By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Even after the Cubs won the World Series with one of the youngest lineups in the game last season, they maintained the goods in the farm system to make the moves to stay competitive at the highest level this year.
Hell bent on winning another championship, the Cubs’ front office that’s led by president of baseball operations Theo Epstein hasn’t shied shied away from trading top prospects for more finished products. That was showcased again this July, as the Cubs traded six prospects in two separate deals that returned left-hander Jose Quintana, left-handed reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila.
The acquisitions will help now and later, as Quintana is under team control through 2020 and Wilson through 2018, when he may take over the closer’s role if incumbent Wade Davis leaves in free agency. Avila is set to his free agency this November, though the Cubs could have interest in bringing him back if all goes well.
What Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of player development/amateur scouting Jason McLeod have done is build up an impressive farm system that has had blue-chip position players to spare. Now, the group that’s proved on multiple occasions that it build championship-caliber teams from the ground up looks forward to restocking a farm system that’s been somewhat depleted, though it has quality potential in pitchers at lower levels.
“When you are in a building mode, you tend to keep almost all of your prospects,” Epstein said. “You don’t want to give up the wrong guy, and you try to accrue as many players as you can as you are going to build around. It makes sense to keep just about all of them out there in that phase. When you are in a successful phase — and one we hope will last for many years — you have to be a little bit more open-minded.”
It’s possible Epstein and the Cubs have traded future All-Stars or even potential Hall of Famers in the past two seasons to put themselves in better position to win now. That’s simply was you do when you have a reigning National League MVP in Kris Bryant at age 25 and a host of players in their primes or entering them in the likes of first baseman Anthony Rizzo, outfielder Jason Heyward, shortstop Addison Russell, catcher Willson Contreras and others.
Epstein doesn’t seem all that bothered, at least in the baseball sense, of trading prospects.
“There are two successful outcomes with your prospects,” Epstein said. “Some come up here and contribute to championship clubs or trade them for players who do the same. The only outcome that is a failure is holding onto them to long as they lose their value. Also not evaluating them properly or moving them in the wrong kind of deal that doesn’t end up helping you.”
Epstein has vowed the Cubs will win and replenish the farm system at the same time. He’s fond of pointing out these core young Cubs are under team control through 2021 or even longer, meaning he has at least four to five more seasons to focus on the farm system.
“We are just as committed to young players as we have always been,” Epstein said. “We are going to find ways to build the farm system back up. I think we have really talented players in our system right now. They are just a little under the radar now but will soon be household names.
“Any time you can move your prospects for championship-type pieces, you know it is going well. We still look out almost every day, and we are the youngest team on the field. That bodes well for the long-term health of the organization. We are committed as we ever have been to young players.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.