The Chicago Cubs have been lost in mediocrity and sometimes sub-mediocrity for some years now. Locked into bad contracts and stuck with a farm system that has not been producing top talent, the Cubs have struggled to stay competitive.
Organizational management has been a bit of an issue to say the least. With the old regime gone and the new Theo Epstein regime steadily in place, Cubs fans have a future to look forward to.
But when does that future become the now?
Before we move any further, let's define what we mean by competitive. We aren't talking about lovable-loser, "we almost won, we finished the season with a .500 record" competitive. We're talking about when can this team again be in the hunt for a playoff berth.
When the Chicago Cubs get to this point, it will depend on the path they decide to take. Epstein and Co. need look no further than their own division at the proven path to success. Developing from within, signing your own, complementing them with a couple trades or signings, and doing away with players that aren't helping you win is how the Cardinals, Reds and Brewers have all recently done it.
It all starts with bringing in young talent. They have a great foundation to start with in Anthony Rizzo, who looks to be filling one of the NL Central voids at first base that were left by Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Give Rizzo a couple more years and this kid will be on par with fellow Central foe Joey Votto.
The new Cubs regime has shown right away that they seem to be committed to rebuilding with young talent. Epstein and Co. went right to work acquiring Rizzo and made great strides in their drafting. Folks, Albert Almora is going to be a stud. Expect him to be a huge key in righting the ship.
With the likes of Rizzo, Almora, 2011 top draft pick Javier Baez, top prospect Jorge Soler, and the now established Starlin Castro, the Cubs have the potential for a very solid lineup in the making. But it will take time. Be patient.
The true concern for Cubs fans should be their team's pitching staff now and in the future. The acquisition of Arodys Vizcaino from the Braves could prove to be huge, though it remains to be seen how the once untouchable prospect will recover from surgery.
One acquisition that seems to have flown under the radar is that of Travis Wood. With a solid defense behind him and a bit more consistency, the lefty could be a consistent 3.50 ERA guy.
Then there is Jeff Samardzija. His first full season as a starter yielded an extremely positive result. His 3.81 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .240 BAA and 9.28 K/9 reek the scents of future ace.
Beyond these three, the Cubs have some work to do. You can bet that the brain trust already has a plan laid out.
To keep a long story short, the Cubs have potential and clear pastures ahead. Just not in the immediate future.
2013 will not be their time, nor will 2014, but 2015 could see this team taking great strides.
Fans need to be patient because it will pay off. Fans also need to be realistic. When it comes time that the Cubs trade Bryan LaHair or better yet they release him, fans should applaud such a move.
It's time to rid themselves of the lovable-loser syndrome. LaHair may be a good story, but a good story doesn't win ball games. A good player does. Brian LaHair posted a 0.1 WAR last season. He is -0.2 WAR for his career. Such a performance isn't even worth a bench spot. Not if you intend to win anyway. This is what I mean by saying that fans need to be realistic.
Things may get worse before they get better, but they may get better much quicker than you think. Could the 2015 suddenly take off like the 2010 Cincinnati Reds? It's very possible.
Don't forget to chime in with your thoughts.
You can follow Josh Ramsey on Twitter @JRamCincy