At the end of the 2011 season, Tom Ricketts and the Chicago Cubs hired Theo Epstein to be the new President of Baseball Operations. In addition to Epstein, the Cubs also hired Jed Hoyer to be the new General Manager. Their assignment was not an easy one, to help the Cubs win the World Series for the first time in over 100 years.
This would not be an easy task, as several men have come before them and all in recent memory have failed. The closest they came to accomplishing the goal was back in 2003 when their predecessor Jim Hendry built a team that brought them within five outs of their first World Series Appearance in 58 years. Sadly, that was the closest they were able to come, and Hendry lost his job 8 years later.
In order to do this, Epstein and Hoyer would have to formulate a plan that would put the Cubs on the right path to not only reaching the World Series, but winning the whole thing. As you know, their plan of attack was not to go on a spending spree, bringing in all the top free agents money could buy. Instead, they decided to build a championship contending team from the ground up. This meant very limited spending at the major league level while they waited for the expiration of the big money deals that the former regime handed out to their big talent acquisitions. With the trade of Alfonso Soriano last season to the Yankees, the Cubs got rid of the last of the players who were burdening their payroll; the bulk of Soriano’s last contract season is still being paid by the Cubs in 2014.
Epstein and Hoyer felt that while waiting for the big money deals to fall off the books, the money could be spent more wisely elsewhere. They spent millions of dollars on scouting and development of young players to restock their farm system which has been one of the worst over the past several years. They felt that if a team is going to be a consistent contender, they would need to have a strong farm system which would be able to be the driving force behind any championship run. Unfortunately to do this, they needed to acquire top draft picks and trade away talented veterans off of the major league roster for some of the better prospects in other teams organizations.
Now, two years later, the Cubs have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball, which includes seven players in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect list. In fact, if you go back to Epstein’s days with the Boston Red Sox and Hoyer’s days with the San Diego Padres, the brain trust is responsible for 17 players in the top 100 list. That is a pretty impressive feat considering where the Cubs were prior to the pair of baseball minds coming to Chicago.
Several people have wondered why the Cubs had to “tank” in order to rebuild the farm system when teams like the Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals were able to contend while building their systems. The short answer is, because when those franchises (and all others) built their systems there were different rules under a different CBA that allowed teams to pay players far more than their draft position suggested, something the Cubs rarely (if ever) did. The Red Sox, Cardinals and several other teams did just that, and were able to vastly over spend for their draft picks while also over spending on their roster. Unfortunately, because we are fans of the Cubs, they system changed and you were no longer able to do that. The rules changed right after the Cubs hired the new team.
So, with having to “tank” to get the picks you wanted the Cubs and their fans had to suffer through two of the worst seasons in franchise history. With Epstein and Hoyer getting ready to enter into their third season leading the Cubs, some fans are wondering if they will be around to see the fruits of their labor. With a record of 61-101 in their first year of control, a record of 66-96 in their second, and a third season which does not look as though there will be a push for a championship, they are not off to a great start, despite their mass improvements with the farm system.
Epstein was signed to a five year deal, and you have to wonder what the future holds for him. When this year ends, the Cubs will likely have three ugly losing season in Epstein’s first three years of club control. Some have to wonder if RIcketts will fire Theo before his conrract expires if there is not some improvement at the major league level, or if these highly touted prospects are major league busts. Others wonder if Theo will quit mid contract if he is not given money to play with at the major league level.
Personally, I expect Epstein to not only finish this five year contract, but to also be signed to an extension when his current deal runs out.
Epstein said this was going to be a major overhaul which would take five years. Five years to turn the Cubs from the doormat of the National League into a team that could contend on a yearly basis, being in the playoffs year after year.
The first three years are all about clearing out the dead weight, while the last three will be about bringing up the young minor league players to the major league roster and allowing them to grow against the best talent. That means that in this the third year of Epstein’s contract, the last big deal will fall off the books at season’s end, and this year will also likely see the first of the minor league stars make their major league debut.
Once the players are implemented into the big league roster, that is when the real work will begin for Epstein and Hoyer. That is when they will dip their toes into free agency to fill the gaps the farm system has been unable to fill.
Whether or not Epstein and Hoyer are still in charge of the Cubs when the Cubs eventually do reach the World Series and walk away with the trophy, who can really know. But, even if they are not, I am sure that their accomplishments with the rebuilding of the organization from the ground up will be the reason why they will be called champions.
Like with a house of cards, you cannot build up a strong tower until you are able to build a strong foundation. That is exactly what Epstein and Hoyer have done over the past two years, and what they will continue to do as long as they are in charge, however long that may be.