Whenever a team wins a sports championship, it becomes sexy to try and come up with ways in which your favorite sports franchise is following the plan set by that better, more successful, winning team, instead of the sad sack, failure of a plan that got your team where it is. In the Padres case, they started the comparisons early to justify their (correct) pivot to a rebuild. Specifically, they stated repeatedly that they were now devoted to developing “homegrown, impact players”, always while referencing that this is what the Cubs are doing. This was in a presentation repeatedly shown to season ticketholders and media where duplicitous and now-shamed former team president Mike Dee would ALWAYS make sure to draw the connection to the Cubs.
This was in many interviews by Ron Fowler and Mike Dee with Dan Sileo for the now fallen #PadresWednesday. And it’s now being pushed by Padres employees like Bob Scanlan in a recent Mike Janela Show episode.
I It’s clear that there is a concerted effort to focus the official team messaging (GOTTA CONTROL THAT MESSAGE) around the idea that the Padres are following the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs plan to a T. And it’s kind of working. Immediately following the Cubs Game 7 victory, fellow podcaster John Gennnaro, who does great work and I respect very much, tweeted out:
I don’t think John is attempting to be deceptive (like the Padres), I think that the messaging from the Padres has been somewhat effective to influence people. But is it true? Are the Padres following the Cubs blueprint?
I decided to take a look at how the Cubs’ World Series roster was acquired. Here’s a quick breakdown:
Acquired by trade: 11 players
Rule 5: 1 player
International Signing: 2 players
Free Agent Signings: 7 players
Amateur Draft: 4 players
Those free agent signings weren’t of the Alexei Ramirez low-cost-and-we-hope-he-makes-good variety that we are so used to here in San Diego. 6 of the 7 signees are under contract for $13M/year or more (David Ross is the lone exception at $2.5M/year which would make him the 3rd highest paid player on the current Padres roster). The Cubs committed a total of $505M to free agents, highlighted by the $184M they signed Jason Heyward for and the $155M they signed Jon Lester for. This total doesn’t even include two free agents that didn’t make the World Series roster: Jason Hammel (2/$20M) and Trevor Cahill ($4.25M). DidnI mention that they also have the budget to simultaneously extend players like Anthony Rizzo ($41M) and players like Bryant in the future, while paying $10M+ to players under team control like Jake Arrieta? Because they can. These are numbers that the Padres simply can’t match. And while the fact that the Cubs have the financial backing to sign two marquee free agents who made $47M combined in 2016 is a definite advantage, the real advantage the Cubs had is that they could sign multiple players to $10M+ contracts and have them either not contribute or perform as role players. The Padres simply can’t afford to commit $10M to a Jason Hammel and have him perform at a level where he couldn’t make the playoff roster. They couldn’t commit $60M, and $14M in 2016, to Miguel Montero and have his performance only merit 280 plate appearances. One or two failures by free agent signees is enough to sink the Padres for the entire term of those contracts. The Padres simply can’t have 25% of their payroll be deadweight and expect to compete (I’m looking at you Matt Kemp…). And that is the true luxury of a team like the Cubs: they can afford to weather missteps.
The Padres are embarking on their rebuild plan focused on amateur draftees and international signings. And the Cubs certainly had important contributions from their amateur draftees: Javier Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber. All four were top 10 picks in the first round. You’ll also note that there are no other homegrown amateur draftees on their roster. No players other than the blue chip, top 10 picks made the roster. You’ll also note that none of those four are pitchers. In fact, since Theo Epstein took over the Cubs, he has NEVER committed a first round pick to a pitcher. His strategy has been to acquire the top bat available, including their current top prospect Ian Happ (so far all of his first round picks have been in the top 10). The Padres? In AJ’s two drafts, his first selection in 2015 and 2 of his 3 first round draft picks in 2016 were all pitchers, passing on top bats available like Kyle Lewis. They have fundamental differences in how to build through the amateur draft. If you think the Cubs strategy is to “build through the draft”, here’s a tip: literally EVERY team in baseball wants to hit on their top draft picks so they can build around them. “Building through the draft” isn’t a grand strategy, it’s an ante to get into the game. Executing the draft is the key part, and the Padres and Cubs have fundamental differences in how they approach their drafts and valuing of players. In the Cubs case, they’ve decided that taking the best bats available high in the first round is a way to maximize value while minimizing risk of washing out. This is starkly different from AJ’s strategy of taking high risk players like Austin Smith and Hudson Potts early in the Padres’ drafts.
The Cubs had two international signees on their World Series roster. One, Willson Contreras, was signed in 2009 by Jim Hendrie for $750k. Contreras is a good lesson for those that think the Padres moves in 2016 make their window to compete in 2019: it took him SEVEN years to crack the Majors. Jorge Soler was a blue chip signing for the Cubs in 2012, receiving a $30M contract. And that’s it. The Padres have staked their future far more on their 2016 international spree. And they need to, because their entire 2016 international spending budget was basically one Miguel Montero for the Cubs. This contrast highlights the vast differences in financial capabilities of the two clubs.
So while it’s a nice marketing technique to try to link the Padres to the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs, the Padres are not following their blueprint. I’m sure they’d like to but unless Uncle Ron is getting ready to sign the two top free agents in consecutive years and commit $500M+ to free agents, it doesn’t look like that’s the path this club is going down. And minus multiple important, highly paid contributors like Jon Lester, John Lackey, Dexter Fowler, and Ben Zobrist, the Cubs aren’t a World Champion. Nor are they basing their club entirely around “homegrown, impact players” (literally zero of their 11 pitchers were homegrown). They are following an entirely different plan that a team like the Padres just can’t afford to follow. Statements by the team pushing the narrative that the Cubs provide inspiration to a team like the Padres is just pushing false hopes and lies. It’s like telling a kid in poverty that they’re just like Bill Gates because they both wear shirts.
Meanwhile, the team sitting in the losing clubhouse in Game 7 provided a much better, less sexy look at a Padres path to the World Series. But we’ll save that story for another day…