When Theo Epstein speaks, I listen (and then I write an article recapping what he said along with my own thoughts #SoMeta).
As chance would have it, the Cubs President of Baseball Operations recently spoke with David Kaplan on ESPN Chicago, and the highlights are bulleted down below.
Among many interesting bits, Epstein addresses the various PED accusations levied against Jake Arrieta, the hot start to the season and Miguel Montero’s trip to the disabled list. You can listen to the interview here, and Jesse Rogers has a written recap at ESPN.
- Although the Cubs believed that Jake Arrieta “clearly” had top of the rotation potential when they traded for him a few seasons ago, Epstein never imagined he’d reach the heights he’s at right now. Apparently, the Cubs front office could tell early on that his stuff was top of the line, but he was dealing with some pretty serious command issues that were rooted in mechanical flaws. In fact, Epstein claims that – thanks to their own advanced analytics – they had targeted Arrieta well before the trade was ever proposed.
- Epstein found Stephen A. Smith’s suggestion on ESPN that Arrieta may have taken steroids to be “completely reckless”. He later adds that Smith hadn’t even spoken with Arrieta, the team or anyone involved before making that (baseless) accusation. Indeed, Epstein continues, “This is not someone who used to throw 88 MPH and all of sudden is throwing 95 MPH. Jake’s stuff is essentially exactly the same as it was when he was in Baltimore and struggling.” If Smith bothered to dig more deeply, he’d likely learn that Arrieta tweaked his delivery, changed his pitch mix, added some deception, and openly worked very, very hard to reach his potential. His endurance, Epstein maintains, is directly tied to the most aggressive workout plan in all of baseball.
- For his part, Epstein seems to be happy with the way Arrieta handled the situation, responding aggressively, but professionally.
- Switching gears, Epstein is impressed by the team’s ability to “apply intense focus on that night’s game,” day after day. He honestly thinks that nearly every aspect of the team – the starting pitching, the bullpen, the base running, the defense – is really locked in, and he’s been fairly surprised by the team’s consistency.
- To that end, the front office wasn’t worried about the complacency story lines that developed during Spring Training, because they were well aware of the quality of their players and their desire to win. The hot start to the season, Epstein adds, is evidence of that truth.
- The deciding factor in calling up Tim Federowicz over top catching prospect Willson Contreras was player development. The Cubs hope to give every prospect (especially catchers) as close to year of developmental time at AAA as possible. Indeed, the plan coming into the season was for Contreras to get a good amount of time at AAA, while he continues honing the craft of catching, before making his debut sometime in the second half. That said, Epstein does believe Contreras can thrive in MLB and calls him a “special player.” The best-long term move, though, is to let him develop in the minors so that he can move up to MLB and stay there.
- Kyle Schwarber would have caught a lot more during this stretch of Montero’s absence (sad face), because Epstein believed he had been doing a “real nice job behind the plate.”
- Speaking of Schwarber, although his injury has certainly changed the Cubs’ “pool of players” right now, the Cubs aren’t really looking to make any significant, long-term changes. That said, Epstein admits that the loss of Schwarber obviously changes the outfield depth, the left/right balance of the lineup and the catching dynamic.
- To that end, Epstein ends the interview by saying that “depth is everything in modern baseball.” Indeed, the Cubs’ early season has been a perfect example of that truism. The Cubs have lost their starting left fielder for the season, their starting catcher for a couple of weeks, and their starting third baseman for a little time, at least. Without the depth they boast, they’d never be able to weather this storm (let alone, ride it to the best record in baseball).