Watching the Chicago Bears situation unfold makes me so grateful for the Cubs. I know it sounds weird to say that, considering their history, but let me help you recall some memories you had been trying to forget. Let’s go back to the end of September 2011. The Cubs were essentially operating without a GM and Mike Quade was hilariously over-matched as manager.
The Cubs’ final lineup on September 28th against the Padres included Blake DeWitt at second base, Koyie Hill at catcher, and an outfield of Reed Johnson, Luis Montanez, and Tony Campana. The game was started by our old pal Ryan Dempster, who gave up nine earned runs. The bright spot was that any Cubs fans that actually watched that game got a little glimpse of a future star in Anthony Rizzo, who started at first base…for the Padres.
We all know where the Cubs went from there, of course. The season ended, Theo Epstein and The Superfriends came in and turned the franchise around. As of the end of 2011, here is the list of the Cubs top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America:
1. Brett Jackson, OF
2. Javier Baez, SS
3. Matt Szczur, OF
4. Trey McNutt, RHP
5. Dillon Maples, RHP
6. Welington Castillo, C
7. Rafael Dolis, RHP
8. Junior Lake, SS
9. Josh Vitters, 3B
10. Dan Vogelbach, 1B
Keep in mind that Baez, Maples, and Vogelbach were taken in the 2011 draft, which Jim Hendry was technically there for, but really only for signing the contracts with the players. Tim Wilken was in charge of that draft. As far as Hendry goes, not a whole lot was left for Epstein to work with. He had a bad manager, only a few good, young players, and the best prospect would be years away from making an impact in the Major Leagues.
Oh, and the rest of that roster was disgusting. Between 35-year-old Alfonso Soriano, 30-year-old Carlos Zambrano, 34-year-old Ryan Dempster, and 33-year-old Marlon Byrd, the Cubs had over $56 million committed when Epstein took the reigns. For four guys that were past their prime. Consider that the Cubs had less than that committed to the entire roster heading into free agency this off-season. Oh, how things have changed.
The organization as a whole is so much more healthy than it was at this time three years ago. Not only are good players being scouted and drafted/signed, but there is a general feeling of confidence in the organization’s ability to develop that talent. As Cubs fans, we can feel such assurance that whether they’re winners in the 2015 season or not, they’re moving in the right direction and planting the seeds of building a successful winning team for the long term.
It’s sad to say, but Bears fans must feel a lot like Cubs fans did late in the 2011 season. The GM needs to go, the coach is awful and has lost the team, there’s very little young talent to speak of on the roster, and plenty of big contracts and dead money dragging them down. The only fix for that organization would be to bring in the football version of Theo Epstein and give him a few years to turn it around.
The Bears just got extra ugly last night, with the announcement that they’re benching quarterback Jay Cutler for Jimmy Clausen next Sunday. This move just reeks of idiocy. It’s the equivalent of playing poker with your cards face-up. The Bears have a ton of money committed to Cutler, and if you have any chance of moving him without just eating all that money, it’s wiped away by benching him.
It’s the kind of head-scratching move you would’ve expected from the Cubs just a few years ago. Fortunately, the baseball operations are a well-oiled machine on the North Side. And I am so grateful for that.
Just a little more than two months before pitchers and catchers report.