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Bernstein: Cubs Know They're Ahead Of Schedule

By Dan Bernstein-- senior columnist

(CBS) Ten games over .500 for the first time in seven years is heady stuff, particularly on the cusp of a seven-game stretch against fellow National League wild-card contenders.

The Cubs are 57-47, tied for the final playoff spot, and their Baseball Prospectus playoff odds stand at a robust 62.6 percent.

Even amid all the excitement, however, Cubs management still believes the team is competing at this level at the very earliest end of its projected development curve, considering that no major league team with this many significant position-playing rookies has ever made the playoffs. Even the splashy offseason acquisition of Jon Lester was made with 2016 to 2018 more in mind than it was for right now.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer remain unwavering in their long-term plan to scout, develop and stockpile the amount of young talent that rivals that of the Cardinals and Astros, sources tell 670 The Score, providing resources that make free agents useful luxuries and arm the team for savvy trades at critical times.

That's why the Cubs kept their powder dry last Friday ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline, being smart enough to understand it wasn't worth compromising core assets to chase a spot in the coin-flip game. Chicago added a fifth starter in Dan Haren and a reliever in Tommy Hunter without sacrificing the future in any manner.

It may surprise some to know that the Cubs still are concentrating more on evaluating their own players -- both prospects and established big leaguers -- as best they can at the outset of this phase, believing that a larger sample size of performance is necessary to make the most informed decisions possible when it comes to what all indications say will be an offseason of big headlines and major expenditure.  

When Epstein arrived in October 2011, one of the first steps he took was explain to owner Tom Ricketts that the entire scouting and development operation needed to be expanded, overhauled and upgraded. Now after years of construction and millions of dollars invested in what amounted to a doubling of size of that critical aspect, Epstein believes the machine is finally starting to hum as he envisioned. He feels it needs to keep running, warehousing controllable, valuable talent -- the lifeblood of organizations that sustain quality.

It has taken considerable time and money, but the Cubs' top-down system is in place worldwide and fully online, linking all of their minor league management, entire scouting department and front office into a centralized database that updates reports on prospects in real time, keeping a moving list of prioritized talent. It has been Epstein's most important project, this part of the business plan, and he's not about to shift focus because he's tantalized by the Cubs' entertaining over-performance this year.

It would be understandable for the Cubs to get excited about the possibilities for 2015, but any such emotion is entirely in the context of the larger picture. Epstein himself recently addressed this internally, sources say, making sure all efforts remain focused on building exactly what he promised fans at the outset.

"Over time and together we will build a solid foundation that delivers sustained success for the Cubs," he said upon taking the job in 2011. "That starts with a commitment to scouting and player development."

It continues in full even now, with attention finally back on the major league scoreboard. There are no promises, no guarantees and a full awareness of baseball's random variance being the only constant. But there is commitment.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score's "Boers and Bernstein Show" in afternoon drive. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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