Explanations for a season spent struggling for middle-of-the-pack status begin with the plague of injuries the Cubs have suffered, but MacPhail downplayed the deluge of disabled list visits, taking a lesson in developing better depth from the ordeals.
"Everybody suffers injuries; we are not the lone soldier in that respect," MacPhail said. "You just have to deal with them. We're going to have to start developing enough depth to really believe that we're not going to be at 100 percent strength for a long period of time, because there aren't that many clubs that are."
Once injuries are off the table, dissatisfaction with a team perceived to be underachieving begs the question of the job security of MacPhail's top generals, general manager Jim Hendry and manager Dusty Baker, and while the rumor mill spins at this time of year, MacPhail gave each a vote of "contentment," while saving his confidence for the organizational game plan.
"I am very content with Jim, and I know he's very content with Dusty," MacPhail said. "I'm confident we're going to put it together. I'm confident that the formula is going to get us there, and despite having what appears now to be a hovering-around-.500 year, I'm still confident we're going in the right direction."
Fans clamoring for clues about the future of Baker and Hendry when their respective contracts come to a close at the end of 2006 would be ill-advised to begin a breath-holding campaign. If player precedent is any indication of the Cubs' negotiating plans, it could be Spring Training before the parties enter into serious negotiations.
In the meantime, MacPhail is basking in an organization that routinely generates the revenue to maintain a $100 million budget, an improved facility that he feels has been preserved for at least another generation to enjoy, and the key component of a farm system he labels as one of the four most productive systems in baseball in terms of developing big league talent.
"What I really wanted to accomplish when I came here was to develop an organization that could rely on a productive farm system which starts to get a flow of talent coming up from their system," MacPhail said. "Now, in my 11th season, I counted it the other day -- we've had three rookies of the year, and we've had at least six All-Stars come up through our system in those 11 years."
That farm system productivity is bittersweet, considering that with the exception of Kerry Wood in 1998, the other two players drafted and developed by the Cubs who went on to Rookie of the Year seasons did so for other clubs -- Eric Hinske with Toronto (2002) and Dontrelle Willis with Florida (2003). Add All-Stars Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano and another one that got away, Jon Garland, and there's no sneezing at that track record of development.
Still, MacPhail is far from satisfied with the status quo.
"You have to be disappointed that the No. 1 job has eluded you, and that's getting the team into the World Series and winning a world championship," MacPhail lamented. "I'm confident we are going to do that, but if you'd asked me whether or not we were going to do that in my first 11 years, I would have said we would have done it."
Minor matters: On the eve of MacPhail's praising the strength of his farm system, the organization came through with a winning day, going 4-2 as a whole.
The Triple-A Iowa Cubs led the way with a 4-3 victory over Memphis on Saturday, led by a sparkling effort from starting pitcher Rich Hill. The left-hander went 7 1/3 innings, letting up just one earned run while striking out 11. Hill improved to 5-1 in Iowa with a 3.95 ERA. Closer Jermaine Van Buren secured his franchise single-season-record 23rd save.
Double-A West Tenn swept a doubleheader from Montgomery on Saturday, shutting it out, 3-0, in the first game and staging a come-from-behind rally in the seventh to win the second game, 6-5. Right-hander Jae-kuk Ryu pitched a complete-game (seven innings) shutout in the opener for his ninth win, while third baseman Casey McGehee and second baseman Aaron Sisk drove in all the runs with a pair of homers. Sisk was 2-for-4 in the second game, adding a double, a triple and three RBIs to his day.
Class A Daytona topped St. Lucie on Saturday, 5-1, paced by six innings of three-hit ball from southpaw starter Yorkin Ferreras, who let up only one unearned run. Shortstop Carlos Rojas was 2-for-4 with an RBI double.
The Class A Peoria Chiefs blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning Saturday to lose to Quad Cities, 5-4, extending their losing streak to six games. Center fielder Sam Fuld and right fielder Jesse Schmidt each went 2-for-5 with a double and scored once.
Class A Boise suffered a lopsided loss to Vancouver on Saturday, 12-1. Third baseman Brandon Taylor was 2-for-4 with a double, driving in the Hawks' only run.
On deck: The Cubs will head to Wrigley Field for a nine-game homestand, sending Zambrano (10-5, 3.07 ERA) to the hill in Monday's opener against the Braves and Tim Hudson (9-7, 3.45 ERA).