Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein was on the radio today with Bruce Levine and Fred Huebner, and spoke about a range of topics, none of which were out-of-the-park shocking. But, any time Theo speaks, it’s interesting stuff.
Among the highlights (all quotes are paraphrased):
- Theo talked up the coaching staff, saying they’re running a great camp. There is a lot of attention to detail, a lot of emphasis on fundamental play, and it is all being well-received by the players. “It’s the time of year for manager and staff to put their imprint on a team.”
- The bunt tournament accomplishes a lot of things, both because it’s fundamentally important, but it also because it is a big team-building exercise. On Sveum’s success, Theo joked that it was “probably not a great thing if Sveum wins the bunt tournament,” instead suggesting that Sveum should “maybe win a round or two, then gracefully bow out.” If Sveum loses in the Sweet Sixteen, we’ll always wonder if he took a dive.
- Theo hasn’t been paying attention to peoples’ reaction to Soriano leading off yesterday, saying that it’s important to note the date. “I wouldn’t put a lot into it, and lineups are overblown as it is.” Theo says it’s hard to screw up a lineup, and also hard to get an advantage. There are a few basic principles of lineup construction, and Dale understands them. I took that to mean that, as I guessed, we won’t actually be seeing Soriano in the leadoff spot, despite how terrifyingly real Sveum and Soriano made the idea sound.
- On pitching depth, Theo noted that it’s easier to say you have depth on March 3 than August 3. The season has a way of wearing your pitching down. The Cubs needed to acquire controllable depth to help in 2012, but also for the future because there are “not a lot of starting pitching on the way in the upper minors.”
- The question with Samardzija is whether he’s pitching in such a way that the Cubs believe he can make a meaningful impact as a starter in 2012. “If he’s pitching like a quality starter, we get him in the rotation.” A quality starter is more valuable than an excellent closer, says Theo, and certainly more valuable than any middle reliever or setup man. Jeff wasn’t mentally, physically, or fundamentally able to be a starter a couple years ago. He didn’t have third and fourth pitches he could really use, and couldn’t get guys out the third or fourth time through the lineup. Jeff came a long way last year, and we’re going to take a long look at him as a starter.
- Building toward the future is going well, but there’s a lot of work to do. The biggest obstacle is that there are few opportunities to acquire young players. The new CBA limits how aggressive you can be in the Draft, “but it’s still the most important day of the year.” International signings are a big part of the equation, too, but they have also been limited by the CBA. Trades are a part of building up young talent, as well as the rare free agent who’s 27. For now, “the prime way we’re doing it is taking fresh look at how we scout and how we develop players. You can’t just buy young players anymore.”
- There are different ways to go on Matt Garza, terms of trade or extension, but Theo says it’ll all be confidential and private – nothing good comes from talking about it.
- Hitting principles should be taught throughout the minor leagues, but there are nuances that apply differently at the big league level, including some of the preparation. The key to successful hitting is controlling the strike zone, and getting a good pitch to hit. “Selectively aggressive – that’s the foundation of our hitting program throughout the system.”
- The biggest pleasant surprise upon coming to the Cubs’ organization for Theo was the upcoming Dominican Republic facility, and the organizational structure already in place in the DR. “We are way ahead of the game with how organized we are down there from a player development standpoint.”