Cubs could take team-building lessons from this week's opponents

This has been a good week for the Cubs to watch and learn.

When the road trip started in Pittsburgh, they got to see a rebuilding project that's currently a step ahead of what the Cubs have cooking.

St. Louis offers a good view of an organization that does plenty of things right. The Cardinals have had one losing season since the century turned, so rebuild isn't part of their vocabulary.

Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has tried to avoid using the term "rebuild," but there's no denying the obvious.

The Cardinals used an interesting tactic, acquiring two corner infielders as lineup anchors. The team will spend a combined $61 million on Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado this season, but both are in the MVP conversation and neither has missed more than 12 games since 2014.

To complement that pair, the Cardinals have seen a steady stream of prospects reach the majors, including Brendan Donovan and Nolan Gorman this year.

Should the Cubs try something similar now that there are encouraging prospects in the pipeline? Hoyer has said he doesn't want the Cubs' timeline to follow the player development timeline. This method could theoretically make the team competitive while guys like Pete Crow-Armstrong, Christian Hernandez and others work their way through the minors.

Finding a couple of reliable anchors is easier said than done. The Cardinals sent out prospects in trades for both Arenado and Goldschmidt, and the Cubs' farm system doesn't have that kind of depth.

But they should have money to spend in free-agency. President of business operations Crane Kenney suggested as much during a Saturday appearance on "Inside the Clubhouse" on WSCR 670-AM.

"We had a lot of money left at the end of this year we didn't spend," Kenney said. "All of that will roll over into next year. We trust our baseball operations guys to make good decisions with those proceeds. They'll either use them next year or down the line.

"When the time is right, we'll spend those resources to build a great team. ... We're so lucky that we have an owner that lets us spend when the time is right."

The upcoming free agent class isn't very deep, with the top prize clearly Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge. Would the Cubs even try to outbid the Yankees? Well, Cubs fans will believe it when they see it.

Otherwise, it's another good year for shortstops with the Dodgers' Trea Turner and Atlanta's Dansby Swanson, while Boston's Xander Bogaerts and Minnesota's Carlos Correa can opt out.

If you eliminate players who are 34 and over who don't figure to match the Cubs timeline, catcher Willson Contreras is a top-five free agent by any metric. Re-signing Contreras wouldn't cause them to forfeit a draft pick like they would with the other guys. So it's hard to explain why the Cubs wouldn't pursue that avenue or why they haven't already.

Otherwise, it's tough to find a great fit. Washington's Josh Bell or Baltimore's Trey Mancini at first base maybe? Seattle's Mitch Haniger has missed most of this season with an ankle injury, but had 39 home runs and 100 RBI last season, so he could be viewed as a Judge-like power hitter.

One interesting part of the Pirates' improvement is it's been a product of trades more than the high draft picks created by losing seasons.

Six-foot-7 shortstop Oneil Cruz, who made his major-league debut against the Cubs, originally signed with the Dodgers. Chicago native Jack Suwinski, who has 12 home runs in 53 games, came back from San Diego for Adam Frazier.

The Pirates got closer David Bednar from the Padres in the Joe Musgrove deal. Pitcher Roansy Contreras and outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba (brother of the Ohio State wide receiver) came from the Yankees for Jameson Taillon.

Pittsburgh's three most recent first-round picks are still in Double A, including overall No. 1 Henry Davis and pitcher Quinn Priester from Cary-Grove High School. The Pirates have six of the top 61-ranked prospects according to MLB Pipeline.

Speaking of Musgrove, one of the top Cy Young contenders, he'll also be a free agent.

So another option is to scrap all of the above and try to rebuild the starting rotation.

Good thing that money is rolling over.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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