Ricketts promises quick Cubs turnaround, but can he deliver?

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, seen here in February 2020, is confident that it won't take the team very long to get back to being competitive.

    Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, seen here in February 2020, is confident that it won't take the team very long to get back to being competitive.

 
 
Updated 8/4/2021 7:10 PM

The Cubs probably launched the Marquee Sports Network with moments like this in mind.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts made an appearance on the station to help calm the fan base after last week's sell-off that sent Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and many others out of town.

 

"This is not going to be a 2012-13 situation in any way," Ricketts said in the television interview. "We're going to be looking to compete right away."

Right away, as in 2022? And, if so, how would that work exactly?

Team president Jed Hoyer is accurate when he says the Cubs have restocked a low-ranked farm system. But six of their top 10 prospects are teenagers, based on FanGraphs updated ratings after the trade deadline.

That group includes a couple of new additions, outfielders Kevin Alcantara from the Yankees and Pete Crow-Armstrong from the Mets; 2020 first-round draft pick Ed Howard; 2020 International signee Christian Hernandez; and two players acquired from the Padres in the Yu Darvish trade, third baseman Reginald Preciado and outfielder Owen Cassie.

The Cubs are obviously hoping a few of those guys turn out to be stars, but it will take two years to even know if they're worth getting excited about and probably four years before there is any hope of them contributing in the majors.

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Most of those players are currently in a rookie league, either in Arizona or the Domincan Republic. Howard is in low-A Myrtle Beach and Crow-Armstrong is recovering from shoulder surgery. The more steps these guys have to take, the more chances to flame out.

The Cubs' top-ranked prospect, outfielder Brennen Davis is playing at Double-A Tennessee and isn't a lock to play at Wrigley Field next year.

So competing right away means pursuing some high-level free agents, whether they're ex-Cubs or otherwise.

"With these guys leaving, Jed will have pretty clean books going forward and a lot of flexibility to make the right decisions on where he spends his financial resources," Ricketts said. "I don't see this as a long-term, brutal rebuild like we had to go through 10 years ago. I think we can bounce back relatively quickly."

The Cubs traded away some of their better prospects in the pursuit of World Series appearances. But one reason they are in this mess is they haven't developed many of their own players in recent years.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A couple of first-round picks are the only success stories. Nico Hoerner settled in at second base but likely will be the shortstop moving forward as the Cubs add second baseman Nick Madrigal (out for the year with a hamstring injury) from the White Sox.

Ian Happ was the Cubs' best hitter last year, but he has been slumping this summer. It remains to be seen if Happ has a future with the Cubs.

The pitching side seems to have picked up, with Adbert Alzolay moving into the rotation, and guys like Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Tommy Nance and Manuel Rodriguez making their major-league debuts. Flamethrowing lefty Brailyn Marquez hasn't pitched in the minors this year due to various issues, but the Cubs have a couple of promising starting candidates in Ryan Jenson, currently in South Bend, and this year's first-rounder Jordan Wicks.

"This is really different than what we saw in 2011 and 2012," Ricketts said. "When Theo (Epstein) and Jed came in, we had a very bottom farm system. We had Javy and Willy (Contreras) playing in Boise together. Other than that, no other players from that farm system were on the championship team in 2016.

"I think, secondly, what's different than 2011 or 2012 is that our entire infrastructure is so much better. Not just rebuilding the facilities in the Dominican Republic or building the best spring-training facility or the ballparks up here.

"The entire infrastructure with Hit Labs and Pitch Labs and the amount of time and energy we put into first-class player development. This talent that we're bringing in, we should be able to find higher ceilings for all of them. That's something that didn't exist 10 years ago."

There's always room for more changes, but it appears the Cubs have a few spots filled for next season, starting with Contreras, Hoerner and Madrigal. Jason Heyward's contract runs two more years, while Patrick Wisdom and Rafael Ortega appear to be winning jobs.

So to be competitive next year, it would appear the Cubs need to fill one outfield spot, a first or third baseman and a quality starting pitcher in free agency. And this is a team that traded its best pitcher in a salary dump and laid off half the front-office staff during the past 12 months.

Having a decent team in place while the Cubs wait to see how the young prospects develop would be nice for fans. But when it comes to spending money this winter, actions will speak louder than words.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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