Theo Epstein Speaks: Buyers and Sellers, Lester, Schwarber, Maddon, More

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Theo Epstein Speaks: Buyers and Sellers, Lester, Schwarber, Maddon, More

Chicago Cubs

theo epstein press conference speaksChicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein was just on 670 The Score, and among his comments …

  • Epstein was initially asked about the process of rebuilding the organization and what was the most unexpected part, and he broadly spoke about how ground-up it was, which has also been the most gratifying part.
  • Epstein was effusive in his praise for Anthony Rizzo’s make-up and approach to hitting, noting that, although he doesn’t have the prototypical look or swing for a lefty, he does have a unique feel for hitting. Put that in a package with quickness and strength, and it’s a very special hitter.
  • Joe Maddon is unique, and has put this clubhouse in a position to be successful in a way that maybe no one else could have. A young team is going to make a lot of mistakes, and it’s hard for managers not to take that back into the clubhouse – consciously or unconsciously – but Maddon simply doesn’t do that. Bad games don’t linger beyond that day.
  • Epstein explained that it’s very hard to find offense in the middle infield, which makes Starlin Castro rare and valuable in that way. He’s a competitive advantage. People evaluate Castro based on what they hoped he would be (I wrote about that recently, if you missed it), rather than what he is – compare him against other middle infielders in the game, and he’s an impactful offensive shortstop. There are no immediate plans to make a position change. “He’s been our shortstop, and will continue to be this year.”
  • Lots of praise for Addison Russell and Kris Bryant, and you wouldn’t want to hold any other young player to their standard.
  • The extra Wild Card probably creates more buyers – cautious buyers – and fewer sellers, because it’s a lower bar to get into the playoffs. There might be close to 20 teams buying, but they’re more cautious because they’re thinking, “How much of the future am I going to give up for a chance to face a number one starter and get bounced from the playoffs in one game?”
  • Jon Lester has only shown glimpses of who he is and what he will be for the Cubs. Most of April was adjusting and getting his stuff back, given missing out on Spring Training. He hasn’t been as consistent, but he’s close. He just needs to open up both sides of the plate, which is when he’s at his best.
  • There is information that you have in certain jobs, that outsiders don’t have, and that’s going to mean they (fans/media/etc.) won’t always really be able to empathize with what you’re doing. You just have to accept that. Here, it became clear quickly that the rebuild was going to have to be so comprehensive and singularly focused.
  • Epstein believes the Cubs will be heavily involved in the July 2 IFA period, calling it a very talented group this year. That’s especially true because they probably won’t be drafting high in the coming years and he wants to make sure they have cover if they’re making trades involving young talent. It makes sense to sign as much talent as they can. (Yes. Yes. Yes.)
  • You have to remind yourself not to take a year for granted when you have a legitimate chance to get into the playoffs. But stay focused on the big picture – for us, that means remembering that the reason we feel so good right now is because we have such a healthy organization and so much young talent. You need to have several generations of good young talent.

After The Score interview, Epstein slid over to ESPN 1000 for another. Among his comments …

  • Epstein described the Cubs schedule on paper – it appears this way, anyway – as tougher in the first half than the second.
  • This is one of the most enjoyable teams to be around, as you look around and see players exceeding expectations based on their age. “If you can’t have fun being around this team, you’re probably in the wrong line of work.”
  • Epstein says that “we’re not quite there yet” when it comes to being a buyer or a seller, and there are very, very few sellers this time of year. The Cubs are always looking to improve, and especially in certain areas where they’re vulnerable. Trading is not a unilateral thing, so the best way to improve is internally. But when the Trade Deadline approaches, the Cubs can turn more to that.
  • The bench could be addressed, but getting some guys back from injury will help. The bullpen was in a crisis period a month ago, but has leveled out a bit.
  • It’s not been a great year for the Cubs’ 5th through 10th starters, and you need those guys to survive the long season. Depth signings can help there – injuries will come – and also if you get the chance to add a truly impact starter and slide everyone else down a notch, that would be great. But probably 17 other teams are looking to add starters right now.
  • Rafael Soriano is working his way back into shape and isn’t on the immediate radar, so the Cubs’ will get a better feel for where he is as we get closer to the All-Star break.
  • General rule of thumb with a bunch of young positional players is that things tend to sort themselves out, and you want to have a lot of redundancies. A big part of that is injuries – it happens.
  • Starlin Castro has helped the Cubs win a lot of games this year. There are aspects of his game that he continues to work on so that he can fit on the kind of club the Cubs want to have. He’s on his way there.
  • Epstein expects Kyle Schwarber to be back up at some point later in the year. Right now, he’s got work to do developing as a catcher at Iowa – it’s not something you can do at the big league level. Schwarber made some fundamental changes behind the plate. At some point this year, he’ll have “caught enough” and his development is complete for the year as a catcher. Then the Cubs can “explore some other options.” The implication there was maybe that he could start some work at another position to be useful at the big league level later in the year.

Epstein also spoke earlier this morning on MLB Network Radio, and, although I wasn’t able to listen, here are some of the high points:

In sum: the Cubs will very seriously be looking to supplement and improve, but don’t look for them to move any of their elite young players right now. As I’ve said, the Cubs can get impactful pieces for the stretch run – rentals – without giving up their highest tier of young talent, because they are so, so deep. That’s the route I’m comfortable with them taking in-season this year.

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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.