The Chicago Cubs had a terrible week. They tied the Milwaukee Brewers atop the NL Central after holding a five-game lead in the division earlier this month. They lost the division tiebreaker Monday and the NL Wild Card Game Tuesday. After winning 95 games, the team is bounced from the playoffs with little more than a whimper, scoring just two runs total in the two most important games of the year.
Three years ago, the Cubs were on the up-and-up. They won 97 games and reached the NLCS. Two years ago, they finished a storybook season with the best record in baseball and their first World Series championship in a post Austro-Hungarian Empire world. Last year the Cubs won the division again before losing out to the Dodgers in the Championship Series, and now they find themselves out of the dance after just a single game.
When they won the World Series in 2016, the Cubs were packed to the gills with young, controllable talent. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jason Heyward – still just 27! – Javier Baez and Addison Russell had many contending that the team was a dynasty, destined to dominate the Senior Circuit for a half decade or more. Pairing this talent with an ownership group willing to spend and one of the smarter front offices in baseball made it hard to argue that.
And now, the Cubs are still really good, but not a dynasty. They still have a good chunk of controllable talent, but ineffectiveness and off-field personal issues have hampered that somewhat. The system’s inability to produce starting pitching internally has the team turning to free agency, where the Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood deals have so far blown up in their faces. The Brewers are just as good a team in true talent and boast a formidable nucleus of their own.
All this is to say that the Cubs’ championship window is still open – it’d be foolish to write them off for 2019 – but it doesn’t look nearly as rosy as it did in the glow of 2016’s win, or even last year’s hard-fought loss to the Dodgers. Every successive, unsuccessful, season means Bryzzo get one year older, other teams start to catch up, and the window closes just that much.
One World Series is a fantastic accomplishment. Three straight League Championship Series is a wonderful thing to hang your hat on. But it’s not a dynasty, and it’s not what most of us thought the Cubs would be.
We hear a lot about the Yankees being in the early stages of a dynasty. We hear a lot about how Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres will be anchoring the Yankees’ infield for a decade. The team has so much young talent, arguably the best front office in baseball, and an ownership group content to spend $180 million a year on payroll, regardless of arguments that they should spend more or not. The Yankees have all of the advantages the Cubs did.
The competitive window for the Yankees is larger than the Cubs, by at least one full season. But the point I’m trying to make here, as I look at a second season in a row where the Cubs go home disappointed, is that your window never is open as wide as you think. Winning now is all that matters.
The Yankees should be great for the next few seasons, yes, but the Red Sox aren’t going anywhere. The Houston Astros – themselves the recipients of many of the same dynasty predictions the Cubs enjoyed – aren’t going anywhere. It’s not that difficult to imagine the Yankees’ current competitive window passing, with the Yankees being really good, and not adding a 28th championship.
Right now, this year is all that matters. I couldn’t care less about a team’s window, or how many kicks at the can they’re expected to get with a given core. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve never been a huge prospect-hugger. If you have the ability to convert potential wins into present wins, and those present wins materially change your odds of winning the World Series, I think you should pull the trigger every time. There are times when those present wins don’t have that kind of material effect, but if you’re going to want me to be upset over Billy McKinney, knowing J.A. Happ really does move the needle on the Yankees’ chances, it’s just not going to happen.
Every season is a win-now season. Every year after this, Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks get older. Andujar, Torres and Luis Severino get more expensive. The year-over-year consistency of relief pitchers is sketchy at best, even for a team that churns them out like the Yankees can. Before you know it, you go from having everyone laud you as a potential dynasty to being where the Cubs are, wondering what the future looks like and how everything came up just a bit short.