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Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Theo, Hoyer use Beane method to improve

By Bruce Levine

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- The Chicago Cubs will try to make a run at improving on a 101-loss team in the short term, with an eye on the future.

Taking a page out of the Billy Beane playbook, Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are approaching this offseason with a duality of purpose. The Cubs' plan is to hopefully shore up some obvious weaknesses in the pitching staff with a few astute trades and creative free-agent signings.

Epstein, a longtime friend and colleague of Beane's, has implemented the sign-and-trade philosophy that the Oakland Athletics executive has honed into an industry science over the past decade. In 2012, the Cubs signed left-hander Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson to short-term, economically friendly free-agent contracts. After getting productive first-half contributions from both players, they flipped the two veterans for young talent at the trade deadline.

"There certainly isn't any blueprint that works in every market," Beane said at this week's general manager's meetings. "Each market has its own unique challenges. When you talk about Theo, we have been close friends for years. We think a lot alike and even when he was in Boston and I was in a small market, we viewed things in a similar fashion."

For years Beane built from within his organization and moved good players for other organizations' young players. When many of those players became too costly, he took other young players in return to keep the process fluid. Beane has also refined the art of signing and flipping players for a better club in future seasons.

"What Theo is doing with the Cubs is being very disciplined," Beane said. "Sometimes it is easy to listen to the noise and temporarily make moves that don't have any legs to them. Theo will not do that in his new role. He is a pretty strong-minded intelligent guy. I am glad I'm not in the National League Central because the Cubs will be a very good club relatively soon."

Epstein and Hoyer are talking to teams and player representatives about better players for next season.

"We want to get healthier as an organization," Epstein said. "We will be very aggressive and disciplined. Keep in mind we are trying to build the 2013 club that's more competitive, but we want to ensure a solid future for ourselves as well.

The translation of all of this is that the Cubs have a tremendous amount of work to do before they are ready to make their claim as one of baseball's best franchises. The ownership group is on board for the long haul and so are the business people. Epstein and Hoyer must be creative enough to compete in the short term and hold the attention of a fanbase that still pays an average of $50 a ticket for a below-average product.

Catch and release will be the method used to compete until the revamping of the Cubs' system is complete. Unlike Beane, Hoyer and Epstein have to try and hold off a somewhat disgruntled fanbase in a big market while building toward the future.

"There are not a lot of advantages to being a small market," Beane said. "You do have some leeway to experiment that you do not have in the bigger markets like New York."