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Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein opened up a bit today about his team’s atrocious start to the 2012 season, and the message, succinctly, was: chill out, we knew the team was going to struggle, and let’s think big picture.

Less succinctly:

“You never want to start out poorly,” Epstein told reporters today. “There are a lot of things we can improve upon, and we will. But you also don’t want to read too much into one homestand and one road trip. Certainly crystalize some areas we need to continue to strive to get better at.”

Epstein gave advice to folks who are getting antsy over the Cubs’ 3-10 start.

“You have to view every situation, every move, through the same lenses we discussed this winter,” Epstein said. “What’s going to help us maximize our competitiveness in 2012, and then bigger picture is how to we build a championship caliber organization? That’s going to be a longer term issue. When those two interests butt up against each other we will defer for the long term.”

This “two lenses” theme was offered throughout the offseason, and, indeed, Epstein and Jed Hoyer always noted that the longer-term goals would trump near-term ones. But it’s becoming more and more clear that, well, there really aren’t too many near-term goals anyway.

“There are things we can do, smaller moves that we can make and probably make over the course of this season to try and put together a club that can be more competitive,” Epstein said of the near-term. “We’re also looking for the best long-term interest of the organization. You have to keep the big picture in mind sometimes …. Baseball is best understood from bigger samples and from a distance sometimes.”

In other words, keep reminding yourself: this is a process, and the first step is a long one involving a painful re-jiggering of the roster and the farm system.

Of lesser import, Epstein also shared today via text to Jon Heyman* that he wouldn’t be heading to Fenway Park this weekend for a 100th anniversary celebration there. There were some festivities before the game for which all “uniformed” current and former Red Sox personnel were invited, but Epstein did not get invited to that one (the Red Sox explained the non-vitation by noting that they didn’t invite any other former executives). He got invited to the game tomorrow, but he did not receive his invitation (phone call) until today, apparently after CSNNE noticed Epstein wasn’t on the guest list and asked owner John Henry for comment.

The situation is being given a fair bit of attention, but I don’t see a whole lot there. No other executives were invited to the festivities, and I’d say it’s pretty understandable why the Red Sox would be reluctant to invite Epstein to the game (and why he would decline).

*Theo and Jon have a texting relationship? Very interesting. Cub-related rumors from Mr. Heyman will have to be regarded more closely.

  • Coal

    He had me until he started going all buzz-wordy. Enough with the “crystalize” and “lenses” nonsense. “Bigger samples?” “Viewed from a distance?” He could just say “we’re not playing very well right now, nobody’s happy about and we have to find a way as an organization to weather this and improve – while focusing on the overall plan to be a team that is playing the right way and is consistently in the hunt.”

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Shrug. I read that as exactly what he said.

      • Coal

        I thought he came off as a little smug in the interview I saw. I like the guy, and am willing to be patient, but I think he could benefit from a little humility and/or “down to earthness” here in the midwest. That will only help with the patience he’s looking for. I’m cool giving him some time, but I’m probably not going to pay to go to a lot of games if they keep up this pace.

  • Kyle

    Marketing guy: “I predict flat growth for four years, and then a sudden upsurge in profits.”

    Dilbert: “Do you have any basis for that prediction?”

    Marketing guy: “No, but that gives me enough time to be promoted and leave you guys to take the blame.”

    Epstein has a pretty cushy gig here. He gets to have no accountability whatsoever for the product on the field. Then, maybe when he’s done taking a few years off, he’ll be around to take the credit if he ever gets around to feeling like trying.

    • jr5

      That’s a reductionist view of things. His tenure will be measured by progress on the field. Rebuilding a professional sports team does take time, but not in the sense that nothing happens for years and then all of a sudden it’s there. You judge the progress based on influx of young, talented players coming up through the system. The Cubs had none of that for years. (Indeed, look how many home grown players are on the 25-man roster. I count 9. And there’s very little talent on the team, yet the payroll is over $100 million. You can’t flip that overnight.

      But you also do have to show progress. No one’s going to be sitting here in 2 years saying he’s doing a great job if the farm system is stagnant, the young players underachieve/fail to appear, and the major league team is losing. But all of those things could go well in 2014 and the Cubs might still not be winning the division. But it will still be a far better situation than the one he inherited.

    • jr5

      But, props for the Dilbert reference.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Funny. But I think you underestimate how much these kind of guys care about things like “success,” “legacy,” and “doing good by the fans.” If you think Theo doesn’t want to make the Hall of Fame – no matter what he’d admit to publicly – you’re crazy. They all secretly hope it happens for them.

      • Kyle

        I’m totally being a little unfair. Or a lot unfair. Of course Epstein cares.

        But a few thoughts just keep nagging at me. There are just too many scenarios that fit the available facts.

        “Epstein is a baseball genius and has put together an amazing front office. Once they’ve had a few years to do their thing, the success will start rolling in” is certainly one of those scenarios. But it’s way too easy to believe that because that’s the scenario we want to believe.

        The MacPhail 2.0 scenario also fits the available facts, and it bugs me. I’ve been gnawing over that one in my mind all day, and the more I think, the easier it gets to find parallels. Putting in “competitive bids” but coming up short on every major free agent was a classic, classic MacPhail-era move.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          My memory of the MacPhail era is quite different. Then, it seems like we always read afterwards that free agents (actually, their agents) tried to get the Cubs interested as the player liked the idea of joining the Cubs. However, the Cubs always went with cheap options (the prospects who never made it or the washed up vet.). I distinctly remember Glen Allen Hill saying that the Cubs didn’t win because they didn’t sign guys who were interested (without naming names, of course).

          • Kyle

            The one that always sticks out in my mind is Mike Hampton.

            • JK

              The one that sticks in my mind is Larry Walker. We needed a right fielder at the time and he would have been a main stay. Cubs did not cough up the scratch. What a bone headed move.

              • ferrets_bueller

                This. I wanted Walker, badly. One of my alltime favorite players.

              • DocPeterWimsey

                I seem to remember Walker being one of the guys who made it sound like the Cubs brass said “Larry Who?” to his agent….  Seriously, an OF of Sosa in left and Walker in right?  wow…..

                Ventura was another one: he wanted to stay in Chicago after the ChiSox basically said “nice knowing you” but the Cubs had found the “rejuvenated” Gary Gaetti, hero of the playoff game against the Giants, so nothing happened.

                Regarding Hampton, yes, he turned out to be a disaster, but everybody at that time thought that he would be great.  He might have kept up his pitching had he gone to Wrigley instead of Coors.  However, that really was a case where the Rockies came up with a huge bid to get him into a pitcher unfriendly park.  Also, they sold him on living in Denver: I remember him talking about how cool it was to have deer in his yard.  (He then moved out 6 months later…)  At any rate, the signing of Todd Hundley (another winner!) was delayed by MacPhail trying to land Hampton: Hundley said later that he was told point blank “we’d love to sign you, but we’re focusing entirely on Hampton just now.”

                Man, that was a great year for FA signings….

            • BT

              wait, are you arguing that not signing Mike Hampton was a BAD thing? The Hampton contract is universally held up as a complete disaster. It’s like ripping Hendry for not outbidding the Giants for Zito.

              • Kyle

                I didn’t rip anything. I simply pointed out a parallel.

                The “we made competitive bids, but everyone else went crazy” was just another thing that Epstein’s offseason had in common with Andy MacPhail.

        • JustSwain

          There is another scenario that fits the bill. This year we aren’t going to overpay for any free agent. We’ll take any free agent in an area of need that is willing to accept reasonable terms on long to mid term contracts, but we aren’t going to go after FAs that have inflated costs, either because of good years last year (Reyes) or because there are few of them on the market (Wilson). We would have spent if we could get value for money. Next year, the Cubs have less than 40 mil committed (Most of it to Soriano)…I’m not sure if that includes arb eligible players, but even if you take those into consideration, we’ll have much more money to spend next year. There will be good FAs available next year. Heres a fun game. Lets assume the Cubs are going to have a $100 million dollar payroll next year which probably won’t land them in the top ten in baseball. Go here http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2011/04/2013-mlb-free-agents.html. Assume the Cubs have 60 mil annually to spend. Figure out who you would sign, and then look at that lineup. Even if you try to overvalue players I bet you’ll come up with something decent. remember the only guys we are losing after this year are Byrd and Dempster, and low cost bench players.

        • hansman1982

          “Putting in “competitive bids” but coming up short on every major free agent was a classic, classic MacPhail-era move.”

          Did you really want Pujols at 10/$275 or Fielder for 10/$230? Ramirez at 3/$40? I know I keep coming back to these guys but Jesus, these are the only impact bats that would have made the 2012 Cubs competitive assuming you make the same pitching moves this off-season. Then what do you have…a core of Fielder and Ramirez making $40M a year for the next 3 years. Out of those two, you have one that is clearly in decline (and one of these years he is going to get off to his slow start and not recover) and either a player whose body suggests that he will be in decline in 2 years or one that will be 41 at the end of his contract and has showed signs of slowing down. All for a hope at an outside chance at playoff contention.

          The stat of the week is that the original 5 of the 2011 staff had a 58 and 54 record in the games they started. They also enjoyed a nice 4.375 (or an above average (4.2)) run support. The trio of Davis, Ortiz and Lopez were given 2.3 runs in their games. Even if you flip half of their losses to wins that is only an additional 7 wins or a 78 win ball club. You need to go wildly optimistic and convert 11 of their 14 losses (.785 winning percentage) to wins that puts you at .500. YOU STILL NEEDED AN ADDITIONAL 10 GAMES OUT OF ACQUIRED PLAYERS!!!!! That is equivalent to $45-50M on the free agent market.

          Seeing that it would have taken a 2007 style spending spree, losing draft picks from signing those Type A free agents and not being able to stock the team with younger, longer-term players how can you justify a go for it approach in 2012? Yes it would put you in a better position for 2013, but then you have another year of Ramirez, less flexibility to just dump Soriano, and still staring at 9 years of players who could just as easily drop off a cliff as post 7 WAR seasons again. If you don’t want to go that route and would rather have signed middle of the road talent that would still put you in the high 70′s, low 80′s for wins. Is that really any different than 70 wins and putting some young guys in to see what you have?

          • Kyle

            Fielder no. Pujols yes.

            Cubs fans are going to have to accept that it costs a lot of money to have good baseball players on your team. And it means having “bad” contracts toward the end.

            It’s okay, I promise. All the good teams do it.

            Also, I’m not entirely clear on why you need “flexibility” to dump Soriano. It’s a sunk cost. Either you want him on the roster or you don’t, but you are paying him the same in every scenario.

            • hansman1982

              I agree, but if you can see the train wreck coming best to avoid it. I guess I feel that in 2014, when the Cubs (regardless of this past offseason) had the next, best chance at being a true contender in the NL Central, it would be better to have that $25M to spend elsewhere.

              Dumping Soriano means you have to pay the remaining contract that year. If the funds aren’t there to do it because you decided going for 85 wins and hoping to get into the playoffs in 2012 was better than having $16M in 2014, then we will forever disagree.

              • Kyle

                Given the rather rapid inflation of contracts in the last year or so, and the proliferation of teams signing their players to long-term deals before they hit free agency, I think you may be disappointed by what you find available in 2014.

                And what little there is available will be fought over by the resurgent Dodgers and the regular big players, who will have unwound their luxury tax problems.

                • Matt3

                  speaking of inflation, they oughta extend Garza now before inflation goes up over summer

                • hansman1982

                  I have no delusions of granduer when it comes to what will be available in 2014. I certainly don’t expect 2 high impact bats, a “low mileage” good starting pitcher but there will be talent. Who knows, by 2014 the current CBA could be amended to reduce the restrictions on draft spending or their could be a salary cap or the DH could come to the NL. What I do know is I am GLAD the Cubs did not spend a crap ton of money this past offseason.

                  Right now we have a house with a foundation that is bowing in and crumbled in some spots. I certaintly don’t want to be buying a solid gold toilet when the foundation needs repaired.

                  Edit: Also, I think the same things were being said in 2007 when the Soriano contract was signed…that inflation was going to carry MLB contracts to the moon.

            • Steve

              Do the Cardinals have any trainwreck contracts ? Texas Rangers? Phiilies? How about the Rays…? Yet these are good, if not great teams no?

              • hansman1982

                Phillies have Ryan Howard but great points and these are all teams that have built through their farm system and added a piece or two in free agency (sans the Rays). Adding the free agents is something that the Pirates, Royals, Mariners forget to do.

                Even if there isn’t a bevy of top tier free agents in 2014 like there was this year there will still be a few guys that will be available and having payroll flexibility will be key. With signing Pujols and Fielder you hope to get 3 good years out of them, after that, their contracts will make Soriano’s look like a steal. That is NOT something a team that needs 20 wins to GET to contention does, that is something that a team does to go from great to OMFGWOWZ, like the Tigers. It is about windows of opportunity, yes the Cubs have the market size to have that window every year but the previous administration did not have the pieces in place to do that.

              • Kyle

                The Cardinals don’t have a so-called “bad” contract yet, but there’s a very good chance that the Molina and Holliday deals will cross that threshold before they end.

                The Rangers are severely overpaying for what MIcheal Young brings to the table.

                The Phillies are the patron saints of bad contracts, starting with that atrocious Ryan Howard contract that was a humongous mistake from Day 1.

                The Rays are, of course, the exception. But playing like a small-market team works for 1 team out of 20. Playing like a big market team works for most of them.

                • DocPeterWimsey

                  “But playing like a small-market team works for 1 team out of 20. Playing like a big market team works for most of them.”

                  And yet the exceptions always are held out as if they are models instead of what they are: deviations.

                • hansman1982

                  Really, the Rangers did not do too bad with the Young contract. Since signing it he has put up a .840 OPS and has averaged 14 homers and 29 doubles a year. Last year he had a .380 OBP and this year he isn’t off to too bad of a start hitting .400/.412./.560 – worth the AAV of $16M – probably not but he is being much more productive than a similarly priced Soriano.

                  Holliday will probably be a bad contract in the last couple of years but I disagree that Molina will be. His production will certainly tail off but $15M AAV for the new face of your franchise and one of the best catchers in the game is not bad at all and is light years better than another, recent, catcher extension. Also, the contract will expire at his age 34 season.

              • CastrotoBarneytoLaHair

                While the Cardinal’s don’t have a “bad” contract, they certainly tried, until Arte Moreno went completely nuts…

                • hansman1982

                  Someone like Pujols for the Cardinals is a different beast. The best player of a generation sticking with the team that drafted him? Hard to find a “bad” contract for that.

                  • CastrotoBarneytoLaHair

                    So you would advocate paying for past performance, just because they drafted him and was the best player of a generation? $200 mil for 10 yrs for a 32 yr old (at least), is a bad contract. The Cardinals are doing just fine without him, unfortunately…

                    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                      There’s an argument to be made that the net benefit of paying $X for a guy like Pujols goes far beyond his performance on the field, so “over” paying isn’t really so “over.” I’m sure he would have brought in some extra dollars one way or another to the Cards.

                      But, yeah, they’re fine without him, and I was a little bummed when they didn’t sign him to a ridiculous contract.

  • jr5

    Ah, just when I started to think the Red Sox couldn’t be more embarrassing, this happens. (And, then, Bobby Valentine will do something next week worse than this, I’m sure.)

  • http://tribeawakened.com Lonnie

    I knew it would be rough, but I sipped the kool aid. I thought they would play better baseball and that would produce more wins. So far it doesn’t appear the Cubs will do anything except a lot of losing.

  • Kevin

    After 103 years without winning the World Series I’m open to looking at the big picture and trust that Theo & Jed have our best interests in mind. Am I happy watching the Cubs this year so far? Absolutely Not but if their master plan plays itself out and the Cubs finally have a chance winning on a regular basis then I’ll wait as a loyal fan. Did anyone really think the Cubs were going to contend this year anyway? I suggest everyone sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. At least we can all have comfort knowing the Cubs finally have a long term plan.

  • Cheryl

    Its hard to keep your eye on the big picture when the team is in the process of so much change. Fans don’t like to see losses even when we know that this is part of the evaluation curve for the FO. What bothers me the most is the tendency to pigeonhole players It seems to be a part of what is taking place now. I, for one, never expected the cubs to get off to this bad a start. But neither did I expet them to win their division. What I hoped would happen was the team might be three or four games over 500 at the end of the baseball year. Right now it looks like that hope will have to wait until next year.

    • drew

      Care to give an example of your “pigeonhole” accusation? I have an idea of who youre talking about, i just hope im wrong.

      • Cheryl

        I think an example might be that certain players can’t hit lefties. Or, that a player was great in the spring, but he’s just a bench player, or another player doesn’t fit in the second spot in the lineup, he’s more an eighth place hitter. Some of its done by us fans. I didn’t like it when last year LaHair was dismissed because he was an older player. Maybe I felt that way because I’ve seen the older workers in real life passed over. Its easy to assume something about players and not give them a chance to prove you’re right or wrong. This is what I mean by “pigeonholing” people. After you’ve given them a chance, then make a judgment, not before.

        • Kyle

          Unfortunately, major league roster spots and playing time are in finite supply. You can’t give everyone a chance. So you have to choose who looks like the most worthwhile to give a chance to.

          • Cheryl

            But isn’t that what Spring Training and this “rebuild” mode is all about? I’m just saying don’t assume. Have a solid basis to make a decision. If you want to catagorize a player be sure its based on his performance.

            • drew

              Thats exactly whats done in most cases. Joe Mather has a professional track record of being terrible. Darwin Barney is not selective and doesnt get on base. History tells us a 29 yo AAA player isnt someone you can rely on.

              A bank shouldnt finance a house for you if you have 5 years of horrible credit simply because you paid your latest credit card bill on time. The same goes for MLB players.

              • Steve

                What an intelligent post Drew. You are the analogy whisperer!!!

              • Cheryl

                I agree and you’ve given some solid reasons for your analysis. That’s all I want to see. Sometimes I don’t see it and as I said, that bothers me.

  • Big Joe

    The guy wins two championships, and isn’t invited? The only GM to win it all in an 80+ year span? Classless.

    • Corporal Bringdown

      Classless = Red Sox ownership.

      It says a lot when Red Sox “heroes” of recent decades announce they won’t be there (Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens), weren’t invited or were invited too late to go (Epstein), or were invited but derided when they initially – and understandably – said they wouldn’t go (Francona, who later changed his mind; I’m guessing because of some kind of ESPN thing).

      I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an ownership/management group of a sports franchise ever have as many bad PR moves in a few months as the Red Sox have. And being a Cubs fan (who lives near Boston) and whose team has benefited from at least one of those PR moves, it’s somewhat funny.

  • Chris

    Seems like the Royals, Padres, mariners, etc. have been rebuilding for years. Too soon to rush to judgement but rebuilding seems to be another way of saying “don’t expect us to spend a lot of money”. Also anytime someone writes “do you really want Player A for 6 yrs 75 million.” I think Yes. Top notch players are going to command top dollar so those numbers are always going to be shocking. At the very least Yoenis should have been signed. We have not one scary bat in this lineup. Castro’s a good hitter but not scary.

  • Jeff L

    I for one expected this kind of start. Any team in the league can say we are building for the long term. Believe it or not the Yankees and the RedSox have better minor league system than the Cubs. So, they’re winning now and are looking into the future. Getting a few big free agents this offseason for a team that has the 2nd highest ticket prices in baseball was the right thing to do. If Cub fans say, “hey we trust Epstein and the “long term plans” that can honestly be as long as he wants by saying long term!!! It’s a crime what Epstein and Ricketts is putting the Cub nation through. It is incredibly embarrassing also. I think if we as Cub fans let Ricketts know our frustration it will benefit us in the “long term”… Suggestions, (if you have time picket by the Wrigley and don’t pay to go to games) Those are two big ones. Epstein and Ricketts know that with Wrigley Field you can have a poor product on the field and will still get a large attendance. Bottom line we have to prove to him thats not the case anymore!!!!

    • BeyondFukudome

      Not to worry. The way things are going, the stands will be very empty very soon.

  • Michael

    Sometimes you get what you pay for. Either Jed or Theo made the comment about not going after power because playing at Wrigley, anyone can knock one out when the wind blows out. They stocked this team with singles hitters, and that’s what they’re getting.

    Theo can put any spin on it he wants, but this isn’t just “a homestand and a roadtrip.” They will be this inept all year.

  • http://bleachernation.com lou brock lives

    Lou Boudreau, former Cub manager & radio broadcaster, used to theorize that you needed 2 everyday lineups to play at Wrigley. A power lineup for when the wind blew out & a speedy – manufacture runs – lineup for when the wind blew in. Theo is going to try create a roster which can do both. It will require athletic, gap power, line drive hitters who can also play good defense. We have one of those on the current roster – we need seven more. Castro is the only one who has a future on this team. Two more – Brett Jackson & Rizzo are in Iowa. That leaves five more we need to develop or acquire. Cardenas 2B & Wellington Castillo (C) are borderline possibilities. Sappelt & LaHair can provide punch off the bench as 4th & 5th outfielders. Barney is a utility middle infielder – but he is a guy you want on your team. The rest will have to be drafted or signed as free agents or traded for.

    • daveyrosello

      No pitchers. The Cubs have no pitchers. That is a huge problem. Garza is not the ace/long-term answer, I think he’s gone by July. And even if he WAS part of the rebuild, he’s one arm. You need 5, plus 2 or 3 decent arms in the pen.

      It will take a long time to rebuild this team because it’s hard to acquire that many pitchers. And none are arriving from the minors.

    • Steve

      Hurumph!!!!

  • Blitzenjohn

    Patience, grasshoppers.

     

  • die hard

    look on the bright side…We could have signed Pujols and be in debt forever for an over the hill going down fast used to be

    • Steve

      I second what Mr Johnson said!

    • Kyle

      I don’t think we should be glad that we avoided the fate of the 2-time defending league champions who are also in first place by 4.5 games already.

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