Joe Maddon & Theo Epstein & The Quest for the Holy Grail

The Hot Stove season had a month or so of every announcer and sportswriter in baseball harping on Jason Heyward, how the Cardinals “had” to get him back, and how well he fit with so many teams. As usual, this has been followed by the “is he that guy?” conversations. “He doesn’t hit a million homers or 150 RBIs.” “I like him, but I don’t love him.” “He doesn’t necessarily see himself as a leader on the field.” “He’s a young, great player, but how does he affect changes in the value of your big offensive guys, if the money was spent for defense?”

Ignoring the fact that paying the guy who hits a lot of home runs, but also strikes out a lot, or the pitcher who wins 20 games, but plays only once every five days $200 million while valuing the on-base-a-lot, gold-glove defender who makes those 20 wins possible at a smaller amount is ridiculous, the case here is not one of a player’s value, or what this particular contract means to other players similar, or dissimilar to Jason Heyward. He was not signed to be the leader of the team, or to bat cleanup. He was signed because he brings skills to the table that complete this particular team – as well as youth, and those intangibles you also hear a lot about – fitting in, meshing with the unit. There are also a lot of statistics it’s hard to measure that could figure in, like, if you have a fly-ball pitcher, a Dan Haren, or a guy like Kyle Hendricks who depend on defense a lot, and suddenly that pitcher has 15 wins, is it the pitcher, or that new plus defense that gets the credit?  I think it’s about time the disparity in position players, offensive monsters, and starting pitchers evened out a bit on the pay scale. It takes nine guys, 162 times, to win a division, and those same nine guys are necessary to win a championship.

Tell me if it’s a bargain if the addition of Jason Heyward gets you to the World Series on any team? It is. Now…tell me what that’s worth if it gets the Chicago Cubs to the World Series – and they win? Tell me the value to that city, and that franchise, of a gold glove defender who is a perfect fit on the first team to bring a Championship to Chicago in over a hundred years? Make no mistake, that is why Heyward got paid, and that is the goal. It’s the goal everywhere, but it’s different in Chicago. The world is waiting for it. History is crying out for it. The money is being spent, and the pieces are being assembled, to make as perfect and bullet-proof a lineup as is humanly possible with one goal in mind. The current Holy Grail of baseball – a Chicago Cubs World Series Championship.

Part of that road leads through the forests of St. Louis, where Mike Matheny is waiting to derail the train and show the upstart young Cubs that the Cardinals are still the NL Central big dogs they have been lo these many years.  There is Pittsburgh, where the sting of that one night battle last fall ended an amazing season in one fell blow. There are those pesky Mets and Bartolo Colon (may he get his Silver Slugger and collect that bonus…) There are a lot of things that can go right, and wrong, in 2016, but the one thing the money and the minds of the Chicago Cubs are focused on is that last, unexplored sensation – a Cubs Championship.

There are still holes in this team.  They aren’t glaring, but they are there, and don’t believe for a second that plans aren’t in motion to fill them.  There will be another starting pitcher added before the beginning of the season, and very likely another plus defending outfielder.  Will they move Jorge Soler, or Javier Baez to make that happen?  If the piece fits better – they will.

While Theo and Joe continue to bolster their ranks with minor-league contracts and guys they see something in that others might not, they are also hedging their bets and filling the roster with guys who have the goods. Young guys. A dynasty of young guys. The round table is gathering it’s newest knights in Wrigley Field, Sir Zobrist of Second Base, and Sir Heyward of Center, and it is 105 days until the tournaments begin.

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