Could Theo Epstein’s Off-Season Plan Have Backfired Already?


No one said being a Cubs fan is easy…

In fact, when you fall in love with this team, you essentially sign a blood oath where you must wear your pride on your team’s logo and take what ever short comings may follow in stride.

It’s for the thick skinned, the optimists, and the mildly insane.

While being a Cubs fan has already taken at least 5 years off my life, today brought more bad news as Scott Baker has been officially shut down until further notice. His elbow MRI came up showing inflammation/fluid buildup and the Cubs are not willing to risk him furthering his injury.

Nov 1, 2011; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs vice president of scouting Jason McLeod (left) , president of baseball operations Theo Epstein (middle) and new general manager Jed Hoyer (right) in attendance at a press conference at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Baker took to the mound on Sunday and didn’t make it past a single inning of work before being removed from the game. It was meant to be a test of his recovery from Tommy John surgery that has gone horribly awry.

His mid-April expected recovery date is now nothing more than a faded memory, and seeing him in action by June would be an optimistic outlook.

Seems like a tough pill to swallow for a guy who’s on a 1 year/$5.5 million contract doesn’t it. Baker showed lots of promise with the Twins before requiring the surgery and the Cubs were hoping to capitalize on his full recovery. Typically, TJ surgery patients recover fully quite quickly and I had anticipated that Baker’s elbow soreness was nothing more than his arm getting worked in once again, but alas, I was wrong.

Baker was a big piece of the Cubs’ pitching plan too.

While the Edwin Jackson signing was the clear corner stone on the Cubs rotation’s “road to recovery”, Baker was meant to fill in as a solid 3-4 man who could work 150+ total innings. His contract was even structured with performance incentives for total innings pitched, but it’s not looking like he’ll even come close to hitting those milestones. While he wasn’t perfect, his potential performance at $5.5 million was a steal in what was a very inflated pitchers market in 2013.

All this hinged on his health of course. Now the Cubs must rely on Travis Wood, Scott Feldman (also recovering from injury) and Carlos Villanueva to fill out the rotation.

This news also comes on the heels of Ian Stewart‘s quad injury which is keeping him on the DL to start the year. 3B was (and still is) a massive gap in the Cubs infield and Stewart was re-signed to a 1 year/$2 million contract in order to help plug the hole at the hot corner. He had suffered a wrist injury in 2012 which sidelined him for half the season, but had supposedly recovered from the injury.

He is able to field balls and take batting practice, but is unable to run. This means that Luis Valbuena will be starting 3B on opening day with Brent Lillibridge filling out the utility spot. (Lillibridge has been pretty damned good, actually)

Huh. Two off season signings of two injured players whom are now both on the DL for an undisclosed amount of time. Far from ideal, I’d say. Is Epstein’s plan of low-price damaged good signings starting to bite the Cubs in the ass?

It’s a bit of a double edged sword in this case.

Baker was expected to make a full recovery because 95% of those who are subject to TJ surgery make full recoveries. For a pitcher of Baker’s quality for the price he was aquired at with a 95% chance of him making a full recovery? It would be crazy not to take the gamble on his services. The price of starting pitchers was completely nuts this off season and the Cubs have no intention of overpaying anyone just because the market is hot. The fact that he’s still hurt is pure bad luck. Plain and simple.

With Stewart, it’s his quad that’s holding him back, not his wrist. Anyone could go down with a quad injury in the same vain as Matt Garza suffering his lat injury. No one can predict such a thing and it’s a case of sheer bad luck, once again. The value that a healthy Stewart represented at 3B is worth more than the $2 million the Cubs have inked him for.

We knew that this was a possibility going in to the season. Damaged goods are risky but the risk seemed low enough to pull the trigger on these deals. Did Theo drop the ball in this case? Far from it, I say. He made all the appropriate moves bringing quality players whom were expected to recover fully and deliver a solid performance at the right price.

Scott Feldman is still healthy, after all. Sure, he’s not amazing, but he’s better than what the Cubs had in 2012. He’s an example of how the plan isn’t a total bust.

To say that Epstein did anything wrong in the off season is impulsive and frankly, a little bit stupid. Bad luck has bitten the Cubs in this case, but be thankful it’s in the 2013 season and not 2015 when the Cubs will have a fighting chance at the World Series. No one can control a player’s injuries and to hold anyone in the front office accountable for it is asinine.

The brass did the best they good with the resources they had available to them.

The plan hasn’t backfired or faltered – it just found a bump in the road.