There's a rush to place the Cubs in the 2016 or 2017 World Series, and it's understandable. The Cubs are a mesmerizing collection of recent teenagers, and the organization has the money to build around them. They were here about a season too soon, remember. We didn't know how Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell would do in their rookie seasons. Now we know. And it's a highway into the stars from here, everyone.
Also, part of it has to do with that aw-jeez-Cubs feeling that is bubbling up from the ground and into your soul. Thirty years ago there was someone who giggled about that Back to the Future 2 prediction, then remembered it five years ago, then looked at it two years ago in tandem with the Cubs' enviable farm system, then was bombarded by references to the prediction before this season, then watched the team actually reach the National League Championship Series, just eight wins away from sweet release, with that Hollywood-manufactured-but-maybe date looming, just eight wins away, It's really going to happen.
And then, nope, swept.
Yeah. That's the guy who was thinking all that.
What in the hell are we supposed to say to Cubs fans right now? There is nothing else to say, other than a Carl-like, "You, uh ... got a beautiful roster here." They're set up for the future. Oh, man, how they are set up for the future. That's all you can say. That's it, but it's a good it. It beats the feeling they would have if they had steamrolled their way to the NLCS behind a 39-year-old having an improbable 50-homer year, or just squeaking into the postseason with the help of a hotshot ace they couldn't afford to keep after the season. The Cubs are here. They can stay here. Get used to it.
There's something that's bugging me, though. Guess we'll have to work it out with an ol' fashioned point/counterpoint.
Point: The Cubs are going to be good for a long time
This isn't exactly a novel concept, right? There are going to be ... 500 articles about the Cubs today. About 499 of them will be about the team's youth, their dashing prospects, their incalculably bright future.
Well, good. That's the point. It's easy to dismiss the Cubs as being a product of early first-round picks, but that's unfathomably reductive. Teams can get early picks for decades -- decades -- and not do anything with them. The Cubs hit on Bryant and Schwarber, sure, but they also ...
... traded a sore-shouldered prospect for a perennial All-Star, then locked him up to a ridiculously team-friendly deal, then struck gold on a toolsy Cuban outfielder and locked him up at lefty-reliever prices, then dealt two pretty OK pitchers for one of the best shortstop prospects in baseball, then made a minor deal and tinkered with the return to net a probable Cy Young, then signed one of the pretty okay pitchers right back and then used their vast financial resources to nab another ace.
It was all a brilliant, multi-pronged attack in a larger skirmish, and this setback doesn't take any of it away. They have questions to answer. They have to figure out what to do with Starlin Castro and Javier Baez, and they have to find a position for Schwarber. They have to figure out a way to develop pitchers, at least a little bit, if only for emergencies and deadline deals. Their beef-and-whiff dependency might not work as well against the kinds of ace types they'll face in the postseason, so that's a consideration for the smart people upstairs.
But they're loaded, absolutely loaded, in both talent and money. They could go out this offseason and come away with Zack Greinke. Or David Price. Or trade for Chris Sale or something wacky. They have so many options. They have so much talent. They have so much time.
Counterpoint: Baseball is a total dick
Pretty sure Cubs fans have this argument down, so this part is for the rest of us.
It was just six months ago that almost everyone around baseball thought that the Nationals were the best team in baseball. The Nationals! And while they still have one of the very best players in the game and a solid core, they're kind of a delicate mess. So much could go right. So much could go wrong. GM Mike Rizzo needs to snip the green wires unless he needs to snip the red wires first unless he needs to, well, good luck with all that.
Six months ago the Nationals were the best team in baseball. So much so, I wrote about how they should look to the 2012 Rangers if they needed a Ghost of Baseball Past. That's because the Nationals were the best, and the Rangers were in the middle of a long-term reloading project. Because baseball is a total dick, you know which team made the postseason.
There's no sense itemizing the things that can go wrong. Cubs fans have seen them all. And it doesn't have to be a total collapse. They can still win 97 games every year for the next 20 seasons and still not solve the impossible equation. If they went out tomorrow, unburdened by the rules of Major League Baseball, and stuffed Clayton Kershaw into a steamer trunk ...
Rob Manfred: I understand that, Magic, but my hands are tied. Possession is literally nine-tenths of the law. I mean, probably. We're looking into it.
They would have an even better team. But you know who had Kershaw this year? The Dodgers. Who also think baseball is a total dick right now. The team that wins the World Series might use Edinson Volquez or Marco Estrada to do it. You can spend 10 years writing the script, but these are all improv actors who think they're so danged clever.
If there's a rule about postseason baseball, it's that there is always a Daniel Murphy. You just have to hope he's on your team, and you can't plan for him.
So you have the point and the counterpoint, and you're looking for a decision. Which argument wins? Dunno. Not yet. But if there's a two-part plan to make Cubs fans feel better, it goes like this:
- There is no team in baseball that's set up better than the Cubs right now. Financially, organizationally, everything. Yeah, the night is dark and full of terrors and all that, but the Cubs wouldn't switch places with any team in baseball. That means a heckuva lot.
- There are no curses. There are no impossible situations. The White Sox overcame nearly a century of bad things to get to the good stuff. The Red Sox overcame nearly a century of bad things to get to the good stuff. The team that just swept the Cubs had a recent history of throwing their pitching prospects in a wood chipper, and now they're in the World Series because of young pitchers. Curses don't exist, so read No. 1 again.
There's a hollowness to the Cubs' consolation prize of "they'll be back." Because you know that isn't guaranteed. Except, you look at it from another angle, and ... hell, yes, they'll be back, why wouldn't they be? Then you walk around the room a bit, and you see the blood dripping off baseball's fangs, and you realize everything is a lie. Then you rub your eyes a bit, and it becomes clear again. They're going to have this core for a long, long time. Then you get a different look, and ...
Yeah, that. The Cubs are that. Every baseball team is that. Except every year, one of them becomes a real dragon and burns the ever-loving crap out of the villagers annoying them. The Cubs were ahead of schedule this year. They'll have just about the best shot of any team next year. That's all you can ask for.