Russell Promotion Continues Cubs’ Roster Transformation

Sure, they haven't won anything yet.

But if you are looking at the most impressive rebuilding job of the past five years, what the Cubs have done deserves praise, and it could become much more impressive as we go into 2016 and beyond.

When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were hired to take over the Cubs after the 2011 season, they were taking over a team that had very little going for it. Just four seasons later, they have turned over almost the entire team, making the Cubs cheaper, better and built for potential long-term success.

The Cubs have promoted two of the top three prospects in baseball in the the past week. It makes it easy to forget how bleak things looked in Chicago not all that long ago.

Here's the Cubs' 2011 lineup, rotation and top three members of the bullpen.

2011 Chicago Cubs
Pos. Player Age
C Geovany Soto 28
1B Carlos Pena 33
2B Darwin Barney 25
SS Starlin Castro 21
3B Aramis Ramirez 33
LF Alfonso Soriano 35
CF Marlon Byrd 33
RF Kosuke Fukudome 34
SP Ryan Dempster 34
SP Matt Garza 27
SP Carlos Zambrano 30
SP Randy Wells 28
SP Rodrigo Lopez 35
CL Carlos Marmol 28
RP Jeff Samardzija 26
RP Sean Marshall 28

The Cubs were old, expensive and going nowhere. Of the eight regular position players, only Castro (Cubs), Ramirez (Brewers) and Byrd (Reds) are still big league starters in 2015.

The pitching staff was just as doomed. Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Rodrigo Lopez and Randy Wells—four of the top five starting pitchers—are all out of baseball now.

Of the top eight pitchers on the Cubs' 2011 staff only Garza (Brewers) and Samardzija (White Sox) are still in the big leagues. And Samardzija's value took a big jump after the new Cubs regime moved him to the rotation in 2012–he'd served as a setup man before Esptein and Hoyer arrived.

So with a bloated payroll ($144 million on Opening Day 2011), a lineup with five hitters 33-years-old or older and very few pitchers who would even still be in the big leagues in two to three years, the Cubs' new front office has pulled off a very adept teardown and rebuild.

With Russell's arrival, here's the Cubs' current lineup, rotation and bullpen.

2015 Chicago Cubs
Pos. Player Age Acquired
C Miguel Montero 31 Acquired by trade (’14)
1B Anthony Rizzo 25 Acquired by trade (’12)
2B Addison Russell 21 Acquired by trade (’14)
SS Starlin Castro 25 Int’l signee (’06)
3B Kris Bryant 23 Drafted (’13)
LF Chris Coghlan 30 Free agent (’14)
CF Dexter Fowler 29 Acquired by trade (’15)
RF Jorge Soler 23 Int’l signee (’12)
SP Jake Arrieta 29 Acquired by trade (’13)
SP Jon Lester 31 Free agent (’14)
SP Jason Hammel 32 Free agent (’14)
SP Travis Wood 28 Acquired by trade (’11)
SP Kyle Hendricks 25 Acquired by trade (’12)
CL Hector Rondon 27 Rule 5 (’12)
RP Pedro Strop 30 Traded (’13)
RP Jason Motte 33 Free agent (’14)

Only Castro (in bold) remains from the pre-Epstein and Hoyer Era. The Cubs drafted Bryant, but he's the only draftee under the new regime to establish himself in the lineup so far. The rest of the current Cubs' core has primarily been acquired through trades, a few free agent signings (although Jon Lester is the only top-dollar free agent acquisition), a Rule 5 pick and a $30 million Cuban signing (Soler).  It’s also a much younger team. With Russell’s arrival, five of the eight everyday position players are 25 years old or younger.

Thanks to some adept trades (most notably Arrieta and Strop for Scott Feldman), the Cubs are younger, cheaper and better in 2015. With Kyle Schwarber, C.J. Edwards, Javier Baez, Duane Underwood, Billy McKinney and Albert Almora still in the minors, plus a massive 2013 international class, Chicago should be able to add a few more inexpensive young players in 2016 and beyond as well.

Editor’s Note: The story originally incorrectly stated that Garza currently plays for the Twins.