Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein addressed the media at length yesterday, the day after his club finished a 101-loss season, the first of his tenure. As usual, Theo was simultaneously candid and cagey, committing to nothing but sharing something. (Quotes can be found, among many other places, here, here, here, here, and here.)
This is dense stuff, but it’s all good. So keep up. Away we go with the highlights …
- On the future: “I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Don’t worry about 101 losses because we have a magic plan to win the World Series in 2013, and it’s going to happen — be there now.’ I think what we’re trying to communicate is there is a plan, there is a vision. It might be a little bit longer term than we all want it to be but we’re committed to it. There’s great reward at the end. You can’t guarantee results. But I’ll tell everybody, we won’t be satisfied unless we’re in the postseason year in and year out.” This is the reality, folks. It’s best to accept it, compartmentalize it as the front office has, and learn to be excited about the progress, rather than the result. I said it this time last year when these guys first took over, and it remains true today. We can be hopeful for a positive result in 2013, your heart may be safer hoping for more progress.
- More on the future and the time line for competitiveness: “I haven’t considered 2014 or any specific year. I just know that we have to continue to push the organization forward. I’ll say this: I’d be incredibly disappointed if our baseball operation, as a whole, is not much, much healthier by then and is in a position where we can see what contention is going to look like here. In other words, where our core of young players is getting to a point where it’s well defined. And I don’t know what that timetable is going to be and how quickly they’re going to develop, what moves we make, whether it’s then, whether it’s earlier than then, whether it’s later than then, but I would hope that we would have some real definition to our core of young players and then seeking out to really compliment it and winning some ballgames.” We call that tap dancing. There’s no sense in committing to a particular year at this point, but Epstein made sure to emphasize at every turn that he feels like the Cubs owe the fans an obligation to do things the right way (i.e., the total rebuild way), even if it means more pain in the near-term.
- On the whole of the 2012 season, and the positives in spite of things: “Having not been here previously, I think there was a real improvement in the culture around the team and the mood around the clubhouse. Despite being a losing club – and we can’t get away from that, we were a losing club – there was a real professionalism, a real spirit of unity, a real effort to play hard every day, to have each other’s back, to prepare. We had our lapses. We had plenty of bone-head plays on the bases and things that shouldn’t happen, but on a whole, it was more of a winning atmosphere than you typically see around losing clubs. That’s something we can build on, that’s something we’re going to expect, that’s going to be the standard, that we can continue to build on.”
- On Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters: “We’re going to build the team as if [they are] going back to AAA. But we’d be very happy for them to knock the door down for us and make the adjustments.” In other words, they’ll be starting out at AAA next year.
- On Brett Jackson’s call-up, and his struggles: “He was brought up for very specific reasons …. we sat around in Dale’s office for a long time and said, ‘You know this guy’s swing is not ready for this level,’ but we felt like there were things we could teach him up here.” So, his struggles probably weren’t a surprise to the Cubs, and Sveum’s comments that Jackson needs to revamp his swing this Winter is probably something the entire organization is behind. Heck, it’s possible that those struggles were exactly what the Cubs feel like Jackson needed in order to be fully motivated to change what he needs to change.
- On free agents’ desire to come play for the Cubs (despite the fact that this front office may be just as likely to spin them off as keep them): “I’ve also heard that players want to be part of the solution here, and want to be part of the club that ultimately wins a World Series here. We have an opportunity as well. With a certain tier free agent, we can sell opportunity. I think Paul Maholm would tell people he’s really glad he signed here …. I think he feels good about his Cubs experience, and would come back here in a second if he got the opportunity.” Talk about taking an issue on head-first. Theo anticipates the questions he’ll face – either from fans, reporters, or prospective free agents – when it comes to signing guys that have the look of a future trade asset (as was clearly the case with Maholm).
- On the reduced value of the dollars you spend on free agents: “The dollars you spend in Major League free agency provide the lowest return on investment of any dollars we spend in baseball operations.” Totally correct and totally fair. But let’s continue to keep in mind: only so many dollars can be spent on the draft and in international free agency anymore. Those dollars have to be spent somewhere, and ML free agency is going to have to be a big part of the picture.
- On Alfonso Soriano’s season and value: “Coming in here, I actually had a little trepidation of how we’d handle him and the contract and if his skills declined, how we’d handle playing time. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t something I was looking forward to. Those concerns proved to be completely baseless. What a pleasant surprise he turned out to be …. If teams pursue him in a trade, we’ll consider it. If we trade him, we’re losing something, so we have to get something back in return to justify that.” Two parts truth, one part gamesmanship? I think Theo is right, though. Soriano proved this year that he can still be a productive player, even on a playoff-caliber team. He’s not worth $18 million per year, but he’s certainly worth more than the $1 or $2 million teams were willing to give up before the season. Theo made sure to emphasize how valuable Soriano has been in the clubhouse, as well.
- On Pat Listach’s dismissal: “I think Pat is a really good coach and will have a lot of success elsewhere. When a new manager comes in, sometimes he has a certain way he likes these jobs done, and occasionally there can be differences in the approach to the job. It doesn’t mean he’s doing a bad job, it’s just quite not the way the manager conceives it. I think it was one of those situations where it was subtle stylistic differences and nothing major substantive.” Sounds about right.