Saturday, October 22, 2011

Welcome to Chicago, Theo.

Well, it's finally official. After a ridiculous amount of back and forth negotiations between the Red Sox and Cubs that truly showed what a douchebag Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino is, the teams announced that Theo has resigned from the Sox to officially join the Cubs. He joins the Cubs as the newly created President of Baseball Operations, a title that was created just for him. This means he can bring in his own staff, starting with current San Diego Padres GM Jed Hoyer, who was with Theo in Boston when they won the two World Series titles and will be the new General Manager here. And, just as importantly, Theo having Jed Hoyer bring Jason McLeod, his top scout in San Diego, with him to be Assistant General Manager. All of these are huge moves, and the expectations are already starting to ramp up.

I've talked about the pedigree that Epstein brings. The guy simply knows how to win. He constructed two championship ball clubs in Boston, but more importantly, changed a baseball culture that, just like the Cubs, consistently fell flat on its face. I'm more than optimistic and excited about this hiring. I've heard many times from many people that this won't change anything in Chicago; implying that the Cubs are cursed and are destined to lose. That argument is pure garbage. There is no curse. Let's say it again so it can't sink in, just like it worked with Will Hunting. Theo and the rest of the Cubs organization, new and old, need to keep a mentality that this is a new regime, with a new owner, new front office, new manager (hopefully) and new players (PLEASE).

So what do Hoyer - who brings a great pedigree himself, similar to Esptein - and Epstein do? It'll be interesting first to see how they interact. What responsibilities will Epstein have as President of Baseball Operations, and how will that be different from Hoyer's responsibilities as General Manager? It's an interesting dynamic, but one I think will work brilliantly for a couple reasons. First, the two worked together for a few years of tremendous success, and the way Theo runs his team is exactly that, as a team. So in my opinion, I could totally see the Hoyer-Epstein relationship working well, with their titles kind of being mere formalities, except Esptein having final say of course.

As far as their initial moves, I expect the new team to immediately begin a search for a manager, with no news on the search until after the World Series. I believe that if they don't find their exact kind of manager, they'll bring back Mike Quade for another year. For me personally, we should try to grab Ryne Sandberg like I wanted to last year. But at this point, I trust Epstein and Co. If you don't find your kind of manager, just wait. Us Cubs fans aren't expecting to win in 2012 anyways. Another move I would hope for them to make is to send some kind of assistant to the Dominican Republic in a long hard search for Alfonso Soriano's real birth certificate. Granted, there have been no indications that his certificate is forged, but for someone to fall off so badly has to be attributed to him lying about his age or him getting off the roids. Either way, Epstein - find some AL team to take him at DH and eat some of the contract. Remember, this is about changing the culture here, and Soriano is the epitome of lazy, one dimensional unaccountability that has defined the Cubs for years. Same goes for Carlos Zambrano. I don't care if he's healthy and has all the tools that scouts drool over - the guy is a complete psychopath and I'm sick of his temper tantrums up and down the mound. Get him out of here. As for Aramis Ramirez, let him go. The market is weak for 3B right now, so he will command a huge contract. Let some other team deal with his lackadaisical attitude both at 3B and running the bases. Always keep in mind, Theo, that we are changing the culture here - no more lazy, bloated players/contracts who don't care. Your 2004 and 2007 Red Sox teams were defined by gritty players who surrounded the stars. We need that here.

The hidden gem of this hiring is Jason McLeod. He's highly renowned in the scouting community, and brings an amazing track record with him to Chicago. Let's look at some of the drafting work he did in Boston:
  • 2003:  David Murphy (starts with Texas); Jonathan Papelbon (fourth round)
  • 2004:  Dustin Pedroia (second round, 2008 AL MVP)
  • 2005:  Jacoby Ellsbury (first round); Clay Buchholz (first round); Jed Lowrie (first round)
  • 2006:  Daniel Bard (first round); Justin Masterson (traded to Cleveland); Ryan Kalish (ninth round); Josh Reddick (seventeenth round);
  • 2007:  Nick Hagadone (first round; included in trade to Cleveland with Justin Masterson for Victor Martinez); Anthony Rizzo (sixth round)
  • 2008:  Casey Kelly (first round); Ryan Westmoreland (fifth round); Ryan Lavarnway (sixth round)
Thus, clearly, McLeod knows what he's doing. Much of those players there are better than nearly any prospect the Cubs drafted in that time:
  • 2003:   Jake Fox (second round, no longer with team); Sean Marshall (sixth round); Casey McGehee (starts for MIL)
  • 2004:  Sam Fuld (tenth round, included in trade to TB for Matt Garza)
  • 2005:  No one of note. Seriously, a completely wasted draft. How does that happen??
  • 2006Tyler Colvin (first round, jury's still out); Jeff Samardzija (fifth round, jury's still out)
  • 2007:  Josh Vitters (first round, third overall, and still toiling in the minors. Can he play??); Josh Donaldson (first round, included in trade for Rich Harden); Darwin Barney (fourth round)
  • 2008Andrew Cashner (first round); Ryan Flaherty (first round); Chris Carpenter (third round)
  • 2009:  Brett Jackson (first round); D.J. LeMahieu (second round); Trey McNutt (thirty-second round)
  • 2010:  Hayden Simpson (first round); Matt Szczur (fifth round)
Clearly, the cupboard is pretty bare, compared to other teams. Other than Carpenter and Jackson, nothing in the minor leagues sparks much confidence. Tim Wilken, the Cubs' current scouting director, took over in December 2005 and the Cubs have had marked improvement in drafting since then, but only an improvement from the complete garbage that was there before. Establishing and maintaining a good farm system is key, so McLeod has his work cut out for him. More interestingly will be how he works with Wilken. Is this a permanent working relationship or will Epstein wait a year to see how they work and go from there? I think that it would be a great partnership, as Wilken represents a sort of unorthodox old school approach to scouting, while McLeod subscribes to a sabermetric theory of scouting. Having both viewpoints would make for great overall scouting.

Finally, I can't forget to mention Tom Ricketts. I was skeptical of Ricketts when he bought the team and took every opportunity to rip him apart. But now I understand his methods and appreciate them. He realized when he bought the team that there was no opportunity for a quick fix. He knew that he would bide his time until he could bring in a team that could do the job right. Ricketts has a model of how he wants to set up the Cubs to win now and in the future, and he couldn't have done a better job than with these hirings. The next step is translating the great front office hires to the clubhouse and the field. One thing is for sure, though, Tom: keep making moves like this and the Cubs will turn it around before you know it.


Dubes said...

you fail to mention some of the worst contracts in baseball history, such as John Lackey and Carl Crawford (made by Epstein)

Dave Johnsen said...

Worst in baseball history? Try Adam Dunn. Or Soriano. Or Zambrano. We could go on and on. Don't hate on Theo.

Dave Johnsen said...

And who cares if he had bad contracts. Lackey, yes. Crawford - everyone wanted him and Henry gave him the money. That doesn't outweigh TWO CHAMPIONSHIPS. Come on. A huge upgrade and culture changer for the Cubs. Even a Sox fan should admit that.