The Chicago Cubs clinched a spot in the post season last Friday night, which prompted a series of interviews from the men at the top, Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein. Epstein appeared on 670 The Score on Sunday morning, while Tom Ricketts held an interview with CBS Sports and made an appearance on Kap and Co. You can listen/read the interviews at the links listed above, but I’ve consolidated some of the key points, down below. Here’s what the leaders of the Cubs had to say about their team’s big push in 2015, starting with team President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein …
- Epstein agrees that it is pretty unreasonable, and thus special, to expect four or five rookies to perform the way they have and end up with a winning team. History tells us it shouldn’t have worked; adjustments, slumps and readjustments are difficult and occur across the board, but somehow this team has weathered through them.
- Epstein recalls a question from the trade deadline, “Why didn’t you add any bats?” And his response, at the time, was that he was committed to his young players and wanted them to develop and push through their slumps. The thing is, he didn’t think it would happen in August and September. He fully expected and was prepared for a slow second half, offensively, and these guys completely surprised him. (Me: nervous laughter.)
- Epstein was impressed with Joe Maddon’s managerial prowess at the beginning of August, when he started realigning position players (Starlin Castro) and pulling starters early (Jason Hammel) in order to win the games that really mattered. Epstein believes that Maddon made those calls at exactly the right time and that he has been a huge part of their success.
- Epstein recalls the late nights in 2012-2013 when he would sit with the other front office executives poring over their roster and minor league depth charts with a heavy sigh. While they were excited for the future, they were reasonably anxious and nervous. They had just drafted a high school kid (Albert Almora) and anxiously wondered, “How are we going to be good by 2016?” (Me: more nervous laughter.) He never questioned that he would get the Cubs where they needed to be, but did wonder how long it would actually take.
- A lot of rebuilds fail because teams run out of time, owners get anxious, teams dip into free agency and give up on their young players too soon, but the Cubs held steady and the success came at the right time. I’m guessing we may owe Tom Ricketts a bit more credit/gratitude than we typical put out there. It’s not easy to sit through so many losing seasons – and I’m not saying that is the only way – but he found the right guys, made a plan and stuck with it. That takes guts.
- For what it’s worth, Epstein says that Ricketts has been the “most patient one, out of everybody.” He recalls his first meeting with Ricketts and how he intimated a need for a systematic change, based on young players and scouting and player development, throughout the entire organization.
- Epstein braced himself for the second half drop off of the younger players, and that seems to have played a big role in their trade deadline decisions this year. You can be upset and kick the dirt about that, but, given how well they’ve played since then and how difficult it would have been to catch the Cardinals, it may have all been for the best. They didn’t give up anything of note at the deadline and they are likely where they would have been anyway.
- Jon Lester rented out a bar and held a party for the entire team to celebrate clinching the playoffs. That’s what veterans do, and this is an awesome team.
- Epstein reasserts that he’d like to stay with the Cubs after his contract expires after next season and that ironing out an extension won’t be a problem. I wouldn’t worry about this, folks. I don’t think anyone – on either side – wants to see Epstein go anywhere else, right now.
Moving on to Chairman and Owner Tom Ricketts …
- After Joe Maddon jokingly made some comments about Wrigley Field concerts affecting a ground ball hit to Starlin Castro, Ricketts confirmed that concerts would continue at Wrigley Field. No one is allowed on the infield during those events, and the concerts create revenue that is poured back into baseball operations. Works for me.
- Kaplan asks Ricketts, “You’re going to playoffs this year. How much quicker did it happen than expected?” To which Ricketts hilariously responds, “Uh….it’s been quite a few years, if you don’t recall.”
- But when pressed, Ricketts recalls a conversation he had with Epstein at the end of the 2014 season, where Epstein said something along the lines of, “We had such a great second half, 2015 doesn’t have to be about development.” Ricketts agreed and Epstein said, “Let me see what I can do.” Then Joe Maddon and Jon Lester agreed to come to the Northside and everyone gained a ton of confidence.
- Ricketts doesn’t believe there is a way to measure it, but he can’t imagine a manager being more important to a team than what Maddon has meant to the Cubs this year. He has taken responsibility when things have gone wrong, given credit where it’s due when they go right and has been a phenomenal in game manager, as well.
- The lowest moment of the Ricketts family stewardship (according to Tom) came in August of 2010. At the time, the team had the oldest lineup, third highest payroll, third worst record, and one of the worst farm systems in all of baseball. That’s when he realized how much work he had to do. But since the new front office was put in place, Tom hasn’t looked back. He did his best to buy them time and give them everything they needed to succeed and he believes they finally have.
- Ricketts admits that there were conversations, at one point, along the lines of, if this renovation doesn’t get done, we’re going to have to look into moving. (Me: To be honest, I never suspected that they actually entertained this idea.)
- Asked once again on the contract negotiations for Theo Epstein, Ricketts reiterates: no one any any road blocks, Theo and Tom have a fantastic relationship, and when the season is over, they will sit down and iron it out. I understand why people keep asking, but based on the sheer amount of optimistic comments from both Ricketts and Epstein, I just don’t think there is anything to worry about.
- A deep playoff run would push back the renovation schedule … but Ricketts thinks that would be worth it (duh). He adds that the majority of the renovation is things that fans will never see. Specifically, he notes that $425M out of the $500M total renovation cost is dedicated to things like steel, concrete, piping, etc.
- The big deliverable for the beginning of the 2016 season will be the new clubhouse – which Ricketts jokes was ruined by the champagne celebration this past weekend.
There was plenty more in both interviews, so I encourage you to take a listen. Overall, you can tell that both executives are excited about where the team is and remember how tough it was to get here. Neither can wait for the playoffs to start and are equally excited for what the future holds.