By Ben Finfer-
(CBS) This is the most important week of the year for the Cubs. It will likely determine how Theo Epstein’s first season as the team president is remembered. Along with the trade for Anthony Rizzo and, of course, all the losing. So much losing.
There will be no series of consequence. No days spent in first place. And likely no call-up for the next savior-to-be prospect. Just the Brewers and Twins and Koyie Hill. But it will still be a huge week.
That’s because it’s time for the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
Beginning Monday and going through Wednesday, the Cubs baseball operations guru will have an opportunity to restock a minor league system that is as devoid of talent as Justin Bieber. And only slightly less vomit-inducing. This is how the rebuilding process truly begins.
It isn’t a quick approach to reversing the fortunes of an historically unsuccessful organization. It’s just the prudent one. One which requires sound strategy, skillful scouting, patience. Oh yeah, and a whole lot of luck. Even the best talent evaluators miss on many of the players they see.
That is among several reasons why it is difficult to imagine this team being a contender within two to three years. Yet that is the time frame hopeful fans place on the rebuilding process. The fact is, there are too many holes to fill and not enough to fill them with in that short span.
Besides Rizzo, most of the Cubs’ promising prospects are in the lower levels of the minor leagues. In other words they are at least three to four years away from being on the Major League roster, let alone playing at a World Series-contributing level.
Free agency won’t have much to offer either. At least not enough of the game-changing type of players it would take for a team to go from playing .400 baseball in 2012 to playing late into October in 2015.
The trade market is the only other place to find a quick fix. And to be a serious player in that arena, a team must have assets. Even if the right guy were made available by a trade partner, it would require a haul of prospects the Cubs still don’t have. Unless they strike gold on an unusually high number of draft picks.
It is not impossible for 2015 to be the year, but unlikely.
Look at the San Diego Padres. That’s the struggling organization that employed Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod before they joined Epstein at Wrigley Field. In San Diego they had a similar plan as the one they’ve drawn up with the Cubs.
The team started over. They hired more scouts and created computer programs. They turned superstar Adrian Gonzalez into three prospects, including Rizzo. They drafted well and developed talent, improving their minor league system from 29th in the league to third (according to Baseball America).
Three years later, now with former Epstein assistant Josh Byrnes in charge, they continue to lose. The Padres are currently a last place team just like the Cubs.
Of course they don’t have Epstein himself. And it’s entirely possible the process will be quicker in Chicago. But it would require a hit on just about every swing the ‘Theo Trio’ takes in the next couple years.
Their first at-bat is this week with the draft. It’s the only at-bat that matters. Sorry Koyie Hill.
Ben Finfer is a weekend host and associate producer of The McNeil & Spiegel Show, heard Monday-Friday from 9am-1pm on 670 The Score and 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFinfer.