Chicago Cubs: Theo Epstein
"There are a lot of incoming phone calls," he said. “A lot about Matt [Garza], but a lot of them about our other players, too. In general in the game, phone traffic has picked up. I feel like there is a lot of interest in our players. The team is playing well and so are some of our individual players.”
Garza, closer Kevin Gregg and Alfonso Soriano might be the main focus of other teams; however, the Cubs will listen to offers for any of their players, according to a major league source. The Cubs missed in obtaining optimum quantity and quality for their moveable veterans last July. In 2012, right-handed pitcher Ryan Dempster blocked two trades to the Chicago White Sox and one to the Atlanta Braves with his no-trade rights.
The big blow came in late July when Garza hurt his elbow right before a deal was about to be consummated.
"Last year was pretty unusual; Dempster having the no-trade," Hoyer said. “Every year there is a different stamp or wrinkle, and you get to expect those things. They usually play out in a similar fashion.”
Rolling the dice on Garza this time around creates some discomfort for Cub executives.
"We worry about injuries every day,” Hoyer said. “Every time I see the [trainer's] name come up on my phone my heart skips a beat, so it doesn’t change in July -- it is the same all year."
The Cubs feel much better about competing the last two months of the season in 2013 than they did a year ago. With young starters evolving and some good arms on the way, including rehabbing veteran Scott Baker, Hoyer projects dual accomplishments in continued better play and retooling at the same time.
“This overall job is a lot of fun," he said. “I have known Scott Hairston since 2010, and calling him to tell him he was traded was not fun. Trying to assemble a ton of talent is the exhilarating part of the job."
When it comes to the Cubs, it’s all about the past we’ll never forget, the present we can’t stomach and the future we’ll never see.
Under the Ricketts regime, the present has been execrable. But a blissful future is always an outfield sign and a minor leaguer away.
All the talk about patience and commitment and foundation for sustained success have filtered into the brains of the most devoted Cubs fans. It’s not a bad thing to be patient, and it’s not a good thing to be angry about a perennially lousy baseball team.
But don’t tell Cubs president Theo Epstein he doesn’t care about winning this season.
As part of the public demands of his job, he has to sell hope and patience. He does it well, with charm and an earned baseball sophistication.
He’ll tell you that winning and building are intertwined, and it’s true. But it doesn’t feel good for him to answer questions about dealing with a wasted season before it’s even began. Because for Epstein, the owner of two World Series rings, baseball is better when you win.
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During a media gathering on Sunday, the club's owner and top executive offered his support of president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, saying Epstein's vision of the team's future is right on target with ownership's plans.
"I think the progress is tremendous," Ricketts said. "People can't see all the decisions that are made behind the scenes. I see these guys making hundreds of smart decisions during the course of the year. Some of them are public decisions, and a lot of them are smaller decisions made behind the scenes. I just have complete total confidence that they are moving us in the right direction."
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The Blackhawks' former drought? Forty-nine years was nothing. The White Sox? They were closing in on Cub-like territory with an 88-year gap between championships, but it ended in 2005. There are plenty of examples of other futile teams -- teams that have never won a title, in fact. But those teams, such as the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners, are relatively new to the sports landscape.
The Cubs stand alone. One hundred and four years ... and counting. There's more than a good chance it will be 105 after 2013 is all said and done.
Fresh off the collapse of a trade with the Los Angeles Angels this weekend that would have landed right-handed starter Dan Haren, the Cubs will engage in more talks this week when the annual general managers meetings take place in Indian Wells, Calif.
The Cubs' three official representatives at the meetings, which run from Wednesday to Friday, will be president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod. Assistant general managers Randy Bush and Shiraz Rehman also will be on hand.
While trades are still an option for the Cubs to fill rotation spots as well as bullpen, third-base and center-field voids, there is the free-agent route, as well, and representatives of available players also will be on hand this week.
“I would probably go in with the expectation that it’s groundwork with the possibility that things move a little faster [this year],” Hoyer said of the strategy for the meetings. “That would be pretty early. It’s a little earlier GM meetings even by GM meetings standards.”
All eligible players immediately become free agents once the World Series ends, and the only player that fits that description for the Cubs is reliever Shawn Camp. The right-hander was added to the organization toward the end of spring training and ended up leading the pitching staff in appearances with 80.
"It's amazing there is only one major-league free agent on the roster," president Theo Epstein said.
At age 36, Camp was not only a workhorse, he posted a respectable 3.59 ERA over 77 2/3 innings. The Virginia native had a career-high 18 holds, pitched two innings an outing seven times and had a 1.95 ERA on the road.
"We're going to talk to him about a possible return," Epstein said. "I thought he did a real nice job for us, and he's a great guy to have around."
Where things will get complicated is with additions from outside the organization. The Cubs removed 10 players from the 40-man roster just last week alone so they are clearing roster space for potential signings.
The list of players taken off the 40-man includes: Joe Mather, Manny Corpas, Adrian Cardenas and Justin Germano. Chris Volstad was claimed off waivers by the Kansas City Royals.
The San Francisco Giants just won their second World Series title in three seasons and the most recent one, wrapped up Sunday night with a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers, showed that titles aren't necessarily won by the organization that stockpiles the most superstars.
Buster Posey is the only superstar of the Giants' starting lineup, although Pablo Sandoval played like one in the World Series. The Giants stretched Gregor Blanco, Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence across the outfield ... hardly an intimidating trio.
They won with Brandon Crawford playing shortstop, Brandon Belt at first base and Marco Scutaro playing out of his mind in the postseason at second base.
If the Cubs can solve their problem at third base, they already have a young core ready to develop out of the infield in shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Add defensive wiz Darwin Barney into the mix from second base and the Cubs have a solid base moving forward.
Where the Cubs' young group is lacking when compared to the champion Giants is in a selfless, disciplined approach at the plate. Rizzo showed he is the most adept at the strategy, driving balls when he can and taking pitches to the opposite field when the opportunity arises.
CHICAGO -- Any front office that oversees a 101-loss season hardly deserves high praise. And looking at the straight facts, 2012 was as bad as it could get for the Chicago Cubs.
The team was overmatched in the bullpen, didn’t have much offense from Day 1 and had a rotation that was targeted to be dismantled by midseason, which it was.
The joy that came from the arrival of club president Theo Epstein from the Boston Red Sox, as well as the arrival of general manager Jed Hoyer from the San Diego Padres, was tempered considerably even before the season started.
The Cubs brought a flawed roster to spring training and ultimately it showed.
There was more at work, of course. All the losing was essentially a necessary evil as Epstein and Hoyer tore the roster down to its foundation, did the same to the front office and made sweeping changes to the player development side.
If Epstein and Hoyer were to get any credit for the 2012 season, give them this: They had a bold vision about what it would take to turn the Cubs into a consistent winner and started to make the necessary changes.
The talent in the minor leagues appears to be improving and a strategy for smart spending has been implemented, but the results of their changes won’t be known for some time.
Completely assessing the 2012 season can’t legitimately be done until a few years pass. The additions of prospects like Jorge Soler and Albert Almora give hope, but nothing is guaranteed. Trading for prospects during the season was necessary, but Ryan Dempster’s veto of a deal to the Atlanta Braves limited the talent received in return.
Cleaning house in the front office to have like minds making decisions is perfectly sensible, although nothing is assured.
What is certain is that changes needed to happen. Having guys with a track record like Epstein and Hoyer making those changes provides at least a sense of comfort.
With this week’s announcement of mass hires in the development and scouting departments, Epstein feels like he has the internal team he needs to provide the team the fans want.
Epstein has already been to Arizona this month to look at how the organization is proceeding in the instructional league. And he liked what he saw, with new director of player development Brandon Hyde and new field coordinator Tim Cossins running the show.
“I was really ecstatic about how instructional league went,” Epstein said. “Just being down there, there was a tremendous amount of energy and there was a real unified direction. There was one-on-one instruction and I felt like players got better with all the teaching that was going on. I thought the morale of the players was fantastic.
“It was a group that was proud to be Cubs, and I think they understand they are the primary focus of the organization. They took pride in the uniform and generally liked to be around each other. I think they know they are pretty important to us. It was just a great atmosphere down there.”
And Epstein said he is hearing more of the same.
“I had a couple of coaches, some uniform folks who have been with the Cubs for a long time come up and say they really appreciated the energy and felt it was a great instructional league,” he said. “It was one of the most talented groups we had. And actually, scouts from other teams told me we were as talented as any group in Arizona, which was really nice to hear.”
The future looks bright. However, the question remains: How long does it take to get here?
First and foremost, Epstein confirmed that the Cubs are looking to add at least two starting pitchers. But there are also plans to add to the rotation internally.
At third base, where the Cubs received little-to-no production this past season, the club could be willing to give Ian Stewart another chance, provided he no longer has health concerns stemming from a chronic sore wrist.
And in the outfield, the Cubs are focused on adding either a center fielder or a right fielder and depending on what they land, David DeJesus will take over the remaining position. Tony Campana still needs to show considerable improvement offensively to be considered an Opening Day center field candidate.
The first year of a from-the-ground-up rebuilding project is never easy. The 2012 season was the equivalent of living in your home while the inside is being gutted for an entire remodel. There were messes to step over, unsightly things to look away from and the uncomfortable feeling that it's taking longer than expected.
Now that most of the demolition phase is complete, how long will it actually take to see the Cubs in contention again?
Cubs president Theo Epstein talked at length Thursday of the rough season that just ended and the road that lies ahead. He has continued to avoid putting an exact timetable on when he expects the Cubs to be a winner again, but was asked if there is an expectation the club should be pushing contention by the second half of the 2014 season.
"I haven't considered 2014 or any specific year," Epstein said. "I just know that we have to continue to push the organization forward. I'll say this: I'd be incredibly disappointed if our baseball operation, as a whole, is not much, much healthier by then and is in a position where we can see what contention is going to look like here. In other words, where our core of young players is getting to a point where it's well defined.
"And I don't know what that timetable is going to be and how quickly they're going to develop, what moves we make, whether it's then, whether it's earlier than then, whether it's later than then, but I would hope that we would have some real definition to our core of young players and then seeking out to really compliment it and winning some ballgames."
If 2012 was the demolition phase then 2013 is when the remodel starts to take shape. It will be more tangible during the next stage, but it will still be a construction zone.
That means another season of struggles lies ahead, while a loyal fan base is once again asked to hang in there. While Cubs fans have passed on their season tickets to each generation they have also handed over healthy doses of patience.
Epstein and Co. don't want to take advantage of that loyalty but they will have to lean on it a little bit longer. A break on ticket prices might help to digest it all a little better, but it doesn't sound like that is in the near future.
"There's no getting around the fact that as far as the ultimate return investment for the fans' dollar (it's) seeing a winning team," Epstein said. "They're going to get better value a little bit down the road than they are getting now. It's our job to make sure they get that value and that the experience of watching a baseball team down the stretch and into October and celebrating with that team is priceless. And that's ultimately how we can reward the fans' support."
For now, the takeaway for the 2.88 million fans that streamed into the gates this season is the emergence of Anthony Rizzo, the strides made by Starlin Castro, the improvements on defense from Darwin Barney and the rebirth of Jeff Samardzija as a starter.
If the club struggles to reach .500 next season, there at least needs to be more strides being made. If it doesn't come from new faces and/or long winning streaks then it most certainly has to be in somebody flashing MVP or Cy Young credentials.
Epstein might not want to put a date on when this investment comes to maturity, but if the Cubs aren't pushing the division leaders by the following year, asking for more patience will be the boldest move he has made. Living in a construction zone isn't something people will volunteer to do for long.
"The only way we can thread that needle, so to speak, is by being transparent, and that means not selling a bill of goods," Epstein said. "I'm not going to sit here and say, ‘Don't worry about 101 losses because we have a magic plan to win a World Series in 2013; it's gonna happen, so be there now.' That's not the case.
"I think we're trying to communicate that there is a plan, there is a vision. It might be a little bit longer-term than we all want it to be, but that we're committed to it, and that there's a great reward at the end. We can't guarantee results, but I can tell everybody that we're not gonna be satisfied until we're in the postseason year-in and year-out, and we're in contention every year."
Digging out of a 101-loss hole won't be easy without pitching and Epstein admitted that the position-player side of the farm system is more settled than the pitching side. It's why the club is willing to add free-agent arms this winter, but it doesn't figure to be the top-flight talent just yet.
Epstein and Hoyer have their plan, but they also know there are a whole lot of people peeking over their shoulder.
"It's our obligation to maintain the discipline that is necessary to accomplish (our) vision," Epstein said. "We owe the fans a tremendous amount of hard work to get there. We have to be tireless in our pursuit to get there, because maybe we'll get there a year earlier if we work harder than our competition.
"We have to do our best to win every single game at the major league level as we go forward, put forth a winning effort for the fans. They deserve that because they're committing to us, too, with 2.88 million fans coming out to see a product that wasn't that great this year. If we don't give full effort, that's disrespectful to the fans who showed their money."
Here's what we do know about the Epstein regime: Their demolition skills are impressive. We'll soon know if they have a flair for construction like there was in Boston during the World Series years.
"If we don't stay committed to (our) vision, I think that's disrespectful to the fans as well, because we've made a covenant with them that we're going somewhere and that by buying tickets and showing tremendous support, as they have, they're buying in and they're a part of that covenant," Epstein said.
"We need to reward them ultimately, and it's going to take a lot of hard work along the way. Is patience required? Absolutely. And it's not easy for me to be patient, either. I guess I'm paid to maintain a lot of that discipline and patience as well."
That might not make the ticket department stand up and cheer but it goes along with Epstein's objective of being as forward as possible about the rebuilding project.
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CHICAGO -- The new Chicago Cubs front office might be in the midst of a house cleaning, but they quickly identified an asset worth keeping.
It wasn’t long into the season when president of baseball operations Theo Epstein went on the record saying that while Starlin Castro’s baseball acumen was well known, watching it on an everyday basis was a sight to behold.
It was not to say Castro was the perfect player then, nor is he now, but he is plenty good to build a ballclub around as his new seven-year, $60 million extension finalized Tuesday shows.
“Shortstop's a really hard position to fill in today's game especially someone that can provide with offense,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “He proved it to us early on. He worked very hard on his defense. There's no question in my mind that he can play shortstop in the big leagues on a championship team.”
Castro’s agent Paul Kinzer was quoted Thursday as saying that negotiations for a long-term contract have been going on “for a period of time.”
“In this case the agent has come out on the record so I’m not going to lie to you guys given it’s out there,” Epstein said Friday, before hearing what he said and laughing. “Not that I ordinarily lie to you.
There is clearly a risk in signing a 22-year-old shortstop to a deal that could be as long as six years and Epstein acknowledges as much. But the biggest knocks on a still-improving Castro are that he sometimes loses focus every so often.
The consensus seems to be that brief and infrequent focus lapses are an easier fix than teaching somebody to be a formidable natural hitter with plus range at shortstop and a live arm.
“It’s the easiest thing in the world to look at a young player like this at the big leagues and point out what he can’t do, or what he doesn’t yet do consistently,” Epstein said. “But I think it’s important to acknowledge those things and identify them as areas for continued growth and development. But you have to step back and look at what the player can do.
“He’s an extraordinarily athletic shortstop, he’s proven he has the range, he has the arm and then some. He has the hands when he has the proper footwork to go with it. Sure he’s made a few careless errors through the course of the season and lately as all good shortstops do, but he’s shown he can make every play that we need to make and he’s shown that as we have demanded it of him he can show greater growth through his consistency. Offensively, the sky’s the limit.”
One argument against giving such a young player that kind of financial stability is that they lose their hunger and drive to improve. Epstein feels the opposite should happen with Castro.
“Not specific to Starlin, in general it can be a big relief to players to go out and play and not worry about an arbitration year or platform year knowing they will be part of the leadership of a club for a long time,” Epstein said. “It can relax them and it can also reinforce the importance of stepping up with some leadership qualities. Being the player you want others to look up to and be a role model.”
It could be in the Cubs’ best interest to get a deal done as soon as possible since the distraction could have something to do with some recent struggles.
“I also think it can help a player to take a deep breath and let his abilities take over especially if you ever did happen to negotiate during a season,” Epstein said. “Especially if you end up negotiating during a season, that can be tough on a player and when something gets done they usually take a deep breath and perform.”
Manager Dale Sveum wasn’t completely buying into the concept that contract talks have reduced Castro’s focus.
“The other day they were going on and he had three hits and a two-run homer,” Sveum said. “He’s got about nine RBIs since I put him in the fifth spot. Sometimes we get caught up with averages and all that but he’s been driving in runs in that spot too with his two-run doubles.”
CHICAGO – Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein admitted Wednesday that despite recent success from the team’s young nucleus of players, he hasn’t dropped his guard to dream of a brighter future.
Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jeff Samardzija and Darwin Barney all have shown signs that good things are ahead. Epstein might be thinking that way too, but he isn’t letting on that it’s on his mind.
“I think building is a working process,” Epstein said before Wednesday’s game. “We’re trying to get better every day as an organization and there are a lot of different things that go into building a championship caliber organization.