By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) The Chicago Cubs are caught up in a lost season. And, with Derrick Rose caught up in rehab, the Bulls are likely facing one, too.
So, what’s a losing team to do?
Well, lose, if you ask some people.
“Seriously, the Cubs should tank this year so they can get two Top 10 picks in consecutive drafts,” a friend of mine texted me last week. Others, meanwhile, have suggested that since Rose is unlikely to be at full strength during any point of the 2012-2013 season as he recovers from his ACL injury, the Bulls should just sit him out all year in the hopes of being bad enough to nab a lottery pick.
But is tanking a season a wise route for the Cubs and the Bulls to pursue? And how much will it really help either team achieve its ultimate goals of winning a championship?
Now, mind you, we’re not talking here about throwing games or shaving points. Rather, we’re discussing the idea of management essentially making a team bad “on purpose” by neglecting its roster and not really doing anything to improve its chances in the short-term.
For the most part, that’s what the Cubs are already doing this season. Last winter, Theo Epstein & Co. allowed the team’s top power hitters (Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena) to walk away. They then took the bullpen’s five best arms and moved them (Jeff Samardzija), traded them (Sean Marshall and Andrew Cashner) watched them crumble (Carlos Marmol) or watched them retire (Kerry Wood).
Reinforcements have been few and far between, and as a result the Cubs are an abysmal 19-36 and sit 11.5 games out of first place in the weakest division in baseball.
For the rest of the summer, the Cubs, Padres (19-37) and Twins (21-34) figure to be in a (backwards) horserace for the top pick in the 2013 MLB Draft. But in baseball, a lofty pick guarantees very little as at least as many No. 1 selections go bust as go big.
All season long, the Cubs’ brass has had a laser focus on this week’s draft. But even manager Dale Sveum admitted that the selections of prep outfielder Albert Almora and the seven consecutive pitchers that the Cubs took after him could all be for naught.
“There’s a lot of pressure right now to make those decisions,” Sveum said last month about the uncertainty of the MLB Draft. “It’s not that easy to get talent, find out the character of the talent, all those things. It’s a crapshoot sometimes.”
So, if the draft is a “crapshoot” does writing off an entire season to improve one’s spot in it make much sense? Perhaps it does if there appears to be a surefire Hall of Famer in the upcoming draft – a Ken Griffey Jr. or an Alex Rodriguez, for example.
But does that guy exist in 2013?
One recent draft projection for next year has University of Florida fireballer Karsten Whitson – a former first-round pick of the Padres – going No. 1 overall. And if he is the top pick in 2013, Whitson may turn out to be fantastic.
But the fact is, no future Hall of Fame hurler has ever gone No. 1 in the MLB Draft. Rather, the top picks have turned out to be Ben McDonalds and Tim Belchers at best, or Brien Taylors and Bryan Bullingtons at worst. The position players selected No. 1 have been an equally mixed bag. Again, in baseball, draft-pick greatness is far from guaranteed – more so, I’d say, than any other sport.
So, the decision to not compete at all in a season when the NL Central is highly winnable (the division-leading Reds are just 30-24) might or might not end up being the best call for the Cubs, who are also busy shedding payroll. We’ll just have to wait and see.
But what about the Bulls?
I’ve strongly believed for a few years now that Derrick Rose still needs his own “Scottie Pippen” in order for the point guard to lead Chicago to a title a la MJ. And I also believe that such a championship-caliber is not yet on the team (Luol Deng isn’t him).
With the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade shunning Chicago and Dwight Howard making it sound as if he’s not very interested in blowing in to the Windy City, it could be difficult for the Bulls to find that D-Rose’s superstar running mate.
With Rose, the team is too good to get a high selection in the draft. So, the Bulls would have to get lucky with a pick, be super savvy with a trade, or sign a free agent that’s not yet on the radar.
As of right now, NBAdraft.net has Indiana’s 6-foot-11 Cody Zeller going No. 1 overall in the 2013 Draft, followed by UCLA frosh Shabazz Muhammad and Kentucky rookie Nerlens Noel.
As for how good they’ll turn out to be as pros, nobody knows. To be sure, the NBA has its fair share of lottery busts, but top basketball picks do tend to pan out better than top baseball ones.
So, sitting Rose out as long as necessary – or perhaps even a bit longer – next season might be worth the gamble for the Bulls.
The benefits of the Cubs potentially “tanking” for a higher pick, meanwhile, is less clear. I suppose you could even say it’s the difference between shooting craps and a crapshoot.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.