Tuesday evening was tense for Cubs fans as word spread Jon Lester would select his next team. Rumored teams fell by the wayside, punctuated by the Giants publicly stating Lester had let them know personally he wouldn't be signing with them. As I went to bed at approximately midnight CST, nothing official had been announced.
The news broke not long after that -- Lester signed a 6-year/$155 million deal with the Cubs with an option for a seventh year. I wrote Monday on some of the facts behind Lester, in particular velocity, aging curves and expected contract value and length, and most of what I wrote held up. There were brief flurries of hype regarding the contract length (and consequently the value), but it appears this was an attempt to negotiate through the media.
It's been a busy offseason for the Cubs as they've hired Joe Maddon and acquired Jason Hammel and Miguel Montero and probably aren't done yet. With young talent like Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Jorge Soler already making their debuts, Kris Bryant poised to join them, and Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro reaching their prime, Cubs fans' patience is about to be rewarded. There's no guarantee a World Championship banner will be flying over Wrigley Field in 2015, but everything Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have stated over the past two years is developing as promised.
My daughter sent me this picture about a month ago:
It took me only three times and her drawing me a map to understand the orientation, but this is the Wrigley renovation looking in from center field (i.e., looking south from Kenmore), and it's a perfect metaphor for the Cubs over the past couple of years. The renovation discussion was protracted, drawn out, and seemed like it would never end, but shovels finally broke ground a month or so ago. It's the same from a talent perspective -- no one ever wants to hear a team is re-building, but when a farm system is bereft of talent it takes time to re-stock. A new and improved Wrigley will be paired with a new and improved team.
Recent history suggests the path to sustained success is homegrown talent supplemented with targeted free agents to fill one or two holes. Look at the Cardinals, Giants, Royals, and see what the Astros are attempting to accomplish -- if a team is ever able to free-agent their way to sustained success is an open question, and modern salaries make it nearly impossible. The NL Central will not be an easy division to win since the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates are all solid teams. But those teams just might be peaking right now, whereas the Cubs are cresting -- sometimes where a team is vis-à-vis their opponents in the development curve is just as important.
There are no guarantees in baseball, but 2015 is guaranteed to be filled with hype and hope for the Cubs. Now if only they could do something about playing "Go, Cubs, Go" after every win, because I'm afraid I'm going to be hearing that far more often than I have in the recent past.
. . .
Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA, was first exposed to the Cubs in 1970, and knows a thing or two about being disappointed. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.