Cellar dwellers with bright futures: Cubs

As the 2014 pennant race starts to kick into gear, we explore a number of teams who need to look to 2015 and beyond for their chance to compete. The second of these teams is the Chicago Cubs.

Cubs fans went into 2014 with little to no hopes of competing in the National League Central. As of the All-Star break, the Cubs are indeed a last place team, but one that can look toward the future. Several players they hope to build around are already shining in the major leagues, while others continue to develop in the minors. Earlier this month, Chicago bolstered an already strong farm system by trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for several prospects. (You can read more about how that trade benefits the Cubs here.)

Building blocks

Although the current roster is languishing in last place, several players have emerged as potential stars. Since being acquired in a trade with the San Diego Padres, the Cubs have been waiting for 24 year old first baseman Anthony Rizzo to break out, and this year he has. After hitting just .233 last year, Rizzo has raised his average to .275, and his OBP to .381. His 20 home runs rank third in the league, and he is being recognized with a a selection to the National League All-Star team. Seeing his potential, the Cubs signed him to a long term deal that keeps him under team control at a reasonable price ($41 million minimum) until 2021.

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Cubs’ trade furthers a successful rebuild

Why trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel will work out in the long term for the Cubs

After winning consecutive NL Central titles in 2007-2008, and finishing second in 2009, the Chicago Cubs have suffered through four straight losing seasons. Going further back, the last time this team won the World Series was 1908, almost a full 106 years ago. It makes sense that the Cubs would go to extraordinary lengths to build a team that will contend for longer than just one or two years.

News of a blockbuster trade between the Cubs and the Oakland A’s just serves as evidence of what the organization is trying to do. The fact that they traded their two statistically best starting pitchers for three potential future stars shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Despite stellar seasons by Jeff Samardzija (2.74 ERA) and Jason Hammel (2.98 ERA), the Cubs are virtually out of the playoff race. At 38-47, they are in last place in the NL Central, twelve and a half games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, and eight and a half games out of the second NL wild card spot. Coming into the season, the Cubs did not expect to be legitimate contenders, but rather hoped to build for the near future. To better understand how this trade accomplishes that goal, it helps to break it down by what the Cubs gave up, and what they gained.

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