The press conference introducing the Chicago Cubs’ new President of Baseball Operations wasn’t the only source of Theo Epstein goodness yesterday. From there, Epstein took a whirlwind tour of various media – from breakout sessions with the local beat reporters, to an appearance on Chicago Tribune Live, to a Five Good Minutes with the guys of Pardon the Interruption.
Among the many highlights:
- Epstein reiterated that, before deciding on Mike Quade’s future as manager, he needs to “get to know Mike Quade better …. I had a great conversation with him on the phone. We’re going to get together over the next week. We need to sit down. I need to get a little bit of a ‘debrief.’” My guess is ‘Eppy’ finds Quade to be a pleasant enough guy – a grizzled baseball vet, even – but, ultimately, an unsuitable manager for this team.
- Without naming names, Epstein addressed the vacant general manager position: “If we bring in someone as a general manager, it will be because there’s someone who I think is one of the best and one of the brightest in the game and someone who can make a real impact on the Cubs.” Jed Hoyer is blushing.
- Epstein added: “Eventually we will [hire a GM], but we’re looking for the right people. Obviously there’s some scuttlebutt going on right now about things that are happening. I can’t comment on that. But I think it was important to develop a structure that allowed for the hiring of a GM if we got the right person.” Best part of all of that? Theo Epstein says “scuttlebutt.” Dig it.
- “I don’t believe in curses, and I guess I played a small part in proving they don’t exist from a baseball standpoint,” Epstein said. “I do believe you can be honest and upfront about the fact that a certain organization hasn’t gotten the job done and hasn’t won a World Series in a long time. That’s the approach we took in Boston. It wasn’t a curse, it’s just that we hadn’t gotten the job done.”
- Epstein tried not to discuss any specific players – internal or external – but did offer some thoughts on the subject. On the internal side, Epstein noted that “player decisions and the ones that involve options after the World Series, we’ll be sitting down with the staff and talking about those in the next couple days.” Ryan Dempster holds a $14 million player option for 2012, and wants to speak with the new men in charge before making his decision. The Cubs hold a team option on Aramis Ramirez for $16 million, which Ramirez can then void if he so chooses (which he has said he will). If the Cubs don’t pick up the option, they owe him $2 million as a buyout. Theo, you’re new. Let me help you. Pick up the option.
- Further addressing internal players, Epstein was asked on CTL about the Carlos Zambrano situation, in light of the Cubs’ lack of starting pitching. “You said it yourself, this is a team that needs pitching,” Epstein said. “To be the organization we want to be, we’re going to need pitching. He’s got talent. Obviously things haven’t gone the way he would have liked or the organization would have liked the last few years …. I need to get to the bottom of [the situation]. I think the best organizations get the most out of their players, even the ones that might be harder to get the most out of it. But the best organizations also know when it’s time to move on.”
- Epstein went into Bryan LaHair in great detail, to the joy of the various LaHair fans out there. “I have a soft spot for guys who hit everywhere they’ve ever been – hit, hit, hit and continue to hit,” Epstein said. “There’s this myth about the 4-A hitter. Guys who perform all the way up the minor leagues, dominate triple-A, get a cup of coffee, they hit a buck-fifty in the big leagues, and everybody labels them a 4-A hitter. The reality is, I’m not so sure there is something called a 4-A hitter. It’s just pretty good major league hitter who never got an opportunity …. [LaHair is] an asset. We’ll have to take a deeper look .… There’s more to this game, especially in the National League, than just swinging the bat. We’ll dig deeper on that one. But, look, we’re looking for assets. We’re going to scratch and claw and do everything in our power — in the draft, internationally, small trades, waiver claims. We need to build assets because we don’t have enough of them. We’re not going to look past one that might be sitting right there in our organization.” I’m not sure LaHair will ever be a productive Major Leaguer, but that’s the attitude you want the guy in charge to have.
- Epstein was asked if Ricketts had given him authority to release unproductive, but expensive, players like Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Zambrano. “Yeah, I believe so … I know so,” Epstein said. “It’s also a sign of a good organization to understand the concept of a sunk cost, and to move on. Understand sometimes you’re gaining by saying goodbye, when it is time to move on.” More kudos to Tom Ricketts on that one.
- On external players – the two most notable being Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder – Epstein said, “I think the impact free agent, the free agent who requires the long-term substantial commitment, there’s a time and a place for that type of investment. I think it’s important to understand when the right time is. It’s also important to understand the player. The player has to check every single box that you look for. He has to be an impact player offensively, you’d like him to be an impact player defensively. In an ideal world, you’d love for him to be an up-the-middle player. You’d love for him to be a player of high character who you can put your faith in and will represent the organization well over the years. You want to make sure the player is young, so you’re buying a lot of prime years. There will be a time and place for that.” Tea-leaving suggests Epstein isn’t gaga over Pujols or Fielder for the Cubs.
- That picture to the upper right, by the way: is that not the most excellent piece of Theo porn yet? I have to keep reminding myself that I’m a happily married man.
- On PTI, Epstein finally got the Bartman question (“Should the Cubs reach out to him and do what the Red Sox did with Bill Buckner?”), and his response was surprisingly earnest. “I haven’t talked to anyone here at the Cubs about that, but from afar, it seems like it would be an important step, maybe a cathartic moment that would allow people to move forward together. I’m all about having an open mind, an open heart and forgiveness. I think those are good characteristics for an organization to have as well. Look, he’s a Cubs fan. That’s the most important thing. We need to come together as an organization, the fans, the ownership, the front office, the players, everybody, if we’re going to get this thing done. I’m sure it’s something that will come up at the right time.” That’s all fine, I suppose. I’d rather just let sleeping dogs lie, for now.
- Epstein was asked about Carmine, the statistical program, built by Epstein, which helped the Red Sox make various transaction decisions and scout players. “We developed in Boston a program that was simply an information management system,” Epstein said. “Every team in baseball has an information management system of some form or another. With the Cubs, we’re in the process of sitting down and seeing what they have. Information is everything. In the Draft, for example, information is the single most important currency.” Dollars to – eh hem – donuts, Epstein doesn’t find a particularly sophisticated or helpful model already in place.
- Epstein noted that, when you “succeed” in baseball, that simply means you’re making the right move 55% of the time. I love that this guy gets that baseball is won at the margins. Mistakes will happen. But the moral is to put yourself in the best possible position to succeed each year – a “foundation for sustained success,” to parrot yesterday’s theme.
- Terry Francona’s departure from Boston may have hastened Epstein’s own. Epstein said he’d been planning on moving on after 2012, when his contract expired, but when Francona “quit,” and the Red Sox were in the market for a new manager, Epstein felt it was best that the new GM (Ben Cherington) be in place to make that decision. And, in a shocking (if slightly unnerving) bit of candor, Epstein admitted that, if Francona hadn’t “quit,” Epstein would probably still be in Boston today.
- As a way of introducing himself to his new front office-mates, and to get to know them better, at lunch on Monday Epstein asked each in attendance to sing his or her college’s fight song, before singing Yale’s, himself. Kind of seems like a way of reminding everyone, “Hey. I went to Yale.” I’m sure it was all in good fun.
- Epstein explained how the Starbucks incident went down, and it sounds pretty much like what was guess by a few of us here. “When I’m somewhere where I don’t want to be recognized, and someone recognizes me, I have a couple standard lines,” Epstein said. “I usually say, ‘Oh no, that’s not me, but I guess I look like him,’ or I say, ‘Theo Epstein? Who’s that?’ I was so excited to be in Chicago and so surprised to be recognized that I dropped both lines on this guy without stopping to think they really don’t work well in concert with each other.”
- And what would a tour of Wrigley Field be without an introduction to, sigh, Ronnie Woo Woo (h/t TFB):