Meet the Daydream Cubs: An Alternate Organizational Future Starting in 1981

Have you ever idly daydreamed about the Cub teams you could assemble if you went back in time armed with a copy of the Baseball Encyclopedia or the wealth of knowledge at baseball-reference.com. I have personally spent a few boring hours at airport gates doing it myself. The difference is, I’m a baseball nerd with a platform and I could not leave it daydream form. So I set out to document just what would happen if future knowledge was applied to the Cubs’ past.

Over the next six months, my weekly column will feature a coda tracking the adventures of my “Daydream Cubs.” In this alternate future, I am appointed General Manager of the Cubs organization by the Tribune Co. back when they purchase the Cubs in June of 1981. Each year I control the amateur draft and set a starting roster from the players in our system.

I set myself the following ground rules.

  • Rule 1. All players put up equivalent statistics in my alternate universe each year as in reality.
  • Rule 2. All players receive the same annual salaries as in reality. All players are also presumed to be willing to sign long-term extensions for those amounts with the Daydream Cubs for my desired number of years. Players who do not immediately crack the starting lineup are paid on the bench.
  • Rule 3. Annual rosters must have a payroll roughly equal to the real Cubs’ payrolls in each respective year. In the event of a budget deficit, the two prior seasons must provide enough surplus to cover the shortfall.
  • Rule 4: I take over the Cubs, as they existed when the Tribune purchased the team in June 1981.
  • Rule 5. No trades are allowed, other than the 1982 Ryne Sandberg trade.
  • Rule 6. The Cubs’ draft positions in 1981, (2nd overall), 1982 (1st overall) and 1983 (6th overall) remain unchanged. By the 1983 regular season, however, I have altered the roster (and history) sufficiently that draft position cannot be predicted, which leads to the really important rule.
  • Rule 7. From the 1984 draft on, I choose last. Thus, no player selected in the 1st round is available to me. Likewise, no player selected in the second round is available to me with my second pick, and so on.
  • Rule 8. Draftees who did not sign in real life are presumed to also not sign with me unless there is documented evidence of a bonus amount they would have taken.
  • Rule 9. No internationally signed players are available to me.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines…

Our tale begins in the 1981 June draft, in which the Cubs have the No. 2 overall selection. In real life, they selected Joe Carter. My first draft goes a little different:

1981 Draft

  • Round 1: Frank Viola (2) – SP: AS (x3), Cy-Young (x1)
  • Round 2: Tony Gwynn (3) – RF: HoF
  • Round 3: Mickey Tettleton (5) – C: AS (x2)
  • Round 4: John Franco (5) – RP: AS (x4)
  • Round 5: Fred McGriff (9) – 1B: AS (x5)

(#) Denotes player’s real-life selection round. AS= All-Star; HoF = Hall of Famer; GG = Gold Glove.

The 1981 draft sets the “Daydream Cubs” well on their way. Tony Gwynn is the obvious prize, but all five players will become valuable contributors. Viola fills a desperate need for starting pitching and Tettleton will become Jody Davis’s heir at catcher. While the draft goes well, the regular season is a different story.

Meet the 1981 Cubs.

They are bad. Really bad. The Daydream Cubs will finish with the worst record in baseball, as did their real life counterparts, earning them the top pick in the 1982 draft. After the season, the Daydream Cubs swap shortstops with the Phillies (de Jesus for Bowa). We insist, as did the real Cubs, that the Phillies include a third base prospect named Ryne Sandberg.

Rule 5 above prohibits me from making other trades, otherwise I would make a spirited attempt to land Ozzie Smith, who was traded by the Padres to the Cardinals in December of 1981 for Gary Templeton.

Tune in next week for the 1982 draft and roster, along with an analysis of the Brewers’ offseason.

Moshe Wilensky

Moshe is a weekly columnist, and self-styled financial reporter, for Cubs Insider. Moshe is a Chicago native who first fell for the Cubs in 1984 at age 7. He currently resides in Charlotte, NC where he gleefully watched the Cubs’ 2016 run, interrupted only by the birth of his first daughter on Thursday AC 0000108. He can be reached at moshethecubsfan@gmail.com.

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