I have seen several fans talking about the Chicago Cubs lately wondering if Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Tom Ricketts pulled the wool over our eyes. Many fans have been complaining that they bought into “The Plan” and now have egg on their faces. Others have been talking about running out of patience with “Team Theo” as nothing has been accomplished lately and that they are tired of waiting. The fans say that they have not seen enough progress from our President and General Manager to make things worth the pain they have suffered through the past three years. Fans also like to claim that they were never told the depth of the plan, and that trading away anyone with talent was part of “The Plan”.
What is interesting, is that Epstein predicted all of these things would be said and written two years ago.
“I can go ahead and write your stories for you now if you want,” he told Cubs beat writers at the end of spring training. “At some point you’re going to wake up and write about, ‘Oh, the honeymoon is over. We’re not seeing enough progress.’
“I don’t know when that’s going to be. It might be two years from now, it might be three years from now, it might be two months from now, it might be two weeks from now. But because progress as an organization isn’t linear, that’s coming, and we just don’t let it bother us.”
He knew from the day that he was hired that his plan would make even the most patient Cub fans grow tired of waiting and trusting in Epstein’s desire to build a long term winner on the North Side of Chicago.
I am not sure what Cub fans have been expecting out of Epstein and Hoyer, but apparently following through with their word is not what they expected. From damn near day one, Epstein stressed that having a farm system that can produce talented players year in and year out was a necessity in today’s game.
When you have long-term contracts, there’s only so much you can do to influence players’ behavior. But you can have a significant impact on the young players you draft or sign — what they stand for as players and in their lives. It’s important to have a farm system everyone in the organization cares about. Producing talented players year in and year out is not a luxury — it’s a necessity.
When Epstein came to the Cubs, had the 19th ranked farm system, and long term contracts belonging to Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano that were eating into what the Cubs could spend. Yes, even Billionaires have a limit for what they can spend; especially when they are paying off the debt to buy a team.
Now, three years later, Epstein has built the number one ranked farm system in all of baseball, and all the money that was given to players in the Pre-Epstein days is finally off of the table.
However, many fans want to claim that they were never told Epstein and Hoyer planned to completely overhaul the team, trading everyone that was not nailed down. However, that is not true. Back in December of 2011, David Kapan reported that they would be doing a complete overhaul and looking to maximize the value of all the players already on the roster.
“After speaking with several baseball sources over the past few days I am hearing that a complete and total rebuild of the Cubs is more likely than ever to take place during the remainder of the off-season … [Sean] Marshall along with several other players on the Cubs roster are all being shopped as Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and company look to maximize their value as they look to completely overhaul the team.”
Kaplan told the world that the Cubs were going to completely blow up the roster and build things the right way. They did not want a patchwork roster year in and year out throwing money at players to fix a problem
“The Cubs have never had the guts to completely blow up their roster and build it the right way,” an unnamed NL executive tells Kaplan. “They have to have a plan for sustained success instead of always trying to patchwork a roster for a surprising season.”
Trading away the current Cubs for top prospects was in the plans from the very beginning in order to rebuild the farm system which Epstein felt was a necessity to win a World Series. This plan was laid out for every fan who was actually paying attention when he was hired in October of 2011. Some fans may have either not heard this, believed he was serious or did not think he would go to the extremes that were reported. If words from Kaplan are not enough to prove that Epstein told you from the beginning that he would clean out the old for the young, then how about from the man himself.
“(We) value the season right in front of your face as important, but we’ve been pretty open about if there’s a move that can’t serve our interests both now and in the future, we’re probably going to err on the side of the future.”
While he did say the season in front of us is important, he also was quite clear that he cared more about the future and long term success of the team than the present day. He told us
“it doesn’t happen overnight. … You have to make sacrifices to get it.”
Sacrifices are exactly what the Cubs have been making for the past three years. Fans will argue that the Cubs have been making sacrifices for the past 106 years, and they are tired of waiting. But every plan takes time to work out. He again stressed that the older veterans would be dealt in deals that made sense for the long term stability of the Cubs organization.
“we’re in the business right now of taking our short-term assets and turning them into long-term assets,”
These reports were not just from the local beat writers either, as national baseball men reported that everyone on the Cubs current roster was available.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) November 16, 2011
Cubs realize they have long-term rebuild. Will listen on anyone. Could be wild trade market with both Chicago teams
— Danny Knobler (@DannyKnobler) November 16, 2011
From day one, Epstein and Hoyer were as transparent as can be. They told us exactly what they were planning to do from day one; then they kept their word and did exactly what they said they would. Epstein even spoke on not wanting to spend on free agents, and again stressed how important a strong farm system is to the future of an organization.
“Just look at the history of long-term free-agent contracts — they tend not to work out. As tempting as they are and as great a way they are to improve your club in the short term, there’s two sides with free agency.”
“The challenge, Epstein said, is to spend wisely.
“The real swagger and confidence comes from building an organization that you know works,” he said Wednesday. “That means you draft well, you sign players internationally, you develop them. You have a stable of players you target coming up.
“The most valuable commodity in the game these days is not dollars, it’s the prospects you project to be regulars or better and good young players under control. That’s the swagger, and the whole universe is open to you if you have those players to work with. … That’s the currency of the game, is good young players more than available dollars.”
Recently though, Epstein has been talking about the future of the organization and the prospects that the Cubs have been compiling and where to go from here.
“These are real prospects,” he said. “Not all of them work out, but we like these players quite a bit, and they have a chance to play together for all time at Wrigley Field. When you put that together with a couple of 24-year-old All-Star-caliber performers like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, you can’t be [anything] but excited about our future.”
This started fans wondering if he was hedging his bets to cover his ass because he was doubting his plan. That could not be further from the truth, as he was only speaking what should be common knowledge. Not all prospects work out, which is why you need to gather as many together as you can. Fans wondering if Epstein was backtracking even more when he started downplaying having the best farm system in all of baseball.
“We were just ranked the top farm system in baseball,” Epstein said, “but it really doesn’t mean anything.”
“We don’t deserve to be on the cover of magazines,” Epstein said. “We don’t deserve to really be lauded right now, because we haven’t done anything yet. At best, what we’ve done is put ourselves in a position to make a lot of interesting decisions going forward.”
“We have everything to do,” Epstein said. “By definition, we’re in last place, so all of our work remains ahead.”
Nothing that he said can be seen as backtracking or covering his ass. All he has done from day one was be honest with us, and this has not stopped. No one in their right mind would be to guarantee that all these prospects would be Major League studs. While there have been some fans around social media daydreaming about what the batting order would look like if all these prospects worked out, anyone with baseball sense knows that will not be the case.
That is, in essence, what Epstein told us. Having a great farm system is great, their goal to rebuild the farm system is complete, but the overall plan to turn the Cubs into consistent contenders is not complete yet. There is still work to do, and that is what Epstein told us when he downplayed the top rated farm system in all of baseball.
Regardless of what he told us nearly three years ago though, fans will continue to think what they want. They will continue to believe what they want to believe. Fans will continue to ignore exactly what we were told from day one and tell everyone they talk to how they were lied to and that we were duped into buying into a plan that might not even work.
Of course the plan might not work. He never guaranteed that his plan would work. He never guaranteed that his plan would result in the Cubs winning the World Series. He said that was the goal, but never said that would definitely happen if everything worked perfectly and his plan worked out. So far, his plan is working to perfection. He turned around the putrid farm system in just three years. Stage one is complete, and even the biggest Anti-Theo fan has to admit that he has done a damn good job in completing phase one of his rebuild plan, even if they do not like the way he did things; which was exactly what he told us he would be doing to carry out the plan.
Epstein knew that building the farm system would not be popular. He knew that dark days were ahead for the Major League team and that fans would not be happy with the on field product. He joked that his popularity rating would fall as he and the Cubs put his plan into action.
“I should probably have another press conference right now to resign,” he said. “Because my popularity is definitely going to be at an all-time high right now.”
Say what you will Cub fans, but Epstein never lied to us at all. He told us exactly what was he had planned, and how he was going to carry out the plan. From all accounts, his plan is succeeding as he laid things out. The strong farm system he said was a must for a team to be competitive year in and year out is finally in place. Their farm system is deeper than ever.
While fans are certainly well within their rights to complain about the Cubs losing near 100 games every year under Epstein and Hoyer’s control, you cannot say that they ever lied to us. You cannot say that they lost your trust, because they have done everything they said they would do. Sure, the Cubs could have taken a shot and finished with a slightly better record, but Epstein does not want any middle ground.
“What I want to avoid is the middle ground,” Epstein said. “It’d be nice to make the playoffs or get a protected draft pick (awarded the bottom nine teams). We’re not hiding that. There’s no glory in 78 wins instead of 73. Who cares?
“We’re going to see where we are and take a real cold assessment in the middle of the season. If we have a legitimate chance to push for a playoff spot then 2013 can become our primary focus. If we think a playoff spot’s not in the cards, there will be no concern for appearances or cosmetics whatsoever. We’ll continue to address our future and trade off some pieces that would keep us respectable.”
While I am sure most fans would like to have a team that was more competitive than the 60 some wins the Cubs have been getting the past three years (counting this year) with the talent that was available in free agency, making the playoffs was no sure thing. While they could have been adding year in and year out the past three years with some of the better free agents, there is still no guarantee that the Cubs make the playoffs any of those years. That results in a worse draft pick, and a great chance that the Cubs miss the playoffs and the World Series. Would you really be that much happier if the Cubs had gotten 81-98 wins, and still come up short compared to what they have now? Sure, a winning team is more fun than a losing team, but is that all you want? The end result is still the same. You fail to grab the ultimate prize and wind up with a bad draft pick which does not help you build the farm.
Be as unhappy as you want with what the Cubs have done under the leadership of Epstein and Hoyer, feel free. However you cannot say that they duped us, mislead us or flat out lied to us. That, is nothing more than a lie to feed your anger over the Cubs failure to put a competitive team on the Major League level.