Theo Epstein Speaks About the State of the Chicago Cubs

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Theo Epstein Speaks About the State of the Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs

CSN’s Dave Kaplan is interviewing Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein over the next hour, and, while Epstein probably won’t directly address any of the recent roster-related rumors, it should be pretty interesting.

I’ll do my best to cover the interview live here, bullet-style, for those of you unable to listen (WGN Radio).

  • Sounds like there’s quite a crowd in attendance for the interview.
  • Theo says the transition from Boston to Chicago has been great, and he senses the passion from the fans. It’s just like Boston in that regard.
  • “We get up early and work late.”
  • Were you embarrassed about the hoopla about you coming to the Cubs? “Oh yeah. Big time.” Theo wants to be behind the scenes, but he knows that isn’t the reality anymore. But he’s not in the game for the limelight. He just wants to win with good people.
  • Kaplan discusses Epstein’s “sustained success” philosophy, and asks for Theo’s take. Nothing we haven’t heard before. Winning is hard, and we have to be realistic, especially if we want to have a team that is repeatedly in the mix. “We would never tank a season away,” but putting the team together at the right core age takes time. The goal is getting to the playoffs year after year.
  • Paraphrase: The reality is, we’re trying to turn an ocean liner in the sea. You can’t do that on a dime. It takes many, many moves – including player development, scouts, drafting better, acquiring a young player here and there. “I wish I could say we were a move or two away, but that’s not the case.”
  • What did Tom Ricketts tell you that convinced you to sign on? “He was genuinely committed to the franchise and the fan base; to doing it the right way for the right reasons. It was a long-term commitment for him, and he understood the big picture. You can’t just throw money at problems [and fix it overnight].” That all appealed to Epstein.
  • Any more moves like the Marshall trade coming soon? “Maybe yes, maybe no. We’re not going to force feed anything …. we aren’t going to put blinders on …. at some point Matt Garza becomes a short-term asset, and you want to convert a short-term asset to a long-term asset.” That could mean an extension, or it could mean a trade. Epstein emphasizes that the Cubs aren’t married to any particular approach.
  • Theo confirms that, from his perspective, the CBA changes took away some flexibility in how a team can approach building its organization. You could previously decide how much you wanted to devote to the draft, how much you wanted to try and collect picks. Those options are now largely gone. “We’re going to have to be better and more accurate in drafting than our competition.” But the draft is an inexact science. The Cubs are thinking about the ways they can improve and out-fox their opponents.
  • They’re taking a break now. I was glad to see the Marshall/Garza/rebuild question early on, but it ended up just being a rote, planned question with a rote, planned answer. Nothing in the response we didn’t already know, and no follow-up. I understand that pressing Theo right now probably won’t get much more, but it would be nice to get a little more on the subject, if they’re going to go there at all.
  • What does “culture change” mean to you, and how can Zambrano be a part of “culture change” (wow! way to go, Kap on asking that straight out)? Theo says the culture should be about players being proud to be Cubs, treating each other right, treating the fans right. The clubhouses with the best culture police themselves, and are very proud to be a part of the organization. Things jeopardize that culture all season long, and the best teams come together in those tough moments. Problematic clubhouses fall apart when things get tough, and players get selfish, feel sorry for themselves. Players have to be accountable to the organization and to their teammates. We need to restore pride in being a Cubs player. Dale Sveum is the perfect guy to hold the players to this high standard. He needs to put the organization’s interests ahead of his own if he expects that of his players.
  • As for Zambrano, Theo says Carlos, as he’s been, cannot fit into the culture. Either he’ll change and buy in – “I know there are skeptics, and I’m skeptical, too” – or we’ll change the personel.
  • Fan questions coming in now, the first is a generic one about the thinking behind trading Sean Marshall. Theo says Marshall is the type of player and person you want in your organization. But the Cubs traded him because he’s a free agent after 2012, and under the CBA, they’d probably not get a compensatory pick for him. For where the Cubs are right now, one season of Marshall was less valuable than five seasons of Travis Wood and two prospects. That’s five years of Wood, and 12 years of prospect control. That’s more valuable for us than one year of Marshall (gut says he’s setting us up for future trade justifications – I can hear it now, “two years of Matt Garza, right now, was less valuable to us than …”  That’s just a hypothetical example, by the way.).
  • Fluff question about being “recharged” in Chicago. Theo said the Cubs were the only team to which he could see himself going after the Red Sox, given how special the Red Sox are. To get to do it right now with the Cubs, at this crossroads, is energizing.
  • Kaplan asks if Theo is going to eat any bad contracts before Spring Training. Epstein says doing so is a sign of a healthy organization. Sometimes you have to eat a sunk cost, sometimes you can get some value for that sunk cost. Sometimes you have to walk away from a player, and sometimes you have to get to know the player, and provide an infrastructure where he can improve. “There’s no one way to handle these situations …. It’s a game played by human beings, and the possibility of bouncing back is very real.”
  • Another break. Loved Theo’s answer on the second Marshall question. Just what I wanted to hear. The Cubs make moves – popular or unpopular – because they make the overall organization better.
  • Is Kerry Wood coming back? “I love Kerry Wood,” Epstein said convincingly. Paraphrase: We want Kerry Wood here to help us build a winner. We’re actively engaged in negotiations, and agents and money are a part of the equation. I think it should work out. We’ve got a team that wants him back, and a player who loves the team and the city. I expect to get it done.
  • Who is the Cubs’ closer? “Carlos Marmol is our closer.” Theo said Marmol has had several years at the top of his game, but last year his stuff wasn’t there all the time. He walks a lot of guys, but he makes up for it by striking a lot of guys out. The Cubs are going to work with him to get him back to where he’s been, help him to use his fastball a little bit more. “We’re committed to Marmol.”
  • Theo said it’s hard to watch the game as a fan anymore, because you’re always thinking/analyzing, no matter what the game. You should be taking notes, writing scouting reports, etc. You never know when you might need info on a player down the road, so you should always be taking notes and putting that information into the organization’s system (yo, dude – yes).
  • Kaplan asks about the big-time free agent signings that the Cubs haven’t made, and asks about Theo’s “lens of the long-term plan” comments. Theo says the point is, the Cubs are not looking for any quick fixes. Every year is important, and every year is a chance to win. The organization values the short term. “If we lose, I’m going to have a bad day.” But where the short-term priority and the long-term priority conflict, the Cubs are going to choose the long-term interest. So, when rumors about a big-money signing or an older player, the Cubs are going to make a decision about signing the player on the question: will this player help us when our core is ready to be really competitive? Sometimes, though, the Cubs might sign short-term, older guys if they think there might be future trade value there (nice).
  • Fans ask about whether ‘Moneyball’ is an accurate portrayal of MLB front offices, and Theo says it’s not. It was a good story, and had some truth in there, but obviously, it’s dramatized.
  • Does your son wear a Red Sox hat or a Cubs hat? “The Red Sox are his American League team, the Cubs are his team overall.”
  • Theo is very excited about the possibility of seeing the impact winning has on everyone else. Fans, families, players, co-workers.
  • Eddie Vedder is looking forward to a win. Swell.
  • First base plans? “Our first baseman right now is Bryan LaHair,” and Theo is excited to give “this kid” a chance to hit (“I call him a kid, but he’s 28 – sure, we’d love him to be 22” (coincidence: that’s Anthony Rizzo’s age)). Hitters hit, says Theo. “I don’t buy into” the AAAA label. Theo says guys who’ve always hit can hit in the bigs if they’re given an extended look. There are advantages in the bigs. Yes, the pitching is better, but the scouting reports are better, the lighting and practice facilities are better, the training is better. Me: since LaHair is the only first baseman on the roster, Theo really couldn’t say anything else.
  • Asked about Wrigley Field renovations. Theo says he’s going to be focused on the baseball side, but he does have a unique perspective. Wrigley Field is still a “jewel” and a great place to watch a game, but it needs some work. There are ways to do things that improve the experience but don’t detract from the history. “You do a little bit each year, get some help from the community and the local government” and you can make it happen (hello!). It helps the fans have a great experience, and also helps the Cubs get more revenue to use on the team. It also helps the city of Chicago. Crane and his staff are doing a great job on that. “We just need a little cooperation.”
  • Analysis and studies on day baseball? Theo says they’ve done some analysis and the Cubs had previously done some analysis, but it’s hard to study objectively/statistically. It’s more anecdotal and subjective. It’s gotta be something the Cubs process and handle as professionals, and that the Cubs are more prepared to do than opponents. “We want it to be an advantage.” (Good luck with that.)
  • What sold you on Dale Sveum, and what can we expect to see? “Dale’s got so many great qualities that the fans are going to come to appreciate over the years.” Theo says Dale is perfectly genuine, no facades, and that really matters – “you can’t fake it with players these days.” Dale is neither a “player’s manager” nor a “disciplinarian.” He’s something else. He makes players play hard, but he’s also really well liked. I suppose that’s kind of a combination of both, not neither.
  • A Starbucks question. Sigh.
  • The compensation issue with the Red Sox is still on the table, “we’ll get it resolved.” The two teams are still working in good faith, and “I’m still close with people there.” He did the Sean Marshall/Travis Wood conference call from his old office in Boston.
  • The end. As expected, nothing earth-shattering, but always enjoyable to hear from Theo. He still sounds like a guy who gets it, and a guy who has a plan – albeit a very long-term one.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.