There won’t be any next year for these Cubs

By Dave Fultz

I am a Cubs fan.

There, I said it.

For as long as I can remember, I have eagerly awaited every spring and dreaded each fall as my team raised and subsequently crushed my hopes for glory.

In 1998 I waited for the Sammy Sosa home run that would win us the pennant, but it never came.

In 2003 I waited for the Mark Prior or Kerry Wood strikeout that would put us in the World Series, but it also never came.

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And now that 2007 has rolled around and the Cubs find themselves in position to make the playoffs, I’ll wait patiently for that moment to come.

I am a Cubs fan; waiting is something I’m used to. There is always next year, I was told.

But I want this year to be different. I don’t want to have to wait for something good to befall my team – I want it to go out and grab success.

If I’ve learned anything in the past it is that the Cubs are not usually built for the long haul. The Cubs have not notched back-to-back playoff appearances since well before I was born.

This year’s team is seemingly no different. The Cubs spent around $300 million this offseason, not to mention the nearly $100 million they handed out to ace pitcher Carlos Zambrano just a few weeks ago, to perform a quick turnaround on a team that lost 96 games last year.

While Jim Hendry, John McDonough and the rest of the Cubs’ brass have spent their money efficiently enough to challenge for a division title, there is still much reason for concern as you look down the road.

Going into play Monday, the Cubs held a slim one-game lead on the Brewers in their division. The NL Central is undoubtedly the worst division in professional baseball, but after years of mediocrity the Brewers have finally assembled the young talent from within that a mid-market team needs to sustain success. It’s a strategy that works in three steps: develop the players in your system, enjoy their success at a low price and then ship them to the big markets when they get too expensive.

The Cubs, on the other hand, have to look at how their roster will age in the next couple of years. Derrek Lee, who is still a great hitter and defensive first baseman, will turn 33 next season and has seen a large decline in his power numbers since he suffered a broken wrist in 2006.

And Lee isn’t the only one. Many of the Cubs impact players are on the wrong side of the years that most players enjoy their prime. Alfonso Soriano, Jacque Jones, Mark DeRosa and even Aramis Ramirez are just a few that will be over the age of 30 by next June.

Now, by no means am I saying that these players can’t be productive well into their 30s or that the whole team is filled with over-the-hill players on the decline. This season has seen the emergence of Rich Hill, Ryan Theriot and Carlos Marmol, among others, as solid contributors to a first-place ballclub.

And a little further down the pipeline the Cubs have Felix Pie, Ronny Cedeno, Geovany Soto and a few others that looked primed to make the jump to the big leagues during their time at Triple-A Iowa this summer.

But by committing almost $400 million to future payrolls in one calendar year, the club may have backed itself into a corner down the line.

With the team up for sale after the season and the top decision-makers within the organization (Hendry and McDonough) not guaranteed jobs when the team eventually changes hands, the time for this team to win is now.

All of the uncertainty of the future and the lessons from years past should be the carrot that Lou Piniella and his coaching staff dangle in front of this team.

Luck and chance will not win a pennant for the Cubs. At this point in the season, it is lucky enough that the Cubs have the chance to control their own destiny from here on out.

With a slim lead in the division, this team does not have to scoreboard watch or hope that the division leader will falter – they just need to win.

So this fall I’ll continue to wait for the moment I’ve waited for since Mark Grace and Ryne Sandberg were my heroes.

After all, I am a Cubs fan.

Dave Fultz is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].