There has been a lot of talk about Theo Epstein lately, and whether he has been good, or has been bad at his job while with the Chicago Cubs. After three losing seasons (yes, I am waving the flag of surrender on 2014) many fans are waiting for Epstein and Jed Hoyer to be fired and are just waiting for Theo-Co’s time to run out because they are tired of hearing about the “the plan” and want them to get away from their “master plan“.
There is a good percentage of fans who either do not like, or understand the plan of not spending on big name free agents to turn this team into a contender. Fans might have missed where Hoyer said that they were “not going to sacrifice the future now for wins” which means they are not going to go out and spend big money on the players that catch the headlines. They have said so without saying so if you are able to read between the lines.
When Epstein said “I am more proud of them for their willingness to take that heat and stick to their plan than if they panicked the first time their name was dragged through the mud publicly and said we can’t do this and we need to put lipstick on this and need to find some quick fixes just to keep the fans and media at bay.”
Let’s face facts. The Cubs have been a pig since the 2008 season ended, and since Tom Ricketts bought the team. Ricketts does not want a quick fix, and he believes that Epstein is the man who can work the miracle of turning the team into a consistent contender.
Reading between the lines, from everything that has been said, the Cubs are not interested in spending on big dollar mega stars like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton or Robinson Cano. That would be the aforementioned “lipstick on a pig” they want to try and avoid. They see the future of free agency drying up, with teams signing their young studs to long term deals well before they hit free agency and do not want to overpay an aged veteran or overpay top dollar for a middle of the road pitcher (like say Edwin Jackson). So they are building up their farm so they have a consistent flow of young talent for the next 10 years.
While there are no exact quotes about waiting out the big dollar contracts you can sort of read between the lines. Epstein took a patient approach to building the contender he envisions the Cubs to be. Patient because the team was in shambles when he got here. With several big money contracts inflating the team’s payroll, mostly by a lot of average players, there was little wiggle room for him to add an impact player. So, he decided to wait out the bad Jim Hendry deals. At the end of the 2013 season, Epstein will have done exactly that.
When game 162 is over, the Cubs will no longer have any player that Hendry signed to a lengthy contract. Alfonso Soriano‘s contract (of which the Cubs are paying the vast majority of) will expire. Going into 2014 though, the Cubs only have three players under contract, all players Epstein signed. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro were given long term deals, buying out their rookie contracts, and of course Jackson. All other players (while under club control), are either arbitration eligible or still in their cheap contract deals. Between the three of them, the Cubs only have $22 Million that they are on the hook for. Of course that will go up with arbitration deals for Travis Wood and a handful of other players, but they will still have a lot of money to spend in free agency.
In my opinion, with players like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Arismendy Alcantara all knocking on the door for a 2015 debut, the Cubs are going to have a very young and very cheap roster. That leaves Epstein and Hoyer to spend a lot of money filling in the various holes, mainly pitching.
With pitchers like Max Scherzer, James Shields and Justin Masteron all likely hitting the market, with as much money as the Cubs will have to spend, you gotta believe they will be serious contenders for at least one if not two of them for 2015. In fact, I rather expect them to make their big free agent push now that the Hendry contracts are over.
Because my understanding from the get go, was that Epstein’s plan was to build up the minor leagues while waiting out the bad contracts handed out by Hednry, through his first three years I give Epstein an A. He turned a joke of a farm system into one of the best in the game. Granted, that was at the expense of the Major League roster, basically tanking seasons and giving away wins, but my understanding has always been that he was here to build a consistent contender. He did not take any short cuts (as obvious by the crap seasons we have sit through under his tenure) and he accomplished his goal. The Cubs have a top ranked minor league system. Based on that, and that alone, he gets an A so far.
However, starting in 2015, my expectations are going to explode. Again, based on my understanding and interpretation of the plan he laid out, stage one is done. He built a very impressive farm system which is stacked with studs. He treded water while waiting for the Hendry deals to expire. Time for stage two.
Epstein has a lot of money to work with now. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for him not to go out and sign top of the rotation pitchers to go with his young talent that without a doubt should start making an impact in 2015.That is the year I fully expect the plan to start taking shape at the major league level. That is when I will start holding Epstein’s feet to the fire and expect, nay demand steady growth and improvements at the major league level.
Epstein made a lot of progress in the minor leagues, and for that I applaud him. Now, starting in 2015, I expect that progress to translate to the big league roster. That is when my no excuses tour for Epstein and Hoyer begins. He has his farm system stocked with talent, and he has all the bad money he was stuck with off the books. In 2015, he starts to work towards earning his extension. Impressive farm system or not, I am not sure he gets extended if the Cubs lose close to 100 games all five years of his five year contract.
Epstein showed he knows how to build a farm system, the time is coming for him to prove that he can build a contender at the major league level.