Today, Waddle and Silvy had Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein on their show for a quick chat. Here are his thoughts, paraphrased as best I could (the “I’s” and “me’s” are Theo), together with some reactions from me:
- How would you describe your 2012 year in review? A disappointment, since we didn’t make the playoffs. A lot of positives, including identifying a number of core pieces – Castro, Rizzo, Samardzija, and several prospects like Baez, Soler, Almora, and “a number of arms.” That’s the group I think fans can envision being a part of the team for a long time, aided by trades and free agency. (No mention of Darwin Barney, for whatever that’s worth.)
- Does it take a year to adjust to being a Cub/being at Wrigley/being in Chicago? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that every baseball culture is unique, and there’s a lot more that you don’t know than you do know when you join an organization. Only so much of the truth behind the scenes makes it out there for public consumption. That said, it was a very smooth process, and the whole city has been so welcoming. “The midwestern sensibility is very welcoming, very warm.” Part of the reason I took the job is that I hoped there would be some magic here – more than the usual connection between fans and ball club. I hoped for personal investment in both directions, and that’s something we had in Boston, and I was hoping to find a different flavor of that here. And I have.
- Will the organization be rebuilt more quickly than Wrigley Field? The baseball plan and the business plan sync up in terms of purpose and timing. If you daydream about the future, you can envision the young nucleus playing in a sold out, newly-renovated Wrigley Field. The additional revenues from the renovation will help with supplementing the team through free agency, so hopefully it all syncs up.
- How important is it from baseball operations perspective to have a rebuilt Wrigley? It’s really essential. I wouldn’t say “rebuilt,” I’d say refurbished or restored. Whatever you add has to fit; has to look like it’s been there 100 years. From a revenue standpoint, it’s really essential. Fenway was in a decrepit state, and the changes made fixed the park, but also get more dollars that could be allocated to team payroll. That really helped. And it’s win-win-win. It’s great for the ballpark, for the fans, and for the surrounding area.
- Do you sense patience among Cubs fans? I’ve been very impressed by the patience – it’s not across the board, but it’s most of the fans. We’re not asking fans to wait another year. We’re asking them to get on board now for a very enjoyable ride, because it’s a building process. It’s going to be more meaningful for them if we do things in such a way that fans can follow the organization establish itself from the ground up, and get competitive every year, and then eventually win a World Series.
- Sigh, the same old Dempster/Marmol/Sanchez leaking early question … Each is explainable on unique circumstances, and it has nothing to do with the Cubs. Every other move we’ve made has come completely out of the dark. “We’ve surprised the media by announcing things via press releases, which almost never happens in a major market.” (Theo’s spot on about that one, and I can tell he’s getting tired of this question.)
- Who moves – Javier Baez or Starlin Castro? We’ll gladly take that problem. Give me nine shortstops. “Gary Sheffield came up as a shortstop, and then moved to third, then the outfield.” (Interesting choice of player, Theo.) Players’ bodies change as they age and enter their prime, and there’s often a reason why they move off the middle of the infield. These things often sort themselves out. No need in the foreseeable future to move Castro off of short, and Baez will continue to develop as a shortstop. If he’s ready to make his big league debut, it’s our job to make him a versatile player who can make a contribution on a team that already has a shortstop.
- What excites you about the farm system? The potential for impact. Depth is nice and important – I’d like more on the pitching side – but the way the farm system makes its most profound impact on the big league club is with impact, high ceiling talent. We’re looking for potential All-Stars. I see three or four guys with a legitimate chance to be impact players.
- Will Carlos Marmol be ready to go for Spring Training? We take any kind of legal accusation seriously, but every bit of information we’ve received from the DR says he’ll be cleared, and this will all be behind him by Spring Training. We support him, and we don’t expect any problems.
- Sammy Sosa going to have any involvement with the team? Tom Ricketts put it well when he said it’s complicated, but it’s something there will probably be more discussion about in the coming years. He made a tremendous impact on the franchise and the fans, but he also made things complicated.
- Would Colin Kaepernick have made a good baseball player? That arm is certainly a good starting point. You could daydream about that arm strength. But he wasn’t a high profile guy on the baseball side – Tim Wilken does a great job of identifying good athletes who haven’t shown up much on the baseball radar yet.