epstein conference cubsI just got out of a presentation to season ticket holders at the Bank of America Theater downtown – entitled On Deck 2014 – and I’ve soon got to hit the road so that I can be back to Ohio before midnight. (The Little Boy is a touch sick, and I’d like not to sentence The Wife to another solo night punctuated by solo baby cries.)

I will give a full write-up of the event, which featured presentations by the Presidents of Business and Baseball Operations – Crane Kenney and Theo Epstein, respectively – soon. There are interesting bits to share, and things to look forward to in 2014. But this is just a quick and dirty teaser, partly because of the need for me to rush out of here, and partly because there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to spoil the whole thing for folks who are going to one of the three later sessions (today and tomorrow). There was one kinda-sorta surprise appearance. Can’t spoil that.

So, here’s a quick tease on some of the things Epstein discussed during his portion of the presentation. The following are my best notes on parts of his presentation, and are paraphrased (although in first person voice for convenience):

Seeing all of you and the plans for Wrigley, I’m reminded of why I’m here. I was told by a friend when I joined the Cubs that it takes great courage to be patient. I’ve called him several times to tell him he was right. I don’t think of me in relation to that, I think of you. You are the ones being patient, and thus courageous. So thank you.

Did you notice how there was a tremendous amount of young, homegrown talent on both teams in the World Series? Of the 50 players on active rosters, 35 were homegrown or acquired using homegrown players. That’s the way to build successful organizations. [Epstein made a joke about an oath to Tom Ricketts to hate the Cardinals – he said he won’t call them a “model franchise” for that reason.]

Why spend so much time and money on young talent? Many reasons – young players tend to get better, tend to stay healthy, can be groomed to support ethos of org, fans enjoy getting to know young players, etc. The main reason? Cramming as much talent onto the big league roster as possible. Peak age is 27 years old. Young players are cost-controlled – so you can fit more of them onto your roster. Average free agent is 32 and much more expensive than he was in his 20s. We want as much talent as possible on the roster. Since you cannot get impact, mid-20s talent in free agency, only way to get it is via draft, int’l FA, and trades.

[Epstein noted an evaluation that indicated the Cubs were the worst in MLB production from the players taken in the drafts between 2002 to 2010 (I believe I got those years correct, and I believe we’ve discussed this before)].

With the big revenue still a couple years away, it was clear to us that the only way to succeed was to go full-on into young player acquisition mode (and develop them, and get the most possible/best possible information about young players).

We now have one of the top scouting operations in baseball. [Lengthy discussion about The Cubs Way – it’s a 350-page manual, and it covers everything.]

Talent acquisition: spend as much as we can on draft (despite CBA’s limitations) and on int’l FA. Epstein called signing Jorge Soler before the new CBA kicked in “exploiting a loophole,” and also called the 2013 int’l spending spree “exploiting a loophole” (hey, that’s what I called it way back when!), and then lots of trades. We’ve traded four years of veteran years (8 players) to receive 78 control years of 14 different young players. [Big applause.]

But there’s a cost, obviously. When you go into full-on talent acquisition mode, it better work. We don’t take your August and September pain for granted. Happy to say that thus far we’re very pleased with the results. Top five system per all the rankings (will be), and we believe we have three of the top 10 to 15 prospects in baseball (interesting cutoff). Now video on the prospects – Baez, Almora, Edwards, Soler, Bryant. (Edwards was an interesting inclusion, and Epstein mentioned multiple times that he was the pitcher of the year.)

(Here I started to wonder whether it was risky to focus on these young guys in addressing season ticket holders, given that the young guys likely still won’t be big league impact talent for a while, and … ) Right on cue, Epstein: we’re under no illusions that they’re all going to be stars and that they’ll come right up and we’ll win. It’s not linear. But the plan lines up so well with our business plan – the revenue will come online, and the renovation work will be underway/finishing up, at the same time as these young guys are up and ready to contribute.

So, there’s your quick and dirty tease on portions of what Epstein said. Kenney also had some interesting comments, and the overall presentation was well done. Again, I’ll have more robust thoughts soon, but this should tide you over.

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