Chicago Cubs: Paul Maholm Says He's a Cub, Team Epstein Won't Surrender in 2012

Jay FloydContributor IIJanuary 10, 2012

Paul Maholm's Twitter account is aflutter with activity. And all of it points to him joining the Chicago Cubs.

"Just wanna say thank u to everyone that has cheered for me during my career as a Pirate. I loved my last six plus years in the city," Maholm tweeted.

He followed that with, "I hope to get to continue some things when I visit during the year and start some great things as I start my Cubs career." 

When asked if he was going to be at Ryan Dempster's charity pizza event on Thursday night he responded, "Don't know yet. Just joined team."

Contract terms were unclear, but one thing is certain: the Cubs haven't given up on 2012.

And despite the willingness of some Cubs' fans begging to throw in the towel on 2012 in the name of rebuilding (and 2013 and 2014, in the worst of all delusions), Paul Maholm is going to induce ground balls at Wrigley Field.

This year.

Sure, he might also be able to help Travis Wood harness his stuff, and that will help this year and next. 

But Team Epstein has now yanked two left-handed starters from rivals in the division. These pitchers already know the NL Central and have had some success.

And Maholm and Wood could both be better next year than they were last year.

So don't look now, but the Cubs are in danger of winning—gulp—72 games.

Finishing with that many wins last season they'd have tied with the Pirates, instead of a game behind. You have to think stealing one of their best pitchers is worth a one-game improvement. 

And it may come as a shock to some fans, but a payroll in the neighborhood of $120 million (or more) means the Cubs don't have to lose 120 games for the sake of improvement, or to prove they're committed to the rebuilding the right way.

Frankly, Crane Kenney should find a way to trademark and collect royalties on the phrase "rebuilding the right way" every time some forum commentator, Twitter babbler, or self-entitled-expert wastes time with that tired, empty platitude. Monies collected would easily allow the Cubs to dump Soriano's salary, and give his at-bats to a player with productivity and a future.

Because so far the biggest rouse of Theo Epstein's tenure in Chicago is convincing everyone the Cubs are out of contention.

The beautiful irony is that, in the name of waving the white flag of surrender, the Cubs may be plotting an ambush. 

They intend to wave a white "W" flag instead.

Look, no one says they're going to the World Series this season because they signed a No. 3-5 pitcher for the rotation (depending on whether Maholm is in the Cubs' or Red Sox' rotation).

But lowering expectations does several things conducive to success in the near-term.

Free agents don't get to expect the Cubs to pony up big bucks. The team can stockpile prospects, project role-players as starters, or do whatever they want in the name of "rebuilding" the franchise.

Epstein can bluff the market the Cubs can't or won't spend their payroll reserves, driving down prices by removing a significant bidder. And that doesn't preclude them from submitting the winning bid for Prince Fielder, Yoenis Cespedes or Jorge Soler. But it helps bring down the price. 

It also allows Chicago to shop players at the right time. For example, Matt Garza is the best pitcher currently "available" as a free agent or starter. That is not a coincidence. They didn't want to sell him before C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish set the market for a top-of-the-rotation starter.

But the Cubs did want the opportunity to find out if a team was willing to give up the farm. So they told everyone who would listen they were tearing down the roster, rebuilding and/or willing to listen to any offers. That made it easy to demand a high price, and potentially land players who could help the team now and in the future (Jacob Turner?).

The Sean Marshall deal is a good example, getting Travis Wood as a starter along with prospects.

If the Cubs don't get what they want, they can retain or resign Garza via arbitration or a market value contract (five yrs/$65 million i.e. John Danks?). They could also shop him at the trade deadline. None of those options are bad.

Lowered expectations and the rebuilding plan also mean spots are open for competition this Spring. And competition improves performance. If these guys don't succeed it, won't be from lack of effort.

Finally, the idea the Cubs may be awful in 2012 makes it easy to call Team Epstein's first year a rousing success. All they have to do is beat 71 wins. Even if they come close to that performance, or show excitement or improvement, Wrigleyville will erupt with optimism unseen since the days of Harry Caray and Ron Santo.

Dusty Baker, fresh off a World Series appearance with the unlikely San Francisco Giants, came to Chicago and famously said: "When I think about it, why not me, why not us?"

Some forget laughing at the time because the 2002 Cubs went 67-95 and had issues up and down the roster.

No one expected the 2003 Cubs to be five outs from the World Series.

Likewise, fans seem to have forgotten that, on his first day, Epstein said, "Every opportunity to win is sacred. It's sacred to us inside the organization and it should be sacred to the fans as well. They deserve our best efforts to do what we can to improve the club, and put the club in position to succeed in any given season."

And whether that happens more often than not this summer, it's the kind of optimism Harry and Ron might hope to find in fans.

Because Paul Maholm was signed to win games. Not lose them. 


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