CHICAGO -- Don't confuse the Chicago Cubs' struggles with management not caring, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein warned Wednesday.
Epstein, speaking on ESPN 1000's "Waddle & Silvy" show, said he knew it would be a rough season but it doesn't make the team's losing season easier to take.
It's not that he doesn't want to win right away, his intention is to turn the Cubs into contender year after year and the plan was to take a step back this season in order to take multiple steps forward in the coming years.
"It's painful for everybody," Epstein said of the team that was 21-40 before play began Wednesday. "It's been a while for me personally since I've been in this situation, but I do think we've stayed together through the whole thing and also managed to keep our eye on the bigger picture, and we've made a lot of progress behind the scenes. Nothing really matters ultimately except for wins and losses at the big-league level, but we can't just hang our (hats) on that and then ignore all the work that goes in, building the infrastructure for success down the line."
Epstein has talked about not wanting to put a band aid on things just to be competitive for the short term. The long-term plan involves scouting and drafting well and acquiring players that have a long shelf life.
In the draft, the Cubs grabbed highly-touted outfielder Albert Almora in the first round and they restocked the organization with quality arms in the later rounds. Then just this week they signed highly regarded Cuban outfield prospect Jorge Soler.
Deals like that could lead things to get much worse on the field this year before ultimately getting better if young players develop like Epstein and the rest of the front office thinks they will.
Manager Dale Sveum is aware of the even tougher road that could lie ahead very soon. The Cubs are easily on pace to break the franchise record of 103 losses in a season.
"It's part of the game and you're going to have to deal with it and hopefully when things like that happen, if you do make trades, you get people back that will impact your team in the next few years if not right away," Sveum said. "Those are the things you hope for. You've seen it with the Astros the last couple of years losing (Hunter) Pence and (Michael Bourne) and guys like that. You do the best you can. There's nothing more you can do about it."
Just how long it takes to rebound is the ultimate question. By the time enough of their younger players are ready to make an impact, they might also be willing to add key pieces through free agency.
"I knew there would be really tough times," Epstein said. "When the opportunity presents itself to join a new organization, you look at what's there and the good and the bad, and I think in this case I understood. There's a reason they were looking for change, and I knew there would be a lot of hard work ahead.
"There were plenty of good things here, but plenty of challenges. I think by taking the approach we're taking, which is trying to be disciplined about focusing on the big picture, doing it the right way, understanding there are no shortcuts, getting out of that mindset of just spending a little bit more money on this veteran here and maybe piecing it together so if everything goes right you can contend, we're trying to get out of that mindset and trying to build it the right way around a young nucleus. Of course I knew it would be difficult."
But just because the team isn't winning now doesn't mean Epstein has forgotten about the fans in any of this process.
"In the end, the adversity we're facing, the painful losses, the tough season we're having, for fans and for the Cubs alike, I do think it's going to be that much sweeter when we get there," Epstein said. "For fans, there's nothing like following young players in the minor leagues, maybe from the day they're drafted, following them through the minor leagues, seeing them come to Wrigley, seeing them maybe struggle initially and then seeing them gain confidence, have success.
"Maybe it's a core or whole group of young players, and then watching them win and getting in the postseason on an annual basis and ultimately winning a World Series, it will make it that much sweeter following it from the beginning, and knowing all the difficult times it took to get there."