Theo Epstein and the should-be 80 win Chicago Cubs


Oct 17, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher

Jose Veras

(31) throws against the Boston Red Sox during the seventh inning in game five of the American League Championship Series baseball game at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs should have been a .500 team in 2013.

You read that right. The Cubs should have won 80 games last year. That may seem like a stretch if you watched the games, especially down the stretch, but a simple explanation demonstrates the team wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked at times last season.

One of the most glaring holes in the Cubs roster was a relief corps that ranked as the third-worst in save conversions amongst Major League Baseball clubs, blowing 40% of such chances.

Chicago blew 26 saves in 2013, as opposed to the Rangers’ 11 – which ranked tops among the 30 big league clubs – while converting 81% of these opportunities. Simply put, that’s how you win.

When you’re leading late, you’re supposed to win those games. That’s what separates good teams from those who act as cannon fodder for the rest of the league. If you take just half of those blown saves and add them back into last year’s record, Chicago would have finished 79-83 – a definite improvement from a dismal 66-96 record that was the final tally for the North Siders.

Although he continues to draw fire and criticism from fans and members of the media alike, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer have done a great deal to address these shortcomings this offseason.

The first move of the offseason was adding another left-handed arm to the relief corps, seeking to lessen the load on the dependable arm of James Russell, who was at many times, the lone left-hander Dale Sveum had last season. The signing of Wesley Wright appeared insignificant when compared to the Mariners inking Robinson Cano to a 10-year mega contract, but it was an important first step.

Last night, Epstein and Hoyer added another crucial piece, signing reliever Jose Veras to a one-year, $4 million deal with a $5.5 million option for 2015. Veras has spent time at the back-end of several bullpens during his career, including the Houston Astros, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins and Milwaukee Brewers – meaning he spent time with two teams in the National League Central, a division he will now see more often.

Last season, Veras split time between the Astros and Tigers, and while he is known for being on the bitter end of a David Ortiz home run in the postseason, he pitched well, posting a RAA of 5 with Houston and 1 with the Tigers, meaning he was, on average, better than a commonplace reliever.

His 3.14 SO/BB ratio with Houston is also a promising statistic that pops for Veras – it was the highest such mark of his career.

What this all comes down to is that the team is improving. It’s taking time, but the front office is assembling the necessary pieces to contend, all while promoting a deep farm system that has talent nearing big league-ready.

They’re not breaking the bank (see the Mariners), they’re not inking a plethora of 35-and-older players (Yankees) and they’re not sitting pat while on the edge of contention (see Cincinnati and Baltimore).

Addressing the weakness is the biggest step forward the organization has taken – and no one seems to have noticed.