The writing was on the wall. An era was coming to an end and a new one would quickly get underway. Back in early July, former Chicago Cubs second baseman and Gold Glove Award winner Darwin Barney pretty much knew his days in Chicago were numbered:
Darwin Barney on all the turnover in #Cubs clubhouse: “My wife’s the only one left from 2011.”
— Patrick Mooney (@CSNMooney) July 5, 2014
The Cubs had just traded away starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics for more prospects. Barney, only 28, probably felt like a fifth-year senior in high school, having to watch most of his friends graduate only a few months ago. The school’s halls looked unfamiliar, littered with fresh, new faces. Even the teachers and administrators had either moved on or were dismissed from their positions. Sure, guys like Starlin Castro, Barney’s full-time double-play partner since 2011, were still on the team, but on this Cubs team, Barney was on the wrong side of 20 years old. And a one-dimensional player to easily boot.
A few days later, Barney would take a leave of absence to get away from the ever-changing Cubs roster to tend to some adult world stuff:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 9, 2014
Barney did the right thing by being with his wife for the birth of their child. Meanwhile, the Cubs were getting ready to raise up one of their own as they decided to call-up Arismendy Alcantara to replace Barney for a couple of days. A couple of days has already turned into a couple of months. Barney would later be diagnosed with Wally Pip Syndrome. Barney would be designated for assignment a couple of weeks after Alcantara’s call-up. And just like a flash of lightning, the Cubs had officially marked the beginning of the new wave of their–nay most of baseball’s–top prospects into the Major League roster.
Alcantara is a player that Baseball America praised as a “combination of aptitude and athleticism…[and possessing] an improved approach at the plate.” Coming into the season, he was ranked by the publication as the seventh best prospect in the Cubs’ system. However, his first game on July 9, 2014 was received with very little fanfare. A typical conversation with Cubs fans that day went as follows:
- Did you hear that Alcantara is getting called up? Are you excited?
- One of the Cubs’ top 10 prospects.
- “Let me know when a real prospect like Javier Baez or Kris Bryant get called up and start contributing wins for the big league team.”
What should have been a pivotal moment in Cubs franchise history, was met with rolling eyes and apathy. To make matters worse, Alcantara went hitless with two strikeouts in his debut. Even after Alcantara broke out in the next game with four hits and three runs batted in to lead the Cubs to victory, fans were blase about the Cubs’ “prospects” (of winning that is) for the rest of the season.
The Cubs’ fan base, for the most part, is an impatient, restless, and frustrated group. Going more than a century without a championship tends to do that. Many people have seen their grandparents, parents, and other elder fans from Cubbie Nation die without seeing their favorite team bring home a title. The next generation of Cubs fans do not want to meet that same fate. Fans can be heard complaining, all over town, about the lack of big-name stars and transactions that the front office has not made since the new regime of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over baseball operations before the 2012 season.
But now is not the time to complain. Now is not the time to be angry and overtly negative. It’s time for Cubs fans, at least the ones that have soured on Epstein and Company already, to put down the pitchforks and clubs and begin to appreciate the makeup of this current club. This is a gift from the baseball gods that comes down on very rare occasion in one’s lifetime. It’s the opportunity to be carefree about the team you root for.
This does not mean to completely ignore the club; let’s not get more cynical. On the contrary, now is the time to really hone down and pay attention. We’re in the middle of a massive transition that goes beyond petty wins and losses. The time right now is crucially significant as promising young players like Baez and Jorge Soler are now developing and polishing their games at the big league level. Most importantly, we are witnessing the transformation of a bottom-feeding club into a team that will see major improvements on the field accompanied by the thought that the team might actually compete for something in 2015. And if they fall flat in 2015, so what? These are the halcyon days, an age of innocence for team and fan base alike. It also means another high draft choice in 2016.
It is a time to be overly optimistic about the future of the team. And why not? Epstein and Hoyer have proven they are fully capable of overhauling a farm system and filling it with uber-prospects. They have also proven that they have the smarts to make the right deals and sign the right free agents to complement the team. And if the bidding war for Masahiro Tanaka in the offseason is any indication, the Cubs also have the deep pockets to outbid and outspend any Major League Baseball team, including the New York Yankees. A deadly combination of smarts, wits, youth, and loads of capital, the Cubs should be applauded for all of the moves that they did not make as well as the shrewd moves they did make (i.e. taking a flyer on Scott Feldman only to flip him for current ace starter Jake Arrieta and ace reliever Pedro Strop).
So stop your belly-aching, disgruntled Cubs fan. Get back on the team bandwagon before you are mocked for being a “fair-weather” fan while you still have the chance. Appreciate the seemingly unlimited potential of these prospects, the team finally having competent front office personnel running the baseball operation with only baseball goals and results in mind, and an owner that is just waiting for the green light from his top baseball people to start spending lots of cash on talent that will complement the current roster.
It’s always a great moment to see a child take his or her first baby steps. That moment for the Cubs came on July 9, 2014 when Arismendy Alcantara was called up from the minors. Baez and Soler would eventually meet him, too. Soon, the Cubs will learn how to run over the entire baseball world. If the Cubs are not the envy of Major League Baseball now, they will certainly be in the near-future. Enjoy these precious moments of young players learning the big league game and a young team learning how to win in the majors now. Very soon, the long-term goals will go from attaining a winning record to obtaining championships. Once the latter becomes the realistic, primary goal, anything less than that will be a disappointment.