The 2012 Chicago Cubs entered this season with no illusions of grandeur. This was a rebuilding year, a bridge year, a year in which anything of value not nailed down would be shipped out. A year for growth and discovery. Not a year for wins.
New general manager Jed Hoyer and well-heeled overlord Theo Epstein inherited a team built to win and win now – if by “now” you mean “2009″. There was much brush to clear before the adroit braintrust could plant their fertile prospect seeds in the rich brown earth of Chicago’s north side.
Much of the brush was very costly. Some of the brush stubbornly stuck around, putting up decent enough numbers in relative terms. But all that brush counts. The Cubs payroll for 2012 topped out at $108 million bucks. They currently own a 59-95 record, meaning the $100 million dollar payroll/100 loss season pantheon is well within their grasp.
Unlike other teams in the 100/100 club, the 2012 Cubs don’t exactly have $100 million dollars of talent on the field, taking lumps over 162 games. A shocking 16.66% of the Cubs payroll is devoted to paying Carlos Zambrano to go the heck away. The Cubbies kicked in all but $2.55 million of the volatile/not very good right-handers $18 million dollar salary in 2012.
The Cubs also managed to unload the contract of Ryan Dempster in a trade with the Texas Rangers, saving a precious $5 million in the process. They save some cash by trading Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson and Geo Soto at the deadline. BUT STILL – this is a club with $100 million in salary poised to lose 100 games.
100 games is an arbitrary figure of the highest order. A team that loses 98 or 99 games is still bad, just not as bad as the grave 100 loss threshold indicates. As far as random indicators of historic struggle, we can do a lot worse than $100 mil and 100 losses.
Essentially meaningless as it might be, the 100 loss stigma is not lost on the players. Cue very experienced veteran of multiple 100 loss seasons, David DeJesus: “It was tough,” he told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s just that number you don’t want to be a part of.” Well said, David. Very evocative.
While the Cubs are without their two best starting pitchers — Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija were both shut down for the year — they may escape the 100 loss indignity. The Baby Bears must win 4 of their remaining 8 games which seems like a big ask until we realize they have home series against the Astros to close out the season after they finish two games in Colorado and three games in Arizona against the Diamondbacks.
The Cubs are not without hope for the future, no matter how dark 2012 appears. Anthony Rizzo has acquitted himself well during his first extended taste of big league action, posting a .344 wOBA in 340 plate appearances. Starlin Castro is in place long-term and the team is getting a good long look at top prospects Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters (note: the faint of heart may wish to avert their eyes.) The club continues to add to its talent pipeline with signings like Jorge Solar.
Theo and Hoyer will figure it out. The Cubs will compete for division crowns in the not-too-distant future (probably? Stuff happens, after all.) But, for now, they are a $100 million dollar catastrophe. Cubs fans are used to waiting for their team to improve. Here in late September, the die-hards can only hope this team strings together four wins in eight games so this season can end in simple disappointment rather than a failure of minimal notoriety.