Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein (king of the prospects, and first of his name) joined Hanley and Rozner on 670 The Score yesterday to discuss the Cubs’ hot start to the second half of the season and what else may come.
You can read some of his comments and check out the full interview here, though we’ll break down what he had to say, alongside some thoughts of my own …
- Epstein believes the Cubs have played really well through the first five games of the second half, noting specifically the “energy and urgency” the guys seem to be playing with. However, he cites other pockets of good, but unsustained play early this season, so he’s hesitant to get too excited. [Brett: I hear Arnold Schwarzenegger saying “party pooper” right here for some reason.]
- According to Epstein, Kyle Hendricks’ additional rehab start was simply a matter of caution, however, the Cubs’ front office was tempted to bump him up to the third game in Baltimore – that is, until they acquired Jose Quintana. Which, well, that’s actually really encouraging. Obviously, Hendricks’ stellar performance in that second rehab start (five perfect innings) is evidence that he feels good, but it’s also good to know that he was essentially ready to go last time around anyway. And it certainly worked well to throw Quintana that day.
- Speaking of Quintana, the Cubs have traded a lot of prospects over the past year, so any new moves before the August 1 deadline, are more likely to be of the “this and next year” variety. “Responsible,” was the word the Cubs’ president used, but just as Epstein has you thinking there won’t be any rentals, he leaves the door (wide) open: “Certainly there’s always the possibility for just a rental to enhance this [team’s] chances. Because, you know, we had a bad first half and we own that, but you look up and we are just 2.5 games out ….” That 2.5 games out is now 1.5 games out, by the way.
- Epstein went onto suggest that when you look at this Cubs roster, their talent, and their postseason experience, you still see a team that should be headed for a deep run in the playoffs. So the decisions made before the deadline will be based on the team they think they will be in the second half, not the one they were in the first.
- On the criticism that the Cubs’ farm system is now depleted, Epstein fires back with two fantastic answers. First, there’s still a lot of talent in the Minors, they’re just earlier on in their developmental path. And second, this:
“The entire goal of a farm system is not to win Midwest League championships or Southern League championships or PCL championships. The goal of the farm system is to get your players to the big league level so that they can win a world championship.”
- Obviously, Epstein is right, and it’s not like the Cubs have traded a bunch of prospects for aging veterans on expiring contacts. The vast majority of the recent top prospects are playing for the Cubs in the Major Leagues right now, “Going around the diamond, it’s catcher, first base, second base, shortstop, third base, left field and center field when it’s (Ian) Happ or (Albert) Almora. So virtually our entire team is a product of our farm system.”
- Epstein later identifies the Cubs’ window of contention as roughly the seven years from 2015 to 2021 (it was pretty weird to hear him be so blunt about it, but this front office is usually quite honest). And although there’s still plenty of work to be done to ensure that they’re competitive throughout that window, he’s certain the farm system will have been replenished by then and the process will begin anew.
- Win or lose, Cubs manager Joe Maddon is always positive and is always the same guy. And according to Epstein, that has a big effect on the players and team as a whole. In fact, by Epstein’s tone, it sounds like Maddon keeps the front office’s spirits up, as well.
- Epstein considers Willson Contreras a “young veteran” at this point in his career, but is still astonished by the speed of his development. Contreras comes in for praise on his preparations, work behind the plate, work with the pitchers, and everything in between. No matter which way you slice it, Epstein believes Contreras is a really special player with even more room for growth.
- On the early move for Quintana, Epstein suggests that the Cubs were simply getting ahead of the game. While there were a few other cost-controlled arms available earlier in the season, those names began to evaporate as teams began to play better and/or changed their mind (you can probably lob Chris Archer, among others, in this group).
- On the reports that suggest Chris Sale would’ve cost the Cubs Kris Bryant +, well, you should listen to Epstein’s response for yourself, because his tone is hilarious. In short, Epstein suggests that the ask was just code for “Hey, Cubs, he’s going anywhere else, OK?!”
- Epstein sees bigger and better things in Albert Almora’s future, but his current strengths (fantastic outfield defense, crushes left-handers) are probably going to be the way he contributes to the 2017 Chicago Cubs.