By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) — I’m reminded of Verbal Kint, played by Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects, telling the story of Keyser Soze’s background. In order to establish dominance in the criminal underworld Soze executed his own family rather than let rivals use those family members as ransom pieces.
Then I think of the Cubs. Stay with me here.
They might win the World Series next season. They probably won’t, though. But the very fact that I can type that without my hands going into violent tremors is significant.
After all, the Kansas City Royals were at 50/1 odds to win it all before the 2014 season started, which also happens to be what the Cubs were at for 2015 only Thursday morning. That was until Las Vegas recalibrated itself with the assumption that the team would be led by Joe Maddon and not Rick Renteria. Now the Cubs have leapt to 33/1 odds to have Anthony Rizzo or Jake Arrieta participate in an awkward award ceremony with Gil from The Simpsons.
The easy trap to fall into is assuming that eye-popping positive jump in odds means the Cubs are all of a sudden contenders with Maddon as skipper. Not so, though any member of the organization if asked will say on record that he or she feels the upcoming team will be playoff-caliber. And you can’t roll your eyes at that or reflexively mock the rightfully mockable “Next year is here” mantra of the blindly faithful. That’s because the Cubs are supremely confident in this modus operandi of big boy baseball operations. It’s something pretty strange around the North Side, but damn if it shouldn’t put a sense of comfort in fans.
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist,” Kint says.
No better has this new sort of swagger at Wrigley been exemplified than in the cold, calculating dismissal of one-year manager Renteria in favor of an established free agent coach. Yeah, the humanity in us can’t help but pause and feel bad for a guy who lost his job for his only crime being not as sexy as the new guy who just walked into the place. Renteria gets millions of dollars to go away and will get another MLB job, but nobody likes to be dumped, especially after seemingly doing one’s job competently.
The Cubs know they look like jerks, which is why Theo Epstein said in a statement, “Rick deserved to come back for another season as Cubs manager, and we said as much when we announced that he would be returning in 2015 … He deserved better.”
And therein lies Epstein’s trick — doing his best to make it seem like he gives a crap about decorum or has a conscience. Neither exists, though, nor should they if this franchise is to accomplish its goals. And so Epstein did away with a member of the Cubs family in Renteria in fairly astonishing fashion, showing his rivals, “These men of will what will really was,” as Kint says.
Divorce ourselves from the humanity of it all, and the hiring of Maddon is logical. It’s competent. It’s completely un-lovable loser. Not only should Cubs fans quickly move on from the pathos of Renteria’s axing, they should look at this situation as their favorite team blatantly showing them that all that matters right now is a march to a World Series championship.
“You just needed the will to do what the other guy wouldn’t,” says Kint.
Screw hard feelings. Screw the fraternity of managers and their unwritten rules. Screw hand-wringers saying, “It still looks really bad … and let me get a handling of Kris Bryant jab in here, too.”
If you want congeniality and hand-holding, you want Jim Hendry, a Hungarian destroyed by the New School Soze in the Cubs front office. Which is to say you want bad money used to cover up more bad money used to cover up a lack of structure and any sort of actual plan. You want a lack of research, no understanding of advanced metrics and analytics and an organization not fully committed at every level to a specific road map to a specific destination. And if so, you’re not going to get what you want with these Cubs.
This front office that hasn’t been coy about saying it will spend money this offseason, because it has this crazy idea that, based on the plan that was set in place when Epstein and Jed Hoyer took the reins, this team isn’t far away from postseason berths. A big-name starting pitcher will be pursued — maybe even two — but that will be done so cost effectively.
Drafting and developing will continue to be a focal point and done so with precision. The front office will continue to give zero care to the fantasy GMs who feel that Bryant should have been called up the day after he was drafted and that Javy Baez strikes out too much and is therefore a bust. It will quietly see if the bevy of prospects the Cubs have due to smart trades and picks can in any way be flipped for MLB players with a better future than the Jeff Samardzija so many fans couldn’t bear to part with.
The Cubs won’t hesitate to do away with anything, be it staff or hot prospect or pesky neighbors or cherished dumpy quirks of an antiquated ballpark, for better just as they did away with the beloved Samardzija. Just as they executed Renteria, who might have deserved better but not as much as Cubs fans do, whether they realize it or not.
Verbal Kint chills his audience by summating that, “Well, I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze.” While this new culture of competency might be a bit scary for so many unused to it, Cubs fans should take comfort in this front office’s confidence. No matter how cold and unlovable it may be.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @TimBaffoe.