Dave Kaplan had a sit-down with Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein this week, and, as usual, Theo said some impressive things. It’s hard not to feel comforted about the progress of the organization – well, if you weren’t plenty comfortable already.
Among Theo’s comments to Kaplan and my thoughts …
- On becoming a buyer in July if the Cubs are surprisingly “in it”: “I think the key is what kind of start we get off to. If you look up in July and we’re in it, we’re gonna go for it. We talked about it before – every chance to make the playoffs is sacred.” I think that, if the Cubs are floating around .500 in July, just a few games out of a Wild Card spot, they might not sell off, but I’m not convinced they’ll go on a buying binge at the expense of the long-term vision. And, even a touch below .500, I think they sell again. Not that I’m complaining.
- On becoming a seller in July if the Cubs are not so surprisingly out of it: “If we look up in July and take a cold assessment of our club and we’re not in it, then we have to address our future. And then it could get ugly for the last couple months the way it did last year. A lot depends on that fork in the road, so nothing would surprise me either way.” I can’t tell you how much I love that answer. Of course I don’t *want* that to happen. But I also don’t want the Cubs to tread water in 2013 at the expense of 2014 and beyond, simply because they’re afraid of finishing with a bad record again. It is, however, a delicate balance: if the record sinks too much, the difficulty in attracting free agents next year increases beyond what it was this past offseason. Just something to remember.
- On payroll level: “I don’t have much concern about where the payroll was in the past. My concern is building up the organization so we get healthier and healthier and we have that core of talent so then we can justify when it’s the right time to put the hammer down. Getting the payroll to a level where we can keep all the players that we develop, we can add from the outside and we can look down on paper and have a team that should win 90-plus games every single year. With the business plan that we have to complement our baseball plan and the timing the way that those two plans are synced up, I don’t think we’ll have a problem getting where we want to go.” Keeping all the players you develop plus adding outside help when the team is good = high payroll. In other words, Theo seems to be expecting that the Cubs will have a high payroll in the future as a byproduct of their plan for having the best possible team, not as the method for having the best possible team. That’s fair.
- On achieving, and sustaining, success: “You have to always be thinking one step ahead and have all your bases covered and create organizational redundancy to withstand the eventual adversity that you face through injuries and through unpredictable performance. We’ll know when we get there and you should too because you should then be complaining that we only look like a 90-win team on paper and not a 95-win team. That’s how we are going to get there. If you do it by chasing that one player who’s going to take you to the promised land or by trying to chase that one season that’s going to make up for a decade of failure, that’s a fool’s errand.” That’s the money quote. How nice would it be to be debating, year-in-year-out, whether this roster looks like a 95-win team or a 90-win team?
- On the Cubs’ farm system being consistently ranked highly, including Keith Law placing them fifth: “I think five is a little bullish. We definitely made progress and are probably in the top third of baseball now, so somewhere in the Top 10. We made significant progress from last year and there were individual prospects like Javy Baez who took big steps forward. We added a deep draft class – which helps – and the Boise team was full of prospects at just about every position. I think over a third of the top prospects in that league all belonged to the Boise club.” Another great draft (and maybe a trade or two), and the Cubs will be solidly in the top five, assuming normal development from the current prospects.
- On the Draft: “It’d be nice if there was an obvious, can’t-miss college arm who could impact our big-league team in the next couple of years, but if you try to force it, that’s how you end up regretting your pick for years to come. History does show that there is a better probability for impact up high in the draft with position players, but if the right arm is there, we’ll take him. You cannot dictate the draft. You have to go through the process and see what’s there. At the end of the draft, we will have attacked pitching with volume and you can get pitching all over the draft. If you want elite position players, you have to be willing to pop that guy up top.” So, it sounds like the Cubs are currently thinking college pitcher or elite positional guy, with a slight preference for the latter. But, I mean, as I always say: there’s an entire amateur season to be played still. Lots can change.
There’s quite a bit more in Kap’s piece, as well as a video. Check it out if you just can’t get enough Theo.