Epstein. The Man. The Myth. The…. Let’s Get Something Straight

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Remember this picture? This was one of the very first things Chicago Cub fans saw after Theo Epstein was hired as the new President of Cubs Baseball Operations.

Those of you who do not know of Christian beliefs, this image mimics Jesus Christ walking on water, giving one sign that he was more than a mere mortal man. This act, gave one disciple all he needed to believe that he was indeed the savior who was sent to save all of mankind. The use of this picture, gives the impression that Epstein is without a doubt the Cubs savior, who came to rescue the Cubs and their fans from their own living hell; which would be life without a World Series title.

Epstein was hired by Tom Ricketts, and came here with a plan to completely change the Cubs culture. He came preaching patience as he rebuilt the Cubs farm system into what would be a consistent winning organization, as opposed to one that was in the hunt once every few years.

Cub fans were split on this idea, but there are those who are sick of waiting and want a championship now. I find a hard time arguing with anyone who would rather win now instead of waiting four or five years under the Epstein plan. Part of me agrees, I would rather have a winner now than in five years, but if everything Epstein is trying to do works according to plan, in five years the Cubs will have a crop of youngsters who will be able to keep them in contention for many years to go. I will take constant chances in a few years as opposed to a one shot chance.

While you can rebuild the farm system and still compete year in and year out, that is a lot harder. If you try doing both at the same time, you wont be able to build through the draft, and you wont  be trading talented veterans for younger talent. You almost have to pick and chose which you would rather do. That is exactly what Ricketts has decided to do, with Epstein’s suggestion leading the way.

This is already known, and is old news; so why am I bringing this up again?

Whether you decided to get on board with the plan from the beginning or whether you have been against the idea all along, some fans have seemingly dug their feet into the ground and refuse to budge on the matter of how Epstein is doing. He is either doing an absolutely horrible job, and has failed in everything that he has done; or everything he has touched so far has turned into gold. Both sides are completely wrong.

With just over a year in the Cubs organization, Epstein has done a lot of good already. He took a farm system that was ranked in the mid to low 20s before he was hired, all the way up to the top five in all of baseball. That is very impressive in just one year. Because of his hard work, the Cubs future has never looked better. They actually have a number of young players who fans are looking forward to see getting called up over the next few years. Sure, not all of them will work out, some will be busts, but a couple might pan out to be everything they hope they will be.

Epstein also traded Andrew Cashner to the San Diego Padres for Anthony Rizzo, a move that was an absolute steal. Even though pitching is very valuable, if you can trade a relief pitcher for an every day player, you make that move. Rizzo impressed with his first few months in a Cubs uniform, while Cashner spent more time on the disabled list than on the major league roster. I think that is fair to say the Cubs won this trade.

Yes, Epstein has also made a few moves which might not work out in the long run. Trading left handed stud relief pitcher Sean Marshall for young left handed starting pitcher Travis Wood. After one year, I have a hard time saying the Cubs and Epstein won that trade, but hindsight is always 20/20. That being said, I would trade a relief pitcher for a starting pitcher every time; unless that relief pitcher is a hall of fame closer like Marino Rivera. A starting pitcher is always more valuable than a relief pitcher. The jury is still out, because Wood can still develop into everything Epstein thought he would be.

He also traded Tyler Colvin for Ian Stewart. This one I will call a complete wash. Sure, Colvin put up good stats last year, but looking at his splits, he was not as good as he appears. At Coors’ he mashed the mall and looked like everything Cub fans thought he would be. However, on the road, he was everything that he was last year when he played for the Cubs. Overall, he put up a much better season than Stewart, but he was injured half the year; and to be honest for the better part of the last two years. I know that waiting is not something a Cub fan likes to do, but we need to wait to see what Stewart can do with a fully healthy season under his belt.

The point of all of this, is to point out that Epstein is not perfect. He is far from perfect. He is going to make mistakes. Like all General Managers (or in Epstein’s case Presidents) there will be moves that he wishes he could undo, because the decision simply blew up in his face. But don’t discount that his hiring is the best thing that could have happened for the Cubs. He is the smartest baseball mind they have ever had making decisions, and leading the Cubs in the future.

So stop bashing every little thing he does. He has a far better eye for talent than you or I do. He has an eye for talent, and is looking for the prospects that he feels will be great. And yes, he will cut a player who the fans love because he shows heart and tries hard, even though he lacks baseball talent. That does not mean he was wrong. Trust in the plan.

Also, stop kissing his ass. Not all of his moves will work out, and he is a fair target when his moves fail. You do not need to defend him and talk up every single move that is made. He has people that work for him that can do that if he really wants.

Love him or hate him, Epstein is going to be around for awhile, and his plan is not going to change.

7 Replies to “Epstein. The Man. The Myth. The…. Let’s Get Something Straight”

  1. Completely bogus. A team with the revenues the Cubs have and will be getting, should allow for them to field a better team than this one and still build. This is just an effort to put revenues into paying off Ricketts debts in purchasing the team and renovating Wrigley. This next off season will tell the tale. If they continue signing injured or marginal players for one or two year deals, it will just validate that they don’t care that the team they are fielding is subpar. They have bet their money all of us Cub fans forking over big bucks for tickets to what is a horrible product while telling us how much they care. Epstein is just treading water until his boss has more money to spend on everything but the team on the field.

    • Part of the rationale here involves the fact that it is ludicrously expensive to run a professional baseball team. The Cubs have to figure out a way to do this efficiently and effectively. That means that they cannot randomly throw money at Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke (I kind of wanted them to get Greinke btw) in the hopes of adding ten wins, if that, to a 61-win club. That’s a $260MM+ investment over the better part of the decade to snag a few extra wins over the short term because those guys are going to get older and they’re not going to sustain their production forever.

      However, this team as of now is projected to finish in the mid-70s in wins and could even sniff the 80s. They are deep in many aspects, especially in the starting rotation and the outfield. Are they spectacular in any way? Outside of maybe Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, no, not really. But they can get enough production to earn those wins and make this team respectable, at least until the inevitable fire sale to rebuild the farm.

      And that gets into the other thing in your comment. The Ricketts family received some help in building the new spring training facility in Mesa, but it’s pretty common knowledge that they are receiving nothing from the city or state in renovating Wrigley Field. The renovation of Wrigley Field has to occur. The generation of new revenue streams has to occur in order to make this happen. I believe that the Cubs will spend more next year and the year after next on free agents, and I previously blogged about it here. Note that since then, at least one player (Martin Prado) was extended, and others are likely to be extended by their parent clubs as well. Free agency usually means you get one super-huge awesome player that makes it to the open market while there are a bunch of guys who are otherwise useful, but not so useful that the parent club wants to spend to retain them. They’re also older and likely to be on the decline during the course of the deal. So there’s a point behind the parallel track. It just so happens that the people who are allegedly smarter than us have determined that now is not the time to splurge on the Hamiltons and Greinkes and BJ Uptons of the world just yet.

      However, because of all the other costs involved in running this team and maintaining the facilities, they are absolutely not being cheap at all. They did blow a good chunk of money on Edwin Jackson, after all, and Jackson has been a very durable and solid starter over his career. The payroll is also going to still approach $90-100MM. Spending just a little more this season was not likely to change the fact that this team will still miss the postseason.

      • Edwin Jackson was a good signing. His signing was to cover the trade of Garza and/or any of the pitchers they aquired in signings. This was to avoid have a Triple A pitching staff after the trades like we did last year. All of the other signings were players that are not intended to be for rebuilding but to temporarily fill holes and be trade bait if they produce good numbers. Most of the players aquired last year from the firesale were injured or longshots. The renovation of Wrigley and modifying the Landmark restrictions on Wrigley are a must, but you can’t tell me that they are not letting that affect their spending on this team.

        • I can’t tell you anything because neither of us know what the actual cost of everything is. We can estimate about how much things will cost but we do not know how much operating income the Cubs have and how much they have available for maintenance versus personnel. What I do know just from glancing at the barren farm and the bloated payroll full of mediocrity is that this is far from a quick fix, so expecting such seems to me to be a bit misguided.

          My guess is that the lack of spending is not motivated by some Loriaesque miser attitude to maximize profit margins (although that is still important to any business) but because of the need to follow a specific plan to build up the system from within while acquiring the right pieces as they become available. There is spending going on, though. And as I said before, I fully expect them to be more aggressive as the core grows and the foundation solidifies.

  2. Well, the “specific plan” is something that Cub management is anything but specific about. The reason I am saying that is that 300 million in 3 years out of Ricketts pocket is going to come Cubs revenues. All of the “core” players are unproven players that may not be the players they are hyped as. Samardja has 1 year as a starter and was shut down early. Will he be good? Maybe. Castro wasn’t any better with bonehead errors on degense and running bases. Rizzo played 3 okay months. Will he be great? Maybe. That is it. Everyone else is either trade bait or fill ins. I think you will see this continue for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Remember, it is the team on the field that sells tickets. Just ask Astro fans and Marlin fans. The Cubs attendance fell last year and will only continue unless a more aggressive approach is made. No more Soriano long term losing contracts, but players in the 3 to 5 year range. This is not a Kansas City franchise but has revenues consistent with Boston and other great baseball cities.

    • I think the Cubs generate a lot of revenue but they also face a lot of obstacles dealing with the neighborhood, the expiring contracts, the city, the upkeep of the park, and probably other factors we haven’t even thought about. We also don’t know exactly how much revenue is generated and how much of that is pure profit. I’d definitely continue to take a wait-and-see approach. If they don’t spend when a “right fit” free agent is available, then you definitely have a beef, but for now there’s an argument for what they are trying to do.

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