting good news. If some player leaves a game early we’re trained to think it’s a career ending surgery that will lead to Aaron Miles or Neifi Perez taking over full time. If the team is leading we think it’s only a matter of time before they’ll be losing. If they get a hot-shot manager we believe the team is headed toward failure. If they sign a no-name manager the team is headed for failure. If they sign a young GM we’re waiting for the deal to collapse. If the deal doesn’t collapse we’re waiting for the plane to crash. If he arrives in Chicago we’re waiting for his car to be hit by a bus on the way to Wrigley Field.
In the years since I started following this team, Antonio Alfonseca could count on one hand the number of times I’ve been confident of this team entering a season. The first was in 1985. In 1990 I was quite confident following their 1989 division championship. I really liked the 2001 Cubs entering the season. I thought they could win the division and they came close. The other years were in 2007, 2008 and 2009. In 1985 the entire starting rotation was on the DL. At the same fucking time. I’ve honestly forgotten about what happened in 1990 so please don’t remind me. The 2001 Cubs got off to a solid start, lost 8 in a row, won the next 12 and then played about .500 ball the rest of the way. The 2007 team got off a horrible start and when they realized the season had started they kicked ass all the way through 2008. Nothing went right in 2009.
After two terrible seasons, three if you count how disappointing 2009 was, it’s remarkable that a fan base can be as optimstic as Cubs fans have been. I think most fans understand that the hiring of Theo Epstein isn’t going to lead to immediate division championships. Most people aren’t the optimists that I am so it’s been surprising.
Throughout all of this optimism and the dancing gifs and proclamations that the Cubs will soon be better organization than the Cardinals and general happiness, something has been left out: the Cubs roster.
We form our opinions of an organization on what we see on the field. It’s quite likely the 2012 Cubs are going to be as bad as the 2011 version. They may even be worse if the team doesn’t invest the money coming off the books back into the MLB club. Aramis Ramirez is all but gone. He wants a 3-year contract and it’s hard to believe the Cubs will give him one. Carlos Pena is gone. He could be brought back. The Cubs have numerous question marks all over the diamond and throughout their rotation and bullpen. Their defense is horrible, but if you replace Ramirez with some slick fielding 3rd baseman the Cubs may actually have a solid or even above average defense.
I don’t think too many of us will be pleased with what see on the field in 2012. I expect it will be much the same as the last couple of years. Some fans will undoubtedly use that as evidence that signing Theo was a waste of time and money. We may find that some of the players the Cubs choose to play are ones we’d think don’t belong on a decent team. Well, the 2012 Cubs probably aren’t going to be a decent. They’re likely to make many of the same stupid baserunning mistakes. The rotation is likely to be a little better than last year, but not considerably better.
Cubbie Occurences will never be completely gone, but in the coming years they’re likely to be fewer of them. That’s not lkely to be true in 2012.
The improvements we see in this organization are going to be similar to the improvements we started to see in this organization this past summer. They’re not going to be evident on the field, but the Cubs will have a good draft, spend money on international free agents, and the process will now be well on its way. The front office will be more familiar with the organization, have a much better idea where the organization has to go in the future and there will be more of them. There will be more scouts and more analysts.
These are the things that aren’t visible on tv or at the stadium in 2012. Cubs fans are super excited right now and they should be. In the near future the Cubs are going to be good. I have no idea if they win a championship, but I do know they’ll be good. That’s a great reason to be excited and optimistic, but for many fans that optimism is going to turn to skepticism as the 2012 season drags on.
Cubs fans are almost universally behind Theo Epstein right now. That won’t be true this time next year. This is much the same as a politician’s approval rating. It’s generally higher the less time they’ve spent in office, but as time drags on there is more and more for people to dislike. Maybe Darwin Barney gets traded and some fans think that hurts the Cubs chances of #Darwinning. Maybe they sign a free agent who gets injured. Fans will complain and say it’s a terrible signing.
As more and more fans become skeptics, the performance on the field will become more important to them. It will be evidence that something has gone wrong in the front office. It won’t be, but I completely expect we’ll hear more and more about how it’s not working this time next year.
On an unrelated note, I was thrilled with the press conference today. I don’t know why I’m always giddy about these things, but I am. I loved it when Greg Maddux returned to the Cubs in 2004. I still remember that press conference very well. I loved the first press conferences for Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, Nomar Garciaparra, Milton Bradley and others. I knew I’d like it today. I also knew that we’d learn absolutely nothing.
Every time that is true. Today was no different. Other than learning that it was indeed Theo in the Starbucks, we learned nothing. We already knew the Red Sox Way was going to become the Cubs Way. We knew the Cubs player development would be a primary focus. We knew that analysis would be combined with scouting. We knew that the size of the front office would increase. We knew that one of the reasons he wanted this job was to help the team win its first title in 100+ years. It was a huge draw to him and we knew it. We know that Mike Quade will be fired, but he didn’t even tell us that bit. We learned nothing whatsoever during the press conference today. Nothing.
And I loved every minute of it.