Theo Epstein. That name has brought joy to the ears of many Cubs’ fans within the recent weeks, and now after all the rumors and the on-going compensation negotiations with the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago Cubs were finally able to introduce their new president of baseball operations. If day one of the Theo era was any indicator, Cubs fans will enjoy the new culture that Epstein brings with him along with a revamped front office. But after weeks of remaining in the shadows–despite being spotted at a local Starbucks (yes, that was him)–Epstein was finally able to address the vision he has for improving the baseball operations of the Cubs’ organization.
Epstein began his introductory press conference by saying that “it truly feels great to be a Cub today.” After agreeing to five year, $18.5 million contract, Epstein will now be the leading man in the baseball operations side of the organization. Whenever there is a new addition to the Cubs’ organization they are always asked about the curses and other phony hypotheticals that may have affected the Cubs’ World Series chances over their history. Epstein does not support the claim that the Cubs are a cursed franchise, instead he believes, that organizations can identify “certain things that they haven”t been doing well that may have interfered with them winning the World Series and eradicate them.” That is what Epstein did with the Boston Red Sox, and that is his goal for the Cubs. Ironically, the biggest interference to the Cubs winning the World Series has been their former regime. While former general manager Jim Hendry was not the sole person to blame, the Cubs’ front offices of recent seasons have been stuck in the past and failed to embrace the modern era of baseball.
Epstein promised that the Cubs are going to “build the best baseball organization they can, while changing the culture through that process.” The biggest change to come to the Cubs organization well probably be a new-found focus on player development and building the major league team through the farm system. The priority for Epstein and the rest of the Cubs front office is to build a “foundation of sustained success.” Epstein also indicated that the Cubs’ front will work aggressively towards building a “steady stream of talent” going to the major leagues through the minor league system. The farm system has been the most prominent failure of the past regime. While the Cubs’ farm system has improved of late, there still is a significant gap in where the Cubs need to be if they hope to consistently produce quality major league players. Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jonathan Papelbon are 3 of a handful of Red Sox players that were developed during Epstein’s time in Boston.
Perhaps the most interesting comments to come from Epstein during his press conference came when he was addressing the Cubs’ payroll and potential free agent targets. While Epstein declined to say what the Cubs payroll will look like, he did admit that the baseball operations department will have plenty of resources. The question now becomes whether Epstein will pursue Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder once the pair of slugging first basemen hit the free agent market. Epstein has had recent struggles on free agent spending with John Lackey, and Carl Crawford being the prime examples. The spotlight will now be on Epstein to see if he takes the same risks with the Cubs. While talking about free agent spending, Epstein admitted that he has learned his lesson, and that “the key is to pay for future performance and not past performance.” Going under those guidelines it would seem likely that the Cubs will not pursue Pujols. Pujols will be entering his mid-30s when he signs his next contract, and it is likely that a team will be paying Pujols for declining production. Fielder remains up in the air. Fielder is entering what is believed to be his prime seasons and could be what the Cubs desire in the form of a left-handed run producer.
While it only is day one, Eptein has lived up to the legend that precedes him. Cubs’ fans have a reason to be optimistic for the direction that organization is headed under Epstein’s watch. While the Cubs will not become the Chicago Red Sox over night, it will not be long before Epstein creates the “Cubbie Way” of success.