Along with cross-country journeys by goats and political fiascoes involving team ownership, Anthony Rizzo has been the dominant subject of conversation about the Cubs of late.
When the Cubs were held to two or fewer runs seven times during their recent 12-game losing streak, the cries for Rizzo grew louder. Why, fed-up fans asked, wouldn't the Cubs call up a guy tearing the cover off the ball at Iowa (through the weekend, Rizzo was hitting .354/.415/.713 with 17 home runs in 48 games) when the big-league offense is so bad?
There's a simple answer to that question. Rizzo is still at Iowa because the Cubs are better off if he stays there. For the time being, anyway.
Prior to Tuesday's action, coolstandings.com calculated the Cubs' odds of winning the NL Central at 0.2 percent. They have a 0.9 percent chance of making the playoffs overall, the site says. On May 29. Only the Padres are more of a long shot in both categories.
Informed baseball observers knew the Cubs were going nowhere in March, if not well before then. If Cubs fans hadn't done so already, it's time to face the music. June 1 may not be here yet, but the season is dead. The Cubs will extend their streak to 104 years without a championship in 2012.
Now this isn't the NBA or the NFL, where there are situations in which it makes sense to purposely lose and try for a high draft pick. Moving up a pick or two next June isn't worth throwing in the towel for four months. I'd like the Cubs to win as many games as possible for the next four months. At the same time, it really doesn't matter if you lose 90, 100 or 161 games if you don't make the playoffs. Wins are nice, even for a non-contender, but they're not worth making future sacrifices for once a team is out of the race.
The Cubs would be making a future sacrifice, financially if not otherwise, by calling Rizzo up now. He appeared in 49 forgettable games with San Diego last season. That means the Cubs must wait until after June 21 or they'll risk losing a year of control of him. In a baseball world where salaries are ever on the rise, the difference between Rizzo coming up now and a month from now could be eight figures.
I don't care a bit about Tom Ricketts' bank account, but I care a lot about how much he's on the hook for in player salary. Every million dollars that he doesn't owe on a bad Jim Hendry contract and doesn't owe someone like Rizzo in sooner-than-necessary arbitration is another million dollars Theo Epstein and company can spend on improving the team.
Well, several people have asked me recently, what the heck do you do to fix the Cubs, if you don't bring up Rizzo? My answer is nothing, immediately. They're terrible, and they're going to be terrible through the end of this season, minimum.
The only way Epstein could have made them not be terrible in 2012 in the short time he's been in Chicago would have been to attempt a Hendryesque quick fix by spending like crazy in free agency, as the Cubs did after going 66-96 in 2006. Quick fixes like that result are only possible by giving out things like an eight-year contract for Alfonso Soriano or a 10-year deal for a 32-year-old Albert Pujols.
I'll pass on that approach. It's not a lot of fun now, but the Cubs are on a much better path doing what they're doing. They don't have to sit on their hands until November, but they should be patient and think long term in everything they do.
Wait to promote guys Rizzo and Brett Jackson until it makes sense to bring them up. Trade Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and/or Bryan LaHair, but only if you get better and/or free up some salary in the process. Play bad baseball in the meantime, and hopefully have some of your young players get better along the way.
In a way, Cubs fans should be ecstatic that the Cubs have been allowed to get this bad. The long term is finally the priority over short-term duct taping for a Cubs front office. That the Cubs are bottoming out more severely than most of us thought is irrelevant. A lost season is a lost season regardless of the extent of its ugliness.