By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) You’re damaged goods. Some of you have had the rug pulled out from under you so many times that good news brings not excitement but distrust. Others are so starving for anything good in their world that the tiniest modicum of positive news is equated to success.
Such is the current state of Cubs fans. And with the Tuesday call-up of highly-touted prospect Javier Baez to the big club, as first reported by 670TheScore.com’s Bruce Levine, the Wrigley Field faithful find themselves at a strange emotional crossroads now that what was promised all along by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer has commenced.
On the one end of the spectrum are the pessimists. These are the fans who share in what Rick Telander said on Comcast SportsNet’s Sports Talk Live last week regarding prospects and the gushing over them as “fantasyland” and “fool’s gold” — this just a month after chiding Epstein for not having won in Chicago yet or something. I understand we in Chicago have been conditioned to take positive developments associated with the Cubs and immediately consider how they will eventually hurt us, but completely dumping on a farm system that Keith Law has ranked as tops in baseball highlighted by three of Baseball America’s top 10 prospects in Kris Bryant (No. 2), Addison Russell (No. 5), and Baez (No. 7) comes off as needlessly glass-half-peed-in.
But it’s fashionable to do the “Cubs won’t ever succeed because they are simply the Cubs” logical fallacy thing. I self-medicate constantly with sarcasm and satire at their expense. But I also try to avoid past-equals-future bad arguments. I’m referring to those mentions of Kevin Orie and Felix Pie as examples of why completely different human beings won’t hit, catch and throw well at the major league level — all because that makes total sense to many of a post-traumatic-stressed fanbase. Or citing that old standby, Corey Patterson, as the epitome of unfilled prospect excitement. That same Corey Patterson who played in 12 MLB seasons despite a bad knee injury early in his promising career. We should all be so foolish to expect a decade-plus out of top farm talent.
On the other end of the buzz about the Cubs prospects is the all-in, freak-out-at-every-home-run-hit-in-a-minor-league-game crowd (of which I, too, am admittedly guilty). The infamous eternal Cub fan optimism has mutated in these folks into an odd sort of acceptance that Bryant, Baez, Russell, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora will all share in the 2014 success of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro for years to come, and the multiple World Series rings should have already been preordered. Such a sugar high is equally as illogical as the fool’s gold set.
At least one of those names won’t be a successful big leaguer, and the likelihood is multiple young players won’t reach expectations. That’s how it works — some top prospects just don’t pay off, but you increase your likelihood of having several that do by amassing as many as you can. Epstein and Co. very much understand that.
“We don’t deserve to be on the cover of magazines,” Epstein said two weeks ago. “We don’t deserve to really be lauded right now, because we haven’t done anything yet. At best, what we’ve done is put ourselves in a position to make a lot of interesting decisions going forward.
“Hopefully, (we’ll) have two of the most important currencies in the game – impactful young players and available payroll dollars and go make some hay. But we’re not there yet. We haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
While it’s probably the best place to put yourself, I know it’s tough to hear someone tell you to try to place yourself in the middle of these extremes that are pulling at opposite ends of Cubs Nation. The middle isn’t a satisfying prospective for fans who have never enjoyed success. “Don’t be so negative” and “don’t be too excited” both come off as a lecture to several million baseball fans, and the last thing they want to hear after having little to nothing to root for for so long is a lesson on how to channel their emotions on what looks to be the cusp of a watershed era in Cubs baseball.
I’m interested to see what Arismendy Alcantara, Baez and maybe Soler in September can do in this lost season, both to selfishly make it a bit more interesting to watch and for their respective growths. Cautious optimism regarding the shouts in the streets of “The prospects are coming, the prospects are coming!” is most advisable, though.
Nobody should be jumping out of this airplane without a parachute. But anyone who shows up just to stay on the ground and criticize this exciting process isn’t helping either.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.