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CSN’s Dave Kaplan is interviewing Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein over the next hour, and, while Epstein probably won’t directly address any of the recent roster-related rumors, it should be pretty interesting.

I’ll do my best to cover the interview live here, bullet-style, for those of you unable to listen (WGN Radio).

  • Sounds like there’s quite a crowd in attendance for the interview.
  • Theo says the transition from Boston to Chicago has been great, and he senses the passion from the fans. It’s just like Boston in that regard.
  • “We get up early and work late.”
  • Were you embarrassed about the hoopla about you coming to the Cubs? “Oh yeah. Big time.” Theo wants to be behind the scenes, but he knows that isn’t the reality anymore. But he’s not in the game for the limelight. He just wants to win with good people.
  • Kaplan discusses Epstein’s “sustained success” philosophy, and asks for Theo’s take. Nothing we haven’t heard before. Winning is hard, and we have to be realistic, especially if we want to have a team that is repeatedly in the mix. “We would never tank a season away,” but putting the team together at the right core age takes time. The goal is getting to the playoffs year after year.
  • Paraphrase: The reality is, we’re trying to turn an ocean liner in the sea. You can’t do that on a dime. It takes many, many moves – including player development, scouts, drafting better, acquiring a young player here and there. “I wish I could say we were a move or two away, but that’s not the case.”
  • What did Tom Ricketts tell you that convinced you to sign on? “He was genuinely committed to the franchise and the fan base; to doing it the right way for the right reasons. It was a long-term commitment for him, and he understood the big picture. You can’t just throw money at problems [and fix it overnight].” That all appealed to Epstein.
  • Any more moves like the Marshall trade coming soon? “Maybe yes, maybe no. We’re not going to force feed anything …. we aren’t going to put blinders on …. at some point Matt Garza becomes a short-term asset, and you want to convert a short-term asset to a long-term asset.” That could mean an extension, or it could mean a trade. Epstein emphasizes that the Cubs aren’t married to any particular approach.
  • Theo confirms that, from his perspective, the CBA changes took away some flexibility in how a team can approach building its organization. You could previously decide how much you wanted to devote to the draft, how much you wanted to try and collect picks. Those options are now largely gone. “We’re going to have to be better and more accurate in drafting than our competition.” But the draft is an inexact science. The Cubs are thinking about the ways they can improve and out-fox their opponents.
  • They’re taking a break now. I was glad to see the Marshall/Garza/rebuild question early on, but it ended up just being a rote, planned question with a rote, planned answer. Nothing in the response we didn’t already know, and no follow-up. I understand that pressing Theo right now probably won’t get much more, but it would be nice to get a little more on the subject, if they’re going to go there at all.
  • What does “culture change” mean to you, and how can Zambrano be a part of “culture change” (wow! way to go, Kap on asking that straight out)? Theo says the culture should be about players being proud to be Cubs, treating each other right, treating the fans right. The clubhouses with the best culture police themselves, and are very proud to be a part of the organization. Things jeopardize that culture all season long, and the best teams come together in those tough moments. Problematic clubhouses fall apart when things get tough, and players get selfish, feel sorry for themselves. Players have to be accountable to the organization and to their teammates. We need to restore pride in being a Cubs player. Dale Sveum is the perfect guy to hold the players to this high standard. He needs to put the organization’s interests ahead of his own if he expects that of his players.
  • As for Zambrano, Theo says Carlos, as he’s been, cannot fit into the culture. Either he’ll change and buy in – “I know there are skeptics, and I’m skeptical, too” – or we’ll change the personel.
  • Fan questions coming in now, the first is a generic one about the thinking behind trading Sean Marshall. Theo says Marshall is the type of player and person you want in your organization. But the Cubs traded him because he’s a free agent after 2012, and under the CBA, they’d probably not get a compensatory pick for him. For where the Cubs are right now, one season of Marshall was less valuable than five seasons of Travis Wood and two prospects. That’s five years of Wood, and 12 years of prospect control. That’s more valuable for us than one year of Marshall (gut says he’s setting us up for future trade justifications – I can hear it now, “two years of Matt Garza, right now, was less valuable to us than …”  That’s just a hypothetical example, by the way.).
  • Fluff question about being “recharged” in Chicago. Theo said the Cubs were the only team to which he could see himself going after the Red Sox, given how special the Red Sox are. To get to do it right now with the Cubs, at this crossroads, is energizing.
  • Kaplan asks if Theo is going to eat any bad contracts before Spring Training. Epstein says doing so is a sign of a healthy organization. Sometimes you have to eat a sunk cost, sometimes you can get some value for that sunk cost. Sometimes you have to walk away from a player, and sometimes you have to get to know the player, and provide an infrastructure where he can improve. “There’s no one way to handle these situations …. It’s a game played by human beings, and the possibility of bouncing back is very real.”
  • Another break. Loved Theo’s answer on the second Marshall question. Just what I wanted to hear. The Cubs make moves – popular or unpopular – because they make the overall organization better.
  • Is Kerry Wood coming back? “I love Kerry Wood,” Epstein said convincingly. Paraphrase: We want Kerry Wood here to help us build a winner. We’re actively engaged in negotiations, and agents and money are a part of the equation. I think it should work out. We’ve got a team that wants him back, and a player who loves the team and the city. I expect to get it done.
  • Who is the Cubs’ closer? “Carlos Marmol is our closer.” Theo said Marmol has had several years at the top of his game, but last year his stuff wasn’t there all the time. He walks a lot of guys, but he makes up for it by striking a lot of guys out. The Cubs are going to work with him to get him back to where he’s been, help him to use his fastball a little bit more. “We’re committed to Marmol.”
  • Theo said it’s hard to watch the game as a fan anymore, because you’re always thinking/analyzing, no matter what the game. You should be taking notes, writing scouting reports, etc. You never know when you might need info on a player down the road, so you should always be taking notes and putting that information into the organization’s system (yo, dude – yes).
  • Kaplan asks about the big-time free agent signings that the Cubs haven’t made, and asks about Theo’s “lens of the long-term plan” comments. Theo says the point is, the Cubs are not looking for any quick fixes. Every year is important, and every year is a chance to win. The organization values the short term. “If we lose, I’m going to have a bad day.” But where the short-term priority and the long-term priority conflict, the Cubs are going to choose the long-term interest. So, when rumors about a big-money signing or an older player, the Cubs are going to make a decision about signing the player on the question: will this player help us when our core is ready to be really competitive? Sometimes, though, the Cubs might sign short-term, older guys if they think there might be future trade value there (nice).
  • Fans ask about whether ‘Moneyball’ is an accurate portrayal of MLB front offices, and Theo says it’s not. It was a good story, and had some truth in there, but obviously, it’s dramatized.
  • Does your son wear a Red Sox hat or a Cubs hat? “The Red Sox are his American League team, the Cubs are his team overall.”
  • Theo is very excited about the possibility of seeing the impact winning has on everyone else. Fans, families, players, co-workers.
  • Eddie Vedder is looking forward to a win. Swell.
  • First base plans? “Our first baseman right now is Bryan LaHair,” and Theo is excited to give “this kid” a chance to hit (“I call him a kid, but he’s 28 – sure, we’d love him to be 22″ (coincidence: that’s Anthony Rizzo’s age)). Hitters hit, says Theo. “I don’t buy into” the AAAA label. Theo says guys who’ve always hit can hit in the bigs if they’re given an extended look. There are advantages in the bigs. Yes, the pitching is better, but the scouting reports are better, the lighting and practice facilities are better, the training is better. Me: since LaHair is the only first baseman on the roster, Theo really couldn’t say anything else.
  • Asked about Wrigley Field renovations. Theo says he’s going to be focused on the baseball side, but he does have a unique perspective. Wrigley Field is still a “jewel” and a great place to watch a game, but it needs some work. There are ways to do things that improve the experience but don’t detract from the history. “You do a little bit each year, get some help from the community and the local government” and you can make it happen (hello!). It helps the fans have a great experience, and also helps the Cubs get more revenue to use on the team. It also helps the city of Chicago. Crane and his staff are doing a great job on that. “We just need a little cooperation.”
  • Analysis and studies on day baseball? Theo says they’ve done some analysis and the Cubs had previously done some analysis, but it’s hard to study objectively/statistically. It’s more anecdotal and subjective. It’s gotta be something the Cubs process and handle as professionals, and that the Cubs are more prepared to do than opponents. “We want it to be an advantage.” (Good luck with that.)
  • What sold you on Dale Sveum, and what can we expect to see? “Dale’s got so many great qualities that the fans are going to come to appreciate over the years.” Theo says Dale is perfectly genuine, no facades, and that really matters – “you can’t fake it with players these days.” Dale is neither a “player’s manager” nor a “disciplinarian.” He’s something else. He makes players play hard, but he’s also really well liked. I suppose that’s kind of a combination of both, not neither.
  • A Starbucks question. Sigh.
  • The compensation issue with the Red Sox is still on the table, “we’ll get it resolved.” The two teams are still working in good faith, and “I’m still close with people there.” He did the Sean Marshall/Travis Wood conference call from his old office in Boston.
  • The end. As expected, nothing earth-shattering, but always enjoyable to hear from Theo. He still sounds like a guy who gets it, and a guy who has a plan – albeit a very long-term one.
  • Michael Vazquez

    Love how Theo answered back immediately on Marmol being the closer, i’m one of the few that love Marmol (he had a bad year) but I believe he will have a bounce back year.

  • Trent

    Theo Epstein is one polished individual.

  • Fishin Phil

    Brett, Thanks so much for covering this.  I caught the first few minutes in the car, but can’t listen right now.  I really appreciate the summary.

  • Steve in Indiana

    I am getting so tired of Kaplan. He is so freaken hooked on “Culture Change”. He has already asked that question to Theo in the past. Theo answered it then. Get over it Kaplan. Good God!!

    • Wilbur

      Understand and agree, but I think as long as Z (regardless is he’s an ass or a saint) is here that question will be asked over and over by sports writers. It takes a life of its own.

      In fact, once Z is gone the question will transform into how the culture is now different since he is gone. That has at least a year of life there.

      Brace yourself …

  • Skinner

    Thanks for this Brett. Had to go pick up the wife from jury duty and was not happy I was going to miss the interview.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      No problem. Obviously it’s imprecise, and not a transcript, but it covers everything discussed.

  • Dan S.

    I like Theo. I hope everyone will be patient with him and his staff. Things seem slow or not to what everyone thinks, but you have to stop and take a step back and realize, they have a plan and that plan will come together in a couple years. Looking at things how they are going right now, I can’t wait for next years hot stove to see how they attack after a full year in the job!

    GO THEO & JED! GO CUBS!!!

  • Cliffy

    There was a lot of Theo speak in that interview. The one thing that I got from it was a sense that Soriano will not be on the team when the season starts. Anybody else sense that?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      It was a very non-specific, hard-to-articulate sense, but, yeah, I got that, too.

      • MoneyBoy

        Brett – absolutely fabulous job on the interview !!!!

        On Sori – I’ve believed from day 1 that he’d be gone.  My “white horse souse” told me that word of it came directly from TR.

  • http://bleachernation ferris

    i may be wrong but from what i jus read big z is gone and garza will be dealt and were not getting fielder and not gonna eat 54m of sori sound bout right? if so i think itll work …eventually

    of course wed like fielder but i get not doin that at this time maybe votto in two yrs or maybe lehair or someone else will shine…lets hope

  • Peder

    Brett,

    Is it possible to offer Soriano a new contract? Instead of 3 x18 = 54 we try to change it
    to 12 x 5 = 60. This would help the Cubs in the short term and benefit Soriano in the long
    term. It would also make it more possible to release him now.

    • CF

      I would think the Cubs would be looking to do the exact opposite to extending the contract (barring a big FA signing). They could advance some of the money owed to Soriano on this years’ payroll in return for a lower commitment (incl. cost of money) over the next two years. For example, renegotiate so that his salary in 2012 goes to $28M, 2013 remains $18M, and 2014 is reduced to $6M. This reduces the total (“then year”) contract value to $52M (from $18M x 3 = $54M) and frees up payroll for when the Cubs are actually ready to compete. If we’re throwing this year anyhow, why not take some more of our medicine and get Soriano’s contract to a more reasonable level for the remaining years? And it makes sense for Soriano because he gets his money faster. (note: I didn’t do any interest rate calculations…this is just a theoretical example)

    • MoneyBoy

      Good lord … Soriano turns 36 on Saturday … who in their right mind would want him for 5 years let alone the 3 the Cubs are on the hook for???

      If they’re going to outright release him, make him an offer to spread out the “pain” over 10 years ($6mm/10 yrs).  Better for him tax wise and better for the Cubs cash flow wise.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Possible, yes. Understandable? Not really. In three years, he’s done – I don’t think anyone is going to want him in any capacity at 39 and 40 years old, no matter how cheap. Thus, all this does is put the Cubs on the hook for another $6 million. I love the creativity, but … nahhh.

      • MoneyBoy

        Understood !!!   I kind of call it “go away” money … <g>   It lessens the burden for the next 3 yrs.

        Cots has him on the books for $19mm/3 … $57 … (I edited) … so $6mm for 10 is a paltry 3mm more.

  • FromFenwayPahk

    Brett, you made my day. Thanks for the report, your take, and the clarity that kept them straight.

    I heard some Boston stuff around the “culture” answer. I believe Boston 2011 informed Theo’s answer. There was a “culture” problem that Theo saw (or was part of) here in Boston at the end. Every fan knew it. On the last day of the home season the team was actually booed off the field. It was a shameful day for us. I’ve got my theories, but that is not for this board.

    Here I should say that culture is worth plenty, and it is good for Chicago that Theo knows it. Architecture is part culture/part math. The business operations (Crane) side CAN help baseball operations (Theo) by taking proper care of the “jewel” for the 21st century. That part worked at Fenway, too.

    Keep up the great work.

    • Wilbur

      Agree, this past summer went to Fenway for the first time in twenty years and loved what they’d done to enhance the park. It didn’t detract from the stadium and its intimacy between the fan the field, but got more people and more revenue into the equation.

      While both can be great, I’ve got a thing in my heart for inner city stadiums. Makes the emotional tie to the City closer.

  • Brad

    Is eating Soriano’s contract and giving him to Boston a plausible compensation idea? Maybe sprinkle on some low end prospects for us. It just feels like it has the potential to help both teams.

    • SP24

      Interesting idea, I like it.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Not impossible, but would require Boston wanting to use a roster spot on Soriano. I’m not sure that they do. Plus, a free Soriano still might be more than the Cubs should be giving up.

      • TWC

        Yeah, you can look at it as a “free” Soriano for Boston, or a $54m Theo for the Cubs.

    • Kyle

      I think the big problem is that even if the Cubs are paying Soriano’s contract, his salary would count against Boston’s Luxury Tax number, and they don’t want to go past that.

  • ty

    Thanks Brett for the summation as I could not hear it in Mesa. I had just blogged early this a.m. that let*s keep Marmol and Gosh knows I keep yapping about LaHair–then theo comes out heavy for both of them . Theo-you the man.

    • rcleven

      Theo will be up on any player in the cub system. Be kind of dumb to show his hand in any moves.Also doesn’t upset the apple cart with any players under contract.

  • Cliffy

    QT @ErikaKGibson: Both @PepeBeisol and @luirangel are hearing that #Cubs Carlos Zambrano was traded to the #Marlins. Could be just rumors…

    • DRock

      Really hope you are right, Cliffy!

    • Kansas Cubs Fan

      Yeah its probably just rumors.

      I don’t see how someone in VZ would know before all the writers and sources here would know.

      • rcleven

        It probably false but the Ozzie connection is everywhere. This trade will happen.

  • ty

    The reality of Zambrano! When you have driven 3 hours to Wrigley with your 3 kids and wife and you find out Z is pitching everybody is thrilled. When he goes 6 innings and hits a double and a homerun everybody is thrilled. When the opposing team finds out Z is pitching they are not so thrilled. When you play with Z and offer him lackadasical defense he is not so thrilled. If you are a coach or skipper and you offer him advice or leave him in for a humiliating 5 home run inning Z is not so thrilled. It*s up to you Z! Will the thrill be gone?i

    • NL_Cubs

      ” If you are a coach or skipper and you offer him advice or leave him in for a humiliating 5 home run inning Z is not so thrilled”

      It comes down to managing the player and holding him accountable for his actions. Z was a runaway freight train who was never disciplined/controlled properly.  He consistently casts blame on others, not himself. As ‘Z’ puts it, “we stinks”.

    • rcleven

      If I remember right CC got tagged for 4/5 home runs about the same time as Z. CC didn’t walk out on his team. Fool me once shame on me……….

      • Toosh

        Hopefully the Cubs don’t even let Zambrano report to Spring Training and he’s become someone else’s problem by then.

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  • Cubs10

    Hearing Theo talk again made me fall in love with the guy all over again…I randomly caught myself with a huge smile while reading the transcript and had this rush of “I still can’t believe he’s ours” feeling, even though there wasn’t anything new he said really…anyway, thanks Brett.

  • Steve

    Nice report. I was there. They only asked him the soft questions from the crowd. About 100 people in attendance. I wanted to take a picture with Theo afterwards, but he told me that he had to go into a sideroom with WGN sponsors and he would come back. After 10 minutes or so, he snuck out a backdoor. He left me & about a dozen others hanging. So much for his word.

    • JulioZuleta

      Apparently he had to rush to get the Zambrano deal done before someone talked some sense into the Marlins.

  • ty

    NL Cubs—that is the point. We had pitchers who refused coaching and veteran hitters who refused any help. theo has their name and number. But he dealt with that in Boston every year–only difference was that they won games anyhow.

    • Wilbur

      Excellent observation. You can’t change who people are, and some are asses.

      However, we all know some of those asses can really play baseball. GMs and managers have to be able to find/manage combinations of asses and heros that can make great things happen and that is not an exact science. A lot of luck goes into that. If Manny is Manny a little more (or the roids testers were better) a little earlier in his career the second WS title doesn’t come to Boston.

  • 2much2say

    My opinion of Theo is that he is a collector. Collect prospects, revenue, veterans, hi risk/reward types. There are only 8 spots to fill by position. You don’t have to be a genius just lucky. Lahair works out, great. Stewart shines defensively, wonderful. You keep Soriano and Zambrano and they have at or above average seasons, beautiful. But, if he is Unlucky the question will be Why? Why not Fielder? Why not E. Jackson? Why? I’ll tell you why Adam Dunn! 7 straight years 40 plus HR’s then FLOP. Money motivates when you don’t have it and satifies when you do. Get me 8 guys who play for the love of the game. There easy to find. Just watch the joy in how they play. Jeter is just one example, Reed is another.

  • rocky8263

    Steve what happened was the sound guys were smokin a blunt, Theo took two hits and forgot! He’s at Johnnies eating a combo and fries right now!

  • die hard

    Disillusioned by comment that eating a bad contract is healthy if walking away is included in this comment. Walking away as Cubs did with Silva should not be an option as doing so can only translate into higher ticket and concession prices. How can higher prices be healthy for the organization if not healthy for its fans?

  • Hcs

    Big Z to the fish, breaking on mlbtr… Interesting…

  • d.

    Big Z gone?! Wow!

  • rcleven

    Believe it or not Ozzie is just as crazy as Z. They will be a good match.

  • rcleven

    Who comes back in the deal?Chris Volstad? Matt Dominguez?Gaby Sanchez?

  • 2much2say

    I can Dempster to the Yankees, next.

  • Eric

    for anyone interested you can get the audio at wgnradio.com, click on cubs, and look at cubs corner with theo epstein, it will be near the top still. When I hear about these tv and radio things I always prefer seeing/hearing them. No knock on what you do Brett. It’s just nice to really sit back, and listen, know what I mean? BTW I’m listening now. ahhhhhh my Cubs fix.

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