Theo Epstein Speaks: Adding Players at the Deadline, Trading Players at the Deadline, Draft, Payroll, More

Welcome to the Cubs TheoDave 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.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

102 responses to “Theo Epstein Speaks: Adding Players at the Deadline, Trading Players at the Deadline, Draft, Payroll, More”

  1. Crazyhorse

    Big kiss to the Unicorn.

  2. Harry

    they’d be lucky to go 12-16 in april

    1. Crazyhorse

      This year i think the Cubs have an outside chance to be respectable in losing. They did go and get a better group of under performing players that will give the Die Hard hearts hope.
      The Cubs did sign better Rolodex of bandaide pitchers . when one throws crap against the wall something is bound to stick.. Yes i know that was mean and alittle harsh but it is reality.

      1. Harry

        They play the reds and cardinals a lot and both of those teams assume they’ll take 2 of 3 games per series. Last season we had a easy schedule compared to this seasons

        1. Seth

          If remember didn’t the Cubs have a winning record against the Cards last year? or something close to it.

          1. Seth

            Ok, I just looked it up, they were 7-10. Still respectable for that record they had last year.

            1. TNN2

              The record may have been 7-10 but we had 4 walk off wins against them. Those felt really good.

  3. Harry

    At best this team wins 70 games. Schedule looks tough and August is going to destroy them no matter where they’re at.

  4. The Dude Abides

    Theo starting to plant those seeds about a possible change in direction on philosophy hedging his bet in case Corporate/fan interest continue to take a hit. Easier to get stadium changes and marketing dollars win you are relevant.

    1. Cubbie Blues

      Where exactly did you get the change of direction from?

      “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.”

      This is what the FO has been saying the whole time.

      1. hansman1982

        No, no, no…

        Whaqt they have been saying is that they see Wrigley as their personal vacation home and have abosolutely zero interest in winning because they want to play MLB: The Show and ONLY play with homegrown players.

        This way, in 4 years they can run a farewell ad like the former Governor of Iowa:

        “Well, I tried really hard, the results weren’t there but I sure did try.”

        1. Cubbie Blues

          Would they still get a participatory trophy?

          By the way, is MLB: The Show better than Baseball Simulator 1.000?

          1. hansman1982

            well ya, and it’s sweeter than the WS Trophy…

            I never played Baseball Simulator…I think my first taste of a baseball game was MLB 98:

            MLB_%2798_Coverart.png

            I made it into June on trying to play every game of a season.

            1. Cubbie Blues

              BB Sim 1000 was the first game you could modify the stats to make a team the is exactly like your favorite. I played out a full season like that against a neighbor of mine who was a pirates fan. You could also make a player fast enough to bunt for an inside-the-park HR (not that I would ever do that (guess that was the first sign that Campana was on his way)).

          2. Ben Peoria Cub's Fan

            The Indiana State Sycamores play in the MVC which was the 8th highest ranked conference in baseball last year. Ahead of 24 division 1 conferences including The Big 10 and The Big East. There is a drop off from PAC 10 and SEC but that is with all conferences. Good future major leaguers are drafted out of small conferences all the time.

            1. Not Cubbie Blues

              Would they still get a participatory trophy?

  5. Die hard

    Theo is more adept than Hendry in talking for a long time without saying anything-Hendry could be counted on dropping significant hints- guess that’s one reason Ricketts likes Theo

  6. Matt

    Re: the draft

    FWIW, I’m around the Terre Haute area. Local media has been reporting lots of Cub scouts here to watch Sean Manaea.

    1. Jeff

      I’ve watched the video of him on MLB, he throws across his body, I would be tremendously worried about his mechanics and the reliability of repeating his mechanics. As well as future risk of injury. To me it’s Mark Appel if he isn’t drafted first or Austin Meadows.

      1. Marc N.

        I’m in the same boat. Appel or Meadows right now. I almost hope Jeremy Martinez or Reese McGuire explode this year, but mostly I hope Appel explodes. I think Appel is an excellent prospect if the organization can get him to fix a couple of things in his delivery.

        The thing about Manaea to me is that I don’t trust his level of competition (he played some school called IFPW this past weekend) and there’s comments about his ability to maintain fastball velocity.

        1. cjdubbya

          Hey man, don’t sleep on the Dons! IPFW (Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne) is my alma mater and I saw they beat Manaea.

          1. Marc N.

            Lol I will never sleep on them again.

        2. Patrick G

          You don’t trust his level of competition? He only pitched to a 5-1 record, 1.21 ERA, 85 K’s, 7 BB, 21 H, all in 51.2 innings. And that was for the Cape Cod League, for top college players preparing for professional ball. I like Manaea and think he has more potential than the other two.

        3. JB88

          Personally, if they go position player, I like Frazier better than Meadows, but wouldn’t argue too hard. Still hoping that Stanek or Manea emerge. I wouldn’t pick Appel even if he appears to be the second coming. His decision to spurn the Pirates is a huge redflag for me.

    2. Luke

      Not much of a surprise. Manea is arguably the best college pitcher on the draft boards right now. That doesn’t mean the Cubs will take him if he there at No 2, but they should definitely be looking hard at him.

      1. Patrick G

        I like him a lot and think he has more potential than Appel or Stanek, but what the hell do I know

        1. Marc N.

          I think if he can maintain his velocity, sharpen up his breaking ball or change up, and absolutely dominate this year he’ll be my favorite. I also believe that Appel’s ceiling is that of a #1 starter and workhorse if he can get it all together himself, and I like his track record with velocity, durability, and the two potentially plus off speeds.

  7. Seth

    I have a feeling we’ll know how this team is gonna fair after the first month. That April schedule has a fair share of really good teams and bad teams.

  8. MJ

    Amen & Hallelujah, Reverend Theo.

    A “fools errand” is say…dumping a bunch of kids for Matt Garza when your team is on the decline. Or signing a past-his-prime free agent and living to regret it seven years later.

    He’s going to leave the farm system alone, add on to it as much as possible, and watch it grow. If it produces for the big club like we all hope it does, then you can sign your big ticket free agent(s) to supplement. If you find yourself on the uptick, and there’s a trade to be made to give you a push, then go get all the Matt Garzas you want.

    It might hurt for a while, but this has got to be done The Shawshank Way. Crawling through a river of s—, in order to come out clean on the other side.

    1. Edwin

      You mean free agents like John Lackey and Carl Crawford?

      1. MJ

        You mean getting marching orders from a meddling owner like Larry Lucchino?

        1. Edwin

          Wait, that’s right. All of the bad FA signings that Theo made were only because of Lucchino. Theo had nothing to do with those.

          1. MJ

            Do a little homework. The Red Sox wanted some “sexy” players, Theo obliged. Left to his own devices, Theo would still be GM at Fenway, Carl Crawford wouldn’t have worn a Red Sox uniform and Anthony Rizzo would be would their opening day first baseman this year.

            1. hansman1982

              eh, I think getting Gonzalez was all Theo.

              1. MJ

                I would disagree. But, again, following the orders of his boss. Maybe he didn’t feel terrible about who his trading partner was, because you do know who was Padres GM at the time, right?

            2. DB Kyle

              There’s two sides to every story. You seem to have bought the side that both comes from Epstein and conveniently makes Epstein look as good as possible

              1. MJ

                Something made Epstein want to leave abruptly. His contract wasn’t up, yet he was willing to go. Don’t you think that something severe has to happen in order to make a person leave, what he once called, his “dream job”?

                1. DB Kyle

                  No. Especially considering it wasn’t the first time he quit abruptly. Seems to just be something he does.

                  1. DarthHater

                    8493408184_4ce507d767_m.jpg

                    1. hansman1982

                      The Campana one was much better.

                    2. DarthHater

                      8493434926_77b6e28f32_m.jpg

                    3. DB Kyle

                      Well, I’d like to get thousands of control Epstein careers for a nice broad statistical population, but I fear that I’ve not yet been granted the godlike powers I so richly deserve.

                  2. frank

                    DB Kyle–having had to do it myself, I can tell you that it has to be something pretty big to make someone leave a dream job. I can’t speak to Theo’s situation specifically, but it is very difficult to leave what you thought was a dream job.

                  3. DarthHater

                    “Well, I’d like to get thousands of control Epstein careers for a nice broad statistical population, but I fear that I’ve not yet been granted the godlike powers I so richly deserve.”

                    Or, lacking a factual basis for saying anything meaningful on the subject, you could just STFU about it.

                    1. Hansman1982

                      Meh, it’s best to just not engage him about Epstein.

            3. Edwin

              Does that mean Jim Hendry gets a pass for the Soriano deal since the Tribune company wanted him to spend more at the time to drive up the Cubs value?

              Also, how does that explain John Lackey?

              Look, I think Theo is a great GM, and I’m happy he’s the Cubs president. But that doesn’t mean that he has some perfect plan, or that he’ll never make a bad move. I think Theo himself even defines success as a GM as being right only half the time.

              1. Cubbie Blues

                I would hope that would be over half of the time. Otherwise, we might as well get a coin out.

              2. MJ

                The Garza deal was made after the Rickettes took over. There are no guarantees, and every GM will make mistakes. But, we do know what doesn’t work.

                Free to speculate how David Ortiz became “Big Papi”, but he originally he was signed to Boston, for 1 year $1.5 million. Sound familiar? Bill Mueller, Keith Foulke….guys who mattered on the ’04 Red Sox.

                The ’07 team has more of his fingerprints on it. Dustin Pedroia & Jacoby Ellsbury are his draft picks.

                1. DB Kyle

                  The Garza trade was a good one. I don’t see the problem.

                2. DocPeterWimsey

                  Papi was big before he got to the Sox! Remember, the Twins released him because he hit doubles and HR into the left-centerfield gap or drew walks with men on 2nd and nobody out, instead of meekly grounding out to 2nd. tsk, tsk, tsk…..

                  1. Not Cubbie Blues

                    To be fair, Ortiz didn’t really breakout until his first year with the Sox in ’03 when he posted a 3.2 WAR. ’02 was his best year with the Twins and only put up a 1.1 WAR after being in the Bigs for 6 years.

                3. Edwin

                  Pedroia was worth 3.7 WAR in 2007. Jacoby was worth 1.3.

                  It’s not that Theo wasn’t a great GM, he was (and is). But what made him great wasn’t just building through the draft, it was trading for players like Josh Beckett and Mike Lowel, signing players like Coco Crisp, J.D. Drew, Curt Schilling, Dice-K.

                  1. hansman1982

                    He traded for Curt Schilling (and I think Crisp).

                    1. Edwin

                      My bad.

                  2. MJ

                    Scroll up. That’s what I was saying. Knowing when to make moves when they make sense. Some GMs are better than others when it comes to that. Not all moves are going to work, but they can always make sense at the time. With Epstein, there is a long term vision. And when the time is right, he will make moves, as he says.

                    Not sure what point you are trying to make by pointing out Pedroia & Ellbsbury’s WAR in ’07. Pedroia was good enough to be ROY and MVP the next year & Ellsbury gave them a nice mid-season boost when he was called up and was an MVP candidate later. I’ll take that type of drafting history.

                    1. Edwin

                      Meh. I was just bored, thought I’d try and stir up some shit on a slow afternoon.

                      No, but seriously, my point is that Theo will probably sign some long term deals, and some of them will probably end up being bad deals. I don’t think his way for building a team is that much different than Jim Hendry, Theo is just better at it.

                      Also, while Theo did a good job with his farm system in Boston, it seemed like most of his talent was aquired through free agency and smart trades. If Theo builds the Cubs like he did boston, I’d say the Cubs are more likely to trade guys like Almora and Baez for established MLB talent, and then sign that talent long term, than wait for the farm system.

              3. DocPeterWimsey

                The Lackey signing (in tandem with signing Cameron and shifting Elsbury to LF) was considered a good move at the time. The only FA signing that winter which people thought to be smarter was the signing of Chone Figgins!

                Actually, that winter have a lot of busted FA signings. Remember, what put this whole Lackey wheel into motion was Theo deciding that it was not worth it to retain Jason Bay. Theo decided to put the money into run-differential by getting Lackey to supplant the Sox’s 5th starter, and to get a decent slugging, plus fielding CFer in Cameron.

                1. Edwin

                  I’m fine with the Lackey signing, I’m just pointing out that Theo has no problem spending big money in FA, and that sometimes those contracts go bad. It happened in Boston, and it’ll probably happen with the Cubs eventually too. And I’m fine with that.

              4. frank

                Didn’t John McDonough actually sign Soriano?

                1. rizzastro

                  I might be mistaken and not sure where I heard it but, i thought Hendry had a deal in place with sori for five years and zell wanted it to be eight to drive up the price of the cubs

                  1. MichiganGoat

                    Yeah that’s the agreed upon “rumor,” although I’m not sure about the years, but Zell did want to inflate the price the Cubs and pushed Soriano’s contract. I believe Hendry made this public after he was fired.

                    1. Die hard

                      If Royko were alive Zell would not have gotten away with that heist- Today’s media are lap dogs

      2. Hee Seop Chode

        More like winning 2 World Series Titles.

        1. Edwin

          But did they win those championships with teams built from homegrown players that Theo developed, or did they win with teams built through smart trades and FA signings?

          1. cubfanincardinalland

            Both.

          2. Cubbie Blues

            Yes.

  9. Marc N.

    I like the idea of growing a roster worthy of a big money payroll like the Yankees, Philly, Dodgers, Boston, and so many others have done. All those teams set up with players from the farm system who gave premium production at farm system prices, and from there the payroll was allowed to explode with extensions and supplementary signings.

  10. Theo Epstein

    Brett, I really appreciate how you dedicate an entire post to whenever I have an interview. It means a lot, glad to know someone’s actually listening.

    1. Hee Seop Chode

      Ok, I’ll bite. Is this real?

  11. Adventurecizin' Justin

    I like his honesty regarding Law’s ranking…“I think five is a little bullish.”

    He’s telling us at Bleacher Nation to be excited, but not too excited just yet!

  12. lou brock

    For the guy who doesn’t trust the level of competition at Indiana State that Sean Manaea faces I believe Justin Verlander went to Old Dominion & for the guy worried about his arm slot take a look at LHP Sale with the White Sox. Is he dominant versus the people he faces ? Manaea certainly was in the 2012 Cape Cod league against the best hitters in college !

    1. Marc N.

      Actually not a bad point but as far as Verlander, but he was more dominant than Manaea in college. Plus, maybe it’s bias, but the teams of the CAA strike me as more interesting than the MVC. Good point THO. I’m just waiting a little longer to get all the way on the Manaea wagon.

      1. Cub2014

        Creighton, Wichita state?

        1. Cub2014

          MVC not as good as CAA?

        2. Marc N.

          I was out of my zone on level of competition once I hit the conferences. Wichita St definitely should get some love.

  13. Dan

    “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.”
    Contenders today or winners tomorrow!
    ONLY way to go.

  14. DB Kyle

    We’re getting there. My amazement at what Epstein (and the rest of our front office) can do when he is interested and my annoyance at his lack of interest in fielding a competitive team have been dueling since his first offseason, but right now the former is starting to gain some market share.

    I still don’t get why we leave the roster half-finished every time when it would take so little in terms of resources and effort to fix the basic problems. Last season, we built some nice redundancy in the rotation but stripped the bullpen bare. This season, we built some nice redundancy in the outfield but left the infield bewilderingly thin. Would it have killed them to spend a couple of million on a solid utility infielder, push Valbuena to the sixth IF spot and Broe Matherbridge to AAA where he belongs? Is his being Sveum’s buddy that important?

    That kind of roster sloppiness drives me nuts, because this isn’t the kind of front office to be sloppy about things they care about.

    That said, I think they truly mean it when they say that this season could go either way. Being a few games over near the deadline is very much in the meaty part of the bell curve of this team’s reasonable projections, and if that’s the case they’ll add on and take their chances. We’re not talking Baez for an All-Star rental, but they’ll send some back-of-the-top-30 prospects for some veteran depth that fills a key need at the time.

    Really, all we need to be a .500 team is ordinary health and a breakout season from one guy on the offense (Ian, I’m looking at you, buddy. Make me look dumb).

  15. FFP

    “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.”
    I like this analysis.
    The Cubs’ future begins for each fan, as soon as we see the system and the timing that leadership has outlined.

  16. XavierGunz

    As a team we should play or be a .500 every month. or heck every week. If we look at it this way we have a good chance at the wild card.

    Go Cubs!!!!

    1. Not Cubbie Blues

      Indubitably! We just need to take it one game at a time. Put in the hard work and the games will come easy. We need to win as a team and lose as a team. Nobodies more important than the next guy. We should win our opening game. If we win one the next, that’s two in a row. If we win one the following, that’s called a winning streak. It has happened before … I got a feeling things are about to turn around for us.

      1. hansman1982

        Jobu would be proud!

  17. Marc N.

    I wonder what kind of buying this team would do at the deadline. Or I should say I wonder who would be available to buy at midseason.

    1. DB Kyle

      I imagine it wouldn’t be anything significant. It’d be us on the other end of a Baker or Soto deal.

      1. Marc N.

        Iunno remember the A’s got a couple of years out of Jermaine Dye and Jose Guillen each after trade deadline deals. Can’t imagine who that would be now, though I guess Soto could be squished into that mold.

  18. Jacob

    Phil Rodgers is on MLBN radio right now.. for those who can listen.

    1. Alex

      Thanks for the warning.

      1. Seth

        HAHA! I wish I would have seen this earlier.

  19. Dumpgobbler

    Ahh yes the Draft. Give me Frazier or Reese Mcguire. I know top end pitching is a need but I think we should go the route we went last year. Top end safe positon player in the 1st, and heavy pitching next. You can get some good arms in later rounds, but getting position talent like Frazier is much more difficult in later rounds.

  20. DarthHater

    MLBTR: “The Yankees would not give up a good prospect to acquire Alfonso Soriano, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter). Heyman suggests the Yankees would pay $10MM of the $36MM remaining on the left fielder’s contract.”

    Gee. How generous of the Yankees. Get on the phone, Theo! :-P

  21. farmerjon

    Anybody heard how Baez and Soler played in the intrasquad game yesterday?

  22. David Grachek

    When the Cubs win 90 games this you all can feel free to not ever be a Cubs fan again. Each year any team wins 1/3 of their games and lose 1/3. The difference between a good team and a bad is what they do with the final 1/3. I believe Epstein is building a team that will compete with this final third and have a 90 win season. Please feel free to take cynicism elsewhere.

    1. Not Cubbie Blues

      How about reality? Where should that reside?

    2. DocPeterWimsey

      That’s an overly deterministic way of looking at it. Moreover, it really comes down to a simpler set of numbers than that. If you put together a team that, on average, wins 4 of every 7 games (i.e., 4 wins in a full week of play), then you get a team that wins 92 or 93 games.

      That written, you can tell a lot about a team by the 3 wins and 3 loses. If it’s really a good team, then 2 of those 3 loses will have been close games, and only 1 (and sometimes 2) of the wins will be close games. When good teams lose, they usually put up a fight. We expect the opposite from bad teams: when they win, then they frequently only barely win.