Slashing Scouting, Player Development Departments Will Cost Cubs in Other Ways

According to a Wednesday report in The Athletic, the Cubs are making major cuts ($) to their scouting and player development staff as baseball’s COVID issues continue. Among those impacted are pro and amateur scouts and “double-digit staffers in player development.”

This comes months after the team instituted pay cuts among its 600-some employees, with those at the executive level taking the largest reductions on a percentage basis. Those cuts only guaranteed jobs through June and other teams have already furloughed dozens of employees, so everyone was just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When Theo Epstein discussed last week how the Cubs’ tight budget would impact decisions, it was viewed through the lens of player acquisitions at the deadline. With this additional context, his words take on a different meaning.

“The financial picture’s not great,” Epstein said. “Any time revenues are slashed to the extent they are, that means there are losses. That means, unfortunately, we’re having to potentially cut in other areas that also hit very close to home and are painful.”

When you really think about it, slashing the player development department could have a greater impact on the Cubs as an organization than any move they could make prior to August 31. In all likelihood, any trade they pull off — short of disgraced GM Jim Bowden’s wild notion that they flip Miguel Amaya, Brailyn Marquez, and Kohl Franklin to Milwaukee for Josh Hader — is likely to be for a short-term asset with very little payroll impact.

Beyond that, this coming winter could be even quieter than the past two as “biblical losses” from the short season squeeze the budget even tighter. After all, Tom Ricketts has made it very clear to anyone willing to listen that baseball is not a money-making business. That’s why he and his family built a hotel and entertainment complex, bought most of the rooftop buildings, and spend nearly $1 billion to renovate Wrigley Field.

If that’s not the greatest act of corporate altruism in the history of major professional sports, I don’t know what is.

But, uh, back to the lecture at hand. The Cubs figure to lose at least two starting pitchers, maybe three, and it’s beyond obvious that they’ve got no intention of trying to extend all their core position players. At the same time, the concept of a rebuild should now be foreign to them. After all, you don’t strip a house down to the studs and remake the whole thing only to do it all over again less than a decade later.

A little redecoration, maybe a kitchen upgrade, never a full rebuild. But in order to do any of that, you need to have players coming up from the minors to replenish both the pitching staff and the lineup. You probably don’t need me to tell you that the Cubs have developed right around zero regular contributors to the staff and have very few impact hitters ready to make the jump.

That means they’re going to need as many people in player development as possible to help those prospects reach Chicago, then they need scouts out there finding the next group of players to develop. These cuts won’t be felt this season, since there are only 30 games left and Minor League Baseball was shut down long ago. It’s next year and beyond, as the Cubs seek to write the next chapter, that they’re going to find themselves running out of ink.

I’m not going to pretend to know how what’s in the Cubs’ budget or how much is being saved by this latest round of cuts, but I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the savings won’t be worth it in the end.

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