Experience, farm system, money: Same factors in play for Cubs, Indians to return to World Series

When Indians general manager Chris Antonetti crosses paths Sunday with Cubs counterparts Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer at Sloan Park on Sunday, they can share a laugh over their stressful state during the rain delay before the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 2016...

Experience, farm system, money: Same factors in play for Cubs, Indians to return to World Series

When Indians general manager Chris Antonetti crosses paths Sunday with Cubs counterparts Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer at Sloan Park on Sunday, they can share a laugh over their stressful state during the rain delay before the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 2016...

24 February 2017 Friday 17:06
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Experience, farm system, money: Same factors in play for Cubs, Indians to return to World Series

When Indians general manager Chris Antonetti crosses paths Sunday with Cubs counterparts Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer at Sloan Park on Sunday, they can share a laugh over their stressful state during the rain delay before the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

"I remember the look on Jed and Theo's faces, same as mine," Antonetti recalled at spring training. "Just ashen and fatigued and angst, (wondering) is this game ever going to end?"

The Cubs outlasted the Indians in one of the most memorable Game 7s in Series history. It's outcome heightened expectations about the possibility of a rematch.

Both teams are legitimate threats to repeat. But there are questions about their chances to return to the Series this fall.

Here are three factors that could dictate their fortunes.

Experience

Seven of the Cubs' 10 players who started Game 7 were 27 or younger, including five 25 or younger.

"I can't even put into words how good that is for us," Kris Bryant said. "Ernie Banks never had a chance to play in a playoff game. For us to be able to do that that early in our careers, especially Game 7, I think if we're put in those situations again, we'll know how to play relaxed."

Meanwhile, the left side of the Indians' infield — All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Jose Martinez — is younger than 25, and starting pitchers Trevor Bauer (26), Danny Salazar (27) and Carlos Carrasco (29) are under team control through at least 2018.

"Our rotation and even some of the guys in the bullpen are likely to be in Cleveland for the foreseeable future," Antonetti said.

The danger for both sides is assuming that they will return to the Series soon even if they come up short this season.

"When you've been there, you know how to do it, you know you can do it because you've done it before. But there's a sense of urgency you have to keep," said Ben Zobrist, who has won consecutive Series with the Royals and Cubs. "That's hard and that's one of the challenges ahead. It can be easy to get complacent and comfortable."

Said Indians manager Terry Francona: "(What) will benefit our guys the most (is) when they look back and realize they just didn't show up and end up in the postseason and the World Series. We started that work on day one of the offseason and day one of spring training. Carrying forward that mindset is really important."

Farm system

The Cubs still retain top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ after trading top prospect Gleyber Torres to the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman, but there's a noticeable gulf between their major-league pitching staff and their top pitching prospects at the lower levels.

"I like the guys we have, especially in low minors," Hoyer said. "But one thing with pitching, there are a lot of innings and health we have to get through but haven't done yet."

Antonetti, meanwhile, is a firm believer in his farm system after trading outfielder Clint Frazier and left-hander Justis Sheffield — two of the Indians top four prospects, to acquire formidable left-handed reliever Andrew Miller last season.

"We have a quality group of major-league players who have a chance to be with us for a while, and that's bolstered by a farm system that we think has players who will help us move forward, including this year," Antonetti said. "(And) we're always looking for more."

In Baseball America's minor-league talent rankings, the Cubs are ranked 16th — two spots ahead of the Indians.

Money

The decision to rebuild a franchise that resulted in its first Series title since 1908 turned out so well the Cubs virtually have a license to print money based on their nationwide popularity, significant upgrades at Wrigley Field and the possibility of a lucrative television contract.

"Theo got to do what he always wanted to do, and maybe you couldn't do that in Boston," Francona said referring to his time under Epstein managing the Red Sox. "Which is take a step back, go a little younger. I know it probably took a little longer than he was comfortable with, but once they did it, he got the vets he wanted, the guys he knew, and put together a powerhouse. It's tough to imagine (the Cubs) going away any time soon."

Despite spending 109 games in first place and winning the American League Central by eight games, the Indians outdrew only the A's and Rays among AL teams. Yet they did have enough financial flexibility to sign free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year, $60 million contract on Jan. 5.

"It has been a big leap of faith among our ownership to step out from beyond what may make sense (financially), beyond what our (dollar) projections may be," Antonetti said. "It's really a belief in our fan base that we'll continue to support our team (with money) and build on the momentum from last year."

mgonzales@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @MDGonzales

Caption Joe Maddon on the Cubs' relay and bunt drills

Cubs manager Joe Maddon discusses Jason Heyward's progress as well as the team's relay and bunt drills on Feb. 24, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Cubs manager Joe Maddon discusses Jason Heyward's progress as well as the team's relay and bunt drills on Feb. 24, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Caption Joe Maddon on the Cubs' relay and bunt drills

Cubs manager Joe Maddon discusses Jason Heyward's progress as well as the team's relay and bunt drills on Feb. 24, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Cubs manager Joe Maddon discusses Jason Heyward's progress as well as the team's relay and bunt drills on Feb. 24, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Caption Pedro Strop on signing a 1-year extension with the Cubs

Relief pitcher Pedro Strop discusses his new one-year deal with the Cubs on Feb. 24, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz.

Relief pitcher Pedro Strop discusses his new one-year deal with the Cubs on Feb. 24, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz.

Caption Javier Baez on driving a Polaris three-wheeled sports car

Cubs infielder Javier Baez describes driving a Polaris three-wheeled sports car on Feb. 24, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Cubs infielder Javier Baez describes driving a Polaris three-wheeled sports car on Feb. 24, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Caption Anthony Rizzo takes infield practice

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo practices fielding during spring training on Feb. 23, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo practices fielding during spring training on Feb. 23, 2017, in Mesa, Ariz. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Caption Cubs, fans prepare for Friday's rally at Sloan Park

Cubs fans line up on on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, as the organization prepares for a rally at Sloan Park on Friday to celebrate the team's 2016 World Series title. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

Cubs fans line up on on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, as the organization prepares for a rally at Sloan Park on Friday to celebrate the team's 2016 World Series title. (Mark Gonzales/Chicago Tribune)

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