I'm hearing a lot of boo hooing emitting from Cardinal Nation this morning over the news that the Chicago Cubs have signed former Boston Red Sox ace Jon Lester to a six-year contract.
The signing of one player, apparently, is all it will take for the Cubs to go from a consistent doormat the World Series favorites.
First, I would say that it's a little premature to start fearing the Wee Bears. And, secondly, I'd ask Cardinals fans if they expected the other teams in the National League not to try to win. Victory, after all, is sweeter when it is difficult to achieve.
The Cubs have improved themselves, no doubt. But the distance between potential and accomplishment is enormous. Yes, they have a group of talented, young players. But every first or second round draft pick in the minor leagues is a guy who has a ton of potential. How many of those guys graduate to become major league stars? The answer is very, very few. So let's not run up the white flag just yet.
It wasn't that long ago that National League Central fans quaked in their boots over the arrival of Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano in Chicago. They, along with one of the greatest righty hurlers of all time, Greg Maddux, who was developed by Chicago, fumbled away and then brought back as a free agent, led the Cubs to exactly ZERO World Series appearances.
The Cubs have a legacy at throwing money at free agents only to have it blow up in their faces.
Lester, as good as he has been, wasn't enough to help a talented Oakland Athletics team to playoff success after he was acquired in trade last year. In fact, the bottom fell out of the A's immediately after Lester's arrival. Oakland ended up sneaking into the post season as a wild card and, in a one-and-done scenario that was exactly the sort of game for which Lester was acquired, the A's imploded. So let's not go overboard about the value of one pitcher.
This is not to dismiss the Cubs. Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates and Reds fans couldn't count on a big market team resigning itself to rebuilding forever. It is to remind folks that games are played on the field, so let's not get ahead of ourselves.
The expected rise of the Cubs doesn't change the stakes or the degree of difficulty in winning the National League Central Division title. It just changes the landscape a little bit. While Chicago gets better, Milwaukee isn't the same club it was when Prince Fielder and Zack Greinke called Miller Park home. The Pirates have lost team leader Russell Martin to free agency and the Reds seem on the verge of a total rebuild, reportedly shopping Aroldis Chapman, Johnny Cueto, Jay Bruce and other players this off-season.
Cardinals fans only need to worry about the Cardinals. Why are they lavishing praise upon the Cubs because of their youth movement? Even without Oscar Taveras, the Redbirds have an impressive group of young players who will make up the core of the club for years to come: Kolten Wong, Micahel Wacha, Marco Gonzales, Carlos Martinez and Randal Grichuck are all players who are still very young but who have made their mark at the major league level. Other impact players continue to rise through the system and could contribute in 2015 or '16.
So let's not give up the ship without a single shot being fired in the battle.
As constructed now, the Birds have a roster that should be competitive.
But I still believe, if the Cardinals stepped up and signed local product Max Scherzer that they'd be the prohibitive favorite in the Central Division. Scherzer, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Wacha would be a heckuva formidable rotation built not only for regular season success -- but also to match up with the powerhouse rotations of the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants in the playoffs.
Despite rumors of a massive bidding war for Lester, it never materialized. Apparently, the second-highest offer was $135 million from the Red Sox. The Giants, Dodgers and New York Yankees were never a factor. So that creates some hope that the big bidders might also be sidelined for Scherzer, potentially paving a path to the Redbirds.
All this moping is unbecoming of a group that fancies itself the Best Fans in Baseball.