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.”
  • ferrets_bueller

    Funny, I was thinking something similar to the Sveum thing this morning- what kind of a reflection ont he team’s fundamental talents is it, if they all lose to their manager?

    On the other hand, I really hope he doesnt bow out…and he doesn’t really strike me as a guy who would, thankfully.

  • hansman1982

    Does anyone know if teams can lose multiple picks if they blow the cap on the draft? If you think you are going to be drafting in the bottom third of the first round and there are 2-3 guys that you like who could make up some of that lost draft pick, why not blow the bank if you don’t mind spending the extra money?

    • Luke

      The worst penalty (from a draft pick standpoint) is loss of your next two first round picks (one each over the next two years).

      But competitive balance lottery picks are trade-able.

      So let’s take a hypothetical team, say the Cubs, in a hypothetical year, say 2013.  Suppose the Cubs have a chance to sign three amazingly good players, but they’ll have to blow their draft slot budget by 40% to do it.  That costs them two first round picks.

      On the other hand, they know that in 2014 and 2015 they shouldn’t be drafting any higher than 21st anyway, and they are nearly certain they can trade for one of the competitive balance lottery picks, which would give them a pick in the late 30s, in both of those years.  Blow the budget, or play it safe?

      If the value of the players you can sign in 2013 is greater than what you can expect to get in 2014 and 2015 plus what you have to give up to acquire a competitive balance pick in a trade, then you blow the budget.

      In other words, the system could (not will, but could) allow high budget teams who tend to pick in the bottom of the draft to blow their budgets while still minimizing their losses from the penalties, while teams who are rebuilding and could be most helped by blowing their budgets are penalized more harshly for doing so.  Again, that’s a hypothetical.  But not an impossible one.


  • Gordon

    Lots of continued mentions of a Garza extension. What about a Castro extension? Why not lock him up for a long team friendly deal? If he played for the Rays they’d probably already have him inked…

    • Pat

      A this point it would be more prudent to wait and see if he can stick at short before committing to a long term deal. If he has to move positions it will have a great effect on his value (unless it’s a move to CF), and would more than likely offset any discount received in exchange for the long term deal. Essentially it would be a ton of risk for very little return.

  • DocWimsey
    • ferrets_bueller

      I love the Onion.

  • al

    I’m rooting for Sveum to win the tourney. It will show the players he knows what he is talking about and it will be something that the players will not forget.

  • art

    seems not to long ago, i recall Dale saying DeJesus would be his lead-off man.

  • Tarheel Cub

    If we are going to lead-off with Soriano, let’s just leave Jeff in middle relief. Seriously, I think the new regime will afford many opportunities to up and comers. Smardz deserves a chance even if he doesn’t put up lights out numbers in spring training. He has potential to be a number 2 or 3 starter. It is a no-brainer choice. Of course, these are the cubs… (who I love).

  • die hard

    Speaking of starters, saw Darvish throw on tv in spring training intrasquad game. Hes formidable. Dont know if worth what price paid to get him. But would pay to see him pitch which is name of the game, filling the stands to pay his salary.

  • ty

    Holy Cow! Campy on the bases worth the price of admission. Oops-forgot it was free today.

  • DocWimsey

    “I wouldn’t put a lot into it, and lineups are overblown as it is.”  I’m surprised that more people have not commented on this!  It certainly is a big philosophical difference between the “old-school” and “new-school” crowd: both the importance of the lineup and, to the extent that it is important, what the important traits are.

    • EvenBetterNews

      Man, sometimes you really overthink things.

  • goatbusters

    This is completely off subject, but I have to share. My wife (who is a cardinal fan, along with all of her immediate family) and I recently had a sonogram that told us the sex of our child, IT’S A BOY! Second, we were at a loss for what to name him and I jokingly, but not really, said lets name him dawson and she went for it! This was decided at the dinner table at her parents house with all cardinal fans present, minus myself of course. You should have seen the looks I got when I said I would use hawk for a nickname, lol.

    • Brett

      Awesome! Congrats, and it sounds like you’ve already taken the first big step in raising that boy right.

    • Stinky Pete

      My boy is due any day now. So in October, when I was incessantly yapping about “Theo this” and “Theo that” my wife (Who couldn’t care less about the esteemed Theo Epstein) decided she like the name Theo. We’ll see what we actually land on. I look forward to telling that story on MLB network when the boy is drafted…
      As an aside, we did decide if the child was a girl, we would go with Eleanor Wrigley.

      • Katie

        That is awesome SP! Congrats to your wife and you! Eleanor Wrigley is nice too, especially if you’re a Cubs AND Beatles fan, which I can only assume that you are.

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