Tag: Theo Epstein

Theo Epstein Contract: Latest News, Rumors on Negotiations with Cubs

Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein confirmed he’s in discussions with the organization on a contract extension and expects a deal “sometime soon.”

Continue for updates.

Epstein, Cubs Discuss Recent Extension Talks

Tuesday, April 5

Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com reported Epstein, whose current contract is set to finish at the end of the 2016 season, and Cubs owner Tom Ricketts both expect a new agreement in the near future. The architect of one of the league’s most talented rosters said it hasn’t been a top priority. 

“We had good, productive conversations,” Epstein said. “Neither one of us had a ton of time to focus on it. No cause of concern. We had good talks. We both feel like it will get done sometime soon.”

Ricketts added: “We talked about it at spring training. I think we’ll get to a conclusion pretty soon.”

Epstein, 42, joined the Cubs in late 2011 and has proceeded to oversee a comprehensive rebuilding project. The fruits of that labor finally began to show last season as Chicago, which finished last in the NL Central in each of his first three years, advanced to the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs opened the 2016 campaign Monday night with a 9-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. It marked the start of what should be another highly successful season, led by budding stars like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber.

Rebuilding is often a painful process, especially in a city like Chicago, where the Cubs have gone more than 100 years without a World Series title. But Epstein never wavered from the course, adding free agents like Jason Heyward while waiting for the organization’s prospects to reach the big leagues.

Cubs Insider highlighted the vast difference in lineup strength as a result:

Now, just like Epstein’s stint with the Boston Red Sox, his efforts have put the team in position for long-term success and, in a perfect world, multiple championships.

Getting him locked into a contract extension so he can see the process through is crucial. While the overhaul of the organization is complete, it’s still going to take some tweaks along the way to keep the Cubs on an upward trajectory, and he’s proven as adept as any front office executive at that.

With the Red Sox, he added cornerstones like David Ortiz and Curt Schilling. But he also picked up players like Kevin Millar and Bill Mueller to fill key voids. That’s going to become the task for the Cubs for the next handful of years: finding the right fits to complete the roster each season.

Ultimately, it doesn’t sound like Epstein or the Cubs have any concern about getting an extension done. That could change if an agreement isn’t in place within the next few months, though.


Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Cubs’ Title Drought Lives On, but Their ‘Curse’ Days Are Officially Over

“I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I’ll drill him in the ass.” – Pedro Martinez, Boston Red Sox, 2001 

Mystique and Aura” were appearing nightly in the Bronx during the 2001 World Series, but they missed the flight to Arizona.

The “Curse of the Bambino” enveloped the Boston Red Sox for 86 years until Boston was able to add Curt Schilling to a rotation that included Pedro Martinez. The Bambino has missed all three Red Sox duck boat parades since 2004.

The Chicago White Sox were damned to eternal baseball purgatory because of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, only to receive a reprieve in 2005.

It’s heretical to claim curses don’t exist in baseball, especially following the latest postseason demise of the Chicago Cubs. The team that last won a World Series in 1908 will have to wait another year following its 4-0 sweep by the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series.

Cubs fans have another year to pick and choose from a banquet of curses, jinxes, hexes and other perilous quirks of fate that have once again allegedly stymied their team in the postseason.

There is a real-world reason why millions believe any curse would hold sway over their favorite teams or athletes. It’s called “confirmation bias.”

Clinically, confirmation bias is “the seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations or a hypothesis in hand.”  In sportswriter English, it means we often only see facts that reinforce what we already want to believe.

Cubs fans have borne the “confirmation bias” gene like a blue and red badge of courage for at least 70 years.

Just ask Steve Bartman, if you can find him. 

Not to wreck a good tweet, but even the “Curse of the Billy Goat” really isn’t much of a curse. For starters, linking the fate of a farm animal in 1945 to the performance of a baseball team in 2015 smacks of 15th-century hokum. Billy Sianis, whose goat was purportedly denied entrance into Wrigley Field in 1945, lifted the curse before he died in 1970.

But even among curses, Sianis’ goat, Murphy, is old-school. It was forever supplanted by Bartman, who has certainly been cursed more than any curse west of Brookline.

In 2015, aggrieved Cubs fans immersed themselves in Back to the Future Part II nostalgia and hysteria. Somehow the movie, which predicted a Cubs “series sweep in five games,” was also responsible for the team’s demise against the Mets. 

And then there was the “Curse of Murphy.”

Who can argue with logic like that, especially when it comes to trying to figure out why the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since the (Teddy) Roosevelt administration. Daniel Murphy of the Mets homered in all four games against the Cubs and six straight overall in the postseason. 

Chicago’s tepid performance against New York was caused mainly by the Mets.

The Cubs weren’t cursed; they were crushed. 

The Cubs never led in the series, were outscored 21-8 and trailed in eight straight postseason games en route to being swept. Wednesday night in Game 4, the Cubs were down 4-0 before they came to bat.

Indeed, many of the Cubs were putrid at the plate during the NLCS. Anthony Rizzo, NL Rookie of the Year candidate Kris Bryant and Starlin Castro were a combined 8-for-44 in the NLCS. (Kyle Schwarber hit his fifth postseason home run in Game 3, becoming the Cubs all-time leader in that category.)

Neither Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein nor manager Joe Maddon appears ready to change course, however.

Epstein moved to Chicago after being exiled by the Red Sox following Boston’s calamitous 2011 season. Theo’s 2015 Cubs would have beaten his 2012 Cubs by 36 games in the standings.

This year’s Cubs team was arguably a year ahead of schedule despite Rizzo’s preseason call of playoff success in 2015. In January, Rizzo boldly predicted the Cubs would win the NL Central. They did not, but the Cubs did topple the division champion Cardinals in the divisional series.

That sort of “curse-inducing” overconfidence would have been feared once upon a time on Chicago’s North Side. No more, not with Maddon, a favorite for NL Manager of the Year, and Epstein in charge.

Epstein built these Cubs largely from scratch. None of Chicago’s top four starting pitchers—Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel—were with the team even three years ago. All had ERAs below 4.00 this year—at least in the regular season.

Arrieta, who turns 30 in March, threw 229.0 innings this season and put up Pedro-like numbers: 22-6, a 1.77 ERA, 236 strikeouts and a backbreaking 0.86 WHIP during the regular season. He was signed by the Cubs before 2015 to a one-year deal worth just $3.63 million. Arrieta is arbitration-eligible this season, but Epstein has a long history of signing players before ever getting that far.

The lineup assembled by Epstein carries tremendous potential. The average age of Chicago’s starting lineup Wednesday night—not counting 38-year-old catcher David Ross and 33-year-old starting pitcher Hammel—was just 24.3 years old.

Javier Baez and Schwarber are just 22, while Bryant and Jorge Soler are 23. Rizzo, who led the team in batting this season with 31 home runs, 101 RBI and an .889 OPS (.278/.387/.512), is an elder statesman at 26.

During Maddon’s first year in Chicago, the Cubs won 97 games, tying a post-World War II season high. Maddon guided the transformation of the once-laughable Tampa Bay Rays into eventual American League champions in 2008, beating Epstein’s Red Sox in the American League Championship Series that year in seven games. Maddon’s skillful guidance of the Rays’ lowly payroll and young talent produced playoff appearances in 2008, ’10, ’11 and ’13.

Thanks to the financial stability of Cubs ownership, the Ricketts family, Epstein will be able to pursue big-money free agents like David Price, Jordan Zimmermann and Chris Davis. This year’s team payroll was $133.2 million, just the 11th-highest in baseball.

Epstein was general manager of the Red Sox in 2004 when that team broke the Donald Trump of baseball curses.

He inherited a Red Sox team (via interim GM Mike Port) from Dan Duquette that included eventual 2004 World Series MVP Manny Ramirez, the aforementioned Martinez, Derek Lowe (who got the win in all three series-clinching games for Boston that postseason) and catcher Jason Varitek.

After the Red Sox’s historic collapse in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Epstein spent that Thanksgiving at Schilling’s home in Arizona in a successful effort to lure him to Boston. The Red Sox also added closer Keith Foulke, who would get the save in Boston’s World Series-clinching victory.

This Cubs team is much more his. And it will win or lose on its own. No curses necessary.


Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist. He wrote the ‘Obnoxious Boston Fan’ column for Boston.com from 2011-15. He can be reached on Twitter @RealOBF. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Theo Epstein Erases Losing Traditions as Baseball’s Miracle Worker

Theo Epstein once traveled to Arizona for Thanksgiving dinner at Curt Schilling’s house. No word on how many slices of pumpkin pie he devoured, but over turkey and dressing he laid the groundwork that ultimately convinced Schilling to waive his no-trade clause, come to Boston and change history.

Last October, Epstein traveled to a small patch of sandy beach in the Florida panhandle to conduct a job interview over a few beach chairs, some wide-mouth bottles of beer and a $20 bottle of wine, working through sunset to convince Joe Maddon to come manage the Chicago Cubs and change history.

Clearly, history is no match for a boarding pass and a corkscrew when baseball’s greatest miracle worker zeroes in on a plan to change water into wine.

Hyperbole? Stay tuned. As the Chicago Cubs launch their first postseason since 2008 with Wednesday’s National League Wild Card Game against Pittsburgh, if they can deliver a World Series title this year or soon with this nucleus, Epstein may be retrofitted for his own personal wing at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“It would be pretty cool if he did it,” says Padres president Mike Dee, who worked with Epstein in Boston and, before that, in San Diego, and remains close with him today. “To be able to be the architect of both the Cubs and the Red Sox ending long droughts?

“It would be hard to believe one guy would be involved in ending both of those.”

Do the math: When Epstein’s Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, it ended an 86-year curse. The Cubs currently are in season No. 107 since last winning a World Series title in 1908.

Together, that is a combined 193 years.

If, with a Schilling and Anthony Rizzo trade here, a Dave Roberts and Jake Arrieta deal there, a Jon Lester signing and a Maddon wooing, Epstein could make nearly two centuries of misery disappear for a pair of baseball’s crown jewel franchises?

Hyper-focused and acutely aware of the fragility of success, Epstein himself won’t bite.

“Let’s see if we can win a single postseason game firstit’s been a while!” he says in an email conversation with B/R. “I don’t like to get ahead of myself.”

No worries. His precocious Cubs, who hit the accelerator this summer at least a year ahead of projections, are doing it for him.

“The way Theo’s brain works, he probably could have done whatever he wanted to do,” says Kevin Towers, the former longtime Padres GM who was running the club when Epstein started full time in baseball in 1995 as an intern in San Diego’s media relations department.

“I think he would have been successful in baseball if he was a thespian. It’s who he is. He was made for it.”

Theo Epstein comes from a family of writers. His grandfather and great-uncle won an Academy Award for the Casablanca screenplay. His father, Leslie, now teaches fiction writing at Boston University, where he was the director of the creative writing program for more than 30 years. His sister, Anya, was a screenwriter for, among other things, television’s Homicide: Life on the Street.

Yet, nobody in the Epstein family has authored something quite like what may be a rough draft or two from becoming one of baseball’s greatest stories ever written.

Today, at 41 and long past the proving-ground stage of his meteoric career, the heavy-lifting begins not so much with the selling as with trust.

“A lot,” Maddon says of the one key ingredient, aside from the five-year, $25 million contract, that led him to Epstein and the Cubs. “Obviously, when it got to that particular point and we were talking, I had heard and read so much about the young Cub players.

“You hear about it and read about it, but you just don’t know about it. Obviously, I did more research as we got closer to having to make a decision, and it’s really exciting for me to work with this bunch of young players who have a tremendous upside for years to come.

“And, of course, the reputations of Theo and Jed [Hoyer, Cubs general manager and Epstein’s longtime consigliere], I got to know them a little bit from a previous interview with the Red Sox years ago. So I always felt like we had this common ground.

“I definitely trusted them from the beginning, and it’s as I thought it would be.”

Last winter, Lester spurned the Red Sox and the World Series-champion Giants to sign a six-year, $155 million deal with the Cubs, bringing him, in a sense, full circle: Though Lester was drafted the summer before Epstein arrived in Boston in November 2002, it was Epstein who was in charge when Lester came of age as a Red Sox rookie in 2006.

“The biggest thing for me is believing and knowing his process,” Lester says. “I saw it firsthand. I was a part of that process.

“Obviously, I wasn’t drafted by him, per se. But I wasn’t one of the guys that he got rid of, so he obviously saw something and brought me along. And he had that core in Boston similar to the Yankees [of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera].

“I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. And when you come over here, it’s kind of the same thing. You can see things as they go. The process has kind of sped up on him a little bit. I don’t think they fully thought that we would perform the way we have this year, which is a good thing.”

Epstein no longer is the Boy Wonder of 28 that he was when Boston made him the youngest GM in the history of the game in 2002, after which he responded with World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. He is older and wiser, and the “process” of which Lester speaks has been time-tested and proven.

“Everyone assumes that because Theo is young and has an Ivy League education, that he’s a Moneyball stats geek,” Dee says. “Where I was always impressed with Theo is that for every stats guy he had sitting at a computer, he had an old-school guy like Bill Lajoie [the late former Tigers GM and longtime scout] around the batting cage.

“He had a system of checks and balances. He looks through the baseball lens differently than he looks through the Sabermetric lens. He’s always been great at that.”

You could say Epstein has been constructing rosters since the day he stepped into baseball, following his graduation (with a degree in American studies) from Yale.

In those early days, his roster construction involved helping then-San Diego media relations director (and now Miami Marlins radio voice) Glenn Geffner produce the Padres media guide.

“He’d hang around over on the baseball side,” Towers says. “You could tell that’s where he ultimately wanted to get to.

“He had such tremendous writing skills, but that wasn’t what he wanted to do.”

Instead, he would write his masterpiece in a different way. He volunteered for whatever the baseball department needed doing. Ran the JUGS radar gun behind home plate. Went to minor league games.

Today, what Epstein remembers most about those blank-canvas days is the Padres’ push to win the NL West in 1996 and the World Series run in 1998. And the people: Towers. Executives Ted Simmons and Fred Uhlman. Scouts like Ken Bracey, Brad Sloan, Bill Gayton and Eddie Epstein.

“We were a small-market team with a small front office,” Epstein says via email. “So I learned a lot about being resourceful and got exposed to all the different sides of baseball operations.

“It was the perfect training ground.”

It was easy to see his potential, which is why then-Padres president Larry Lucchino advised law school, because it would make him even sharper and more well-rounded. Nights, between baseball tasks, that’s exactly what Epstein did, at the University of San Diego.

“He’s always been an incredibly intelligent young man,” Towers says. “We’d give him a project that would take other interns weeks to do, and he’d stay up all night to make sure it was on your desk the next morning. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.”

They would watch minor league games together and Epstein would write up reports. He got to know the scouts.

“Intellect, numbers, he had a great blend of both,” Towers says. “I liked him a lot because he’s got great people skills, the scouts liked him and as he got to know the players it made him more whole. He wasn’t strictly a numbers guy who only knew numbers people.

“All of a sudden, he was a baseball guy who knew baseball people.”

As Towers recalls, shortly after Epstein finished law school at USD in 2000, a Newport Beach law firm came recruiting. They sent a limo, wined and dined him and offered him a job somewhere in the $150,000 range. At the bottom of the Padres’ organizational flow chart, Epstein was making maybe $30,000 at the time.

“Theo came back and said, ‘It was pretty cool, but I really want to stay in baseball,” Towers recalls.

So the Padres bumped up his salary by a few thousand, gave him the title of “Director of Baseball Operations” and increased his responsibilities. Now, Epstein was engaging with other clubs in personnel discussions, talking with the Padres’ scouts, gaining responsibilities. The raise pushed him to roughly $60,000 a yearstill less than half of what that law firm offered.

Not long afterward, then-Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi phoned, wanting to hire Epstein as the Blue Jays’ assistant GM.

“What should I do?” Epstein asked Towers.

“Theo,” the Padres GM said. “You’re probably more involved here; you’re basically doing that here in San Diego. Where would you rather live, San Diego or Toronto? You’ve still got good visibility here; it’s a good place to live. Unless the money is more…”

“It’s not about the money,” Epstein said. “I’m happy.”

“I said, ‘What do you want to do?'” Towers says. “He said, ‘I want to run the Red Sox.’

Within a year, he was their GM.

Nobody won an Academy Award for writing the script for the movie Moneyball. And as entertaining as the film is, real life didn’t quite play out that way.

Oakland president and GM Billy Beane originally was offered the real-life role of Red Sox GM in 2002 and, had he not had a change of heart and reneged after accepting the job, who knows which route Epstein would have run to the ball?

Beane-to-Boston would have been the ultimate power play at the time for a new Red Sox ownership group that had sacked Dan Duquette and was looking to make an enormous first-impression splash. Instead, when Beane sent his eleventh-hour regrets, the Red Sox were left scrambling. They could turn to one of their second choices. Or, they could get creative.    

This is where passing on that Blue Jays job turned fortuitous for Epstein. When Lucchino left San Diego following a falling out with then-Padres owner John Moores, he landed softly in Boston as part of the ownership group with John Henry and Tom Werner. And, while doing so, he ransacked the Padres’ organization of some of its best minds…including Epstein.

Lucchino knew that, in Epstein, he had a future star. Abandoned by Beane and knowing they had a veteran support system in place that could back, nurture and teach a young GM, the Red Sox decided, why not?

“When Theo got the job, his father gave him two words of advice: ‘Be bold,'” Dee said. “He told him, don’t look back in five years and say you should have been more aggressive.”

Says Epstein: “It was great advice.”

Over the next few years, the Red Sox had a Dream Team of impressively sharp kids working in baseball operations who would move on to become future stars. Hoyer. Josh Byrnes, the current assistant GM with the Los Angeles Dodgers and past GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres. Peter Woodfork, who now works in the commissioner’s office.

But, they also employed salty old baseball minds like Lajoie, Allard Baird (the former Kansas City Royals GM), Craig Shipley (a former major league infielder) and Bill James, the Godfather of Sabermetrics.

“When he got the job, he was GM-ready,” says Dee, who also had moved from San Diego to Boston with Lucchino and was the Red Sox’s Chief Operating Officer from ’03 to ’09. “People mistook him for a 25-year-old kid. But he never played to his age.

“His Boston success and, ultimately, his Boston departure set him up to have the intestinal fortitude for what he’s doing now in Chicago.”

Working for Lucchino, as those who have done so will tell you, is not for the weak of heart. He is a tough and demanding boss. He looks over your shoulder and screams, “Why?” when you’ve made a decision, and you’d better have good reasons. And just when you think you’ve reached a decision, he quizzes you on all of the avenues that led to your decision. And you better have covered every base, so to speak, during the process.

The relationship between Lucchino and Epstein always was going to be complicated and destined for a combustible breakup. Epstein could only be groomed for so long. There would be a point where he was fully formed with enough experience to operate with the autonomy that would be difficult for Lucchino to allow.

“Larry and Theo have two of the most ferocious pilot lights you’ll ever see,” Dee says. “In many ways, they’re a lot alike. Intellectual capacity, the will to win, the ability to look at things differently.

“An enormous avalanche of success came to us pretty quickly. It’s unfortunate it ended the way it did, initially. But things happen when you’re dealing with competitive people at the top of their profession. Larry’s RPM level is amazing. And Theo’s…”

His father’s advice, be bold? Never was Epstein bolder in Boston than in the minutes leading up to the July 31 trade deadline in 2004 as the Red Sox doggedly chased the Yankees. Frantically racing the clock to complete a three-way trade, he sent Boston icon Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs and acquired first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz from the Twins and shortstop Orlando Cabrera from the Expos.

The Garciaparra trade stunned almost everyone in town.

“We just traded away Mr. Boston, a guy that meant so much to the city, and just like that, he’s gone,” then-Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon told the Boston Globe‘s Bob Hohler at the time.

That same day, Epstein also acquired speedster Dave Roberts, just the piece then-manager Terry Francona needed to pinch run in the ninth inning of Game 4 of that fall’s American League Championship Series to ignite one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history. Roberts’ dash to second base with Mariano Rivera on the mound was the most memorable run through Boston since Paul Revere, and it ignited Boston’s storming back from a 3-0 series deficit to win the World Series title that smashed the famous Curse of the Bambino.

Once that happened, the Red Sox’s ’04 World Series title, the franchise’s first since 1918, was a foregone conclusion.

While nobody in Boston would trade those days for anything, there also was no going back. Epstein had cut all of his adult teeth and was ready for his independence. Lucchino wasn’t as quick to back off. History has seen fissures like this in how many father-son, boss-mentor relationships since the dawn of civilization?

“The trade deadline of ’04, it was magical watching those guys work together,” Dee says of Theo and his baseball operations team. “Sometimes things happen, and as they’re happening, you’re like, ‘How is this happening?'”

Behind-the-scenes pushes came to shoves, culminating with Epstein’s stunning resignation in 2005, and his Halloween night escape from Fenway Park disguised in a gorilla suit.

“We were family, and it was hard to see family go through that type of stress,” Dee says. “All of us were close to both people.”

The Red Sox wooed him back two-and-a-half months later. Lajoie ran the team in the interim, Lucchino and Epstein publicly made nice and Epstein returned to his GM role with far greater autonomy. They won a World Series again in ’07, but it wasn’t the same. It never is. Not that things were bad. They were just…different.

And then, he left.

“September of 2011 was a terrible month,” he emails of his final days in Boston. “I think we had the best record in baseball and were on pace for 100 wins entering September, and we threw it all away because we ran out of pitching and didn’t handle adversity well as a team. It could have been such a special year, with an uber-talented team and a terrific draft. Instead, it turned into a big mess.”

Out of that mess, the Cubs lured him with a five-year, $18.5 million deal and the title president of baseball operations.

Turns out, as his father told him, being bold doesn’t leave a guy looking in the rearview mirror wishing he had been more aggressive. But it also is no safeguard against regrets.


“Theo checks every box,” Towers says, speaking of the qualities you want in a top baseball executive. “Scouting, knowing a network of coaches and players, the ability to evaluate, the ability to do contracts, people skills, as a public speaker, and he’s incredibly competitive.

“There were times I’d tell him, ‘Theo, I love you like a brother, but there are times I don’t trust you. I think you’d probably slit my neck and cut my throat to win.’

“He said, ‘You’re probably right.'”

Which brings us to today, the Cubs, Maddon…and Rick Renteria.

It was last October when Epstein and Hoyer traveled to Florida to meet with Maddon. Rizzo, Arrieta and Jorge Soler were already in place. Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez were on the farm. And the Cubs were edging past three difficult seasons of rebuilding. 

The then-Tampa Bay manager had employed a clause to opt out of his contract and suddenly had become a surprise free agent.

History, again, has proven Epstein correct. The luring of Maddon, whom Epstein had interviewed years ago for the Boston job before Francona was hired, is one enormous reason why the Cubs smashed open their window to win far earlier than anyone imagined.

But it was messy. Renteria, a longtime baseball man and good soldier, had just finished his first season as Cubs manager and had already been told he would return for 2015. To hire Maddon, the Cubs had to discard Renteria like an empty, recyclable plastic bottle.

They kept him apprised every step of the way. Hoyer flew to Renteria’s Southern California home to personally explain the club’s intentions with Maddon. They offered Renteria another job within the organization. Renteria declined and has not been seen publicly in baseball circles since.

At the time, Epstein issued a long explanatory statement that read in part:

“Last Thursday, we learned that Joe Maddon—who may be as well suited as anyone in the industry to manage the challenges that lie ahead of ushad become a free agent. … We saw it as a unique opportunity and faced a clear dilemma: Be loyal to Rick or be loyal to the organization. In this business of trying to win a world championship for the first time in 107 years, the organization has the priority over any one individual. We decided to pursue Joe.”

Be bold.

I think you’d probably slit my neck and cut my throat to win.

Twelve months later, the young, Maddon-led Cubs produced the third-best record in the majors. And if they can get past the Pirates on Wednesday, who knows where this autumn might lead. Possibly, dare we say it, all the way back to 1908.

“In some respects, it has been more difficult than expected,” Epstein says via email of the job in Chicago. “The Collective Bargaining Agreement [signed in November, 2011, just a month after Epstein took the Cubs job] made it impossible for us to hoard draft picks, we had a massive young talent deficit and we actually had to bring the payroll down.

“But in other respects, we had more going for us than we imagined: It turned out that we had an incredibly patient and supportive owner [Tom Ricketts], the fanbase was great to us and we were able to be single-minded about the rebuild without much distraction.”

Going into this season, the Cubs had made 38 trades since the arrival of Epstein, including the Arrieta heist from Baltimore on July 2, 2013 (along with reliever Pedro Strop and international slot money for pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger).

They acquired Rizzo from the Padres in a four-player deal that sent pitcher Andrew Cashner to San Diego in January 2012. They acquired Russell by trading pitcher Jeff Samardzija to Oakland last July and they signed Soler to a nine-year, $30 million deal in June 2012.

Throughout, Epstein has operated as he has all of his life, with a rare combination of exceptional intelligence and street smarts, blending scouting and Sabermetrics as naturally as both sides of the brain working in concert together.

“I think Theo is the first guy to demonstrate before anybody else that you need the equilibrium of both,” Dee says.

From Boston to Chicago, Lester sees subtle differences.

“I think he probably has lightened up a little bit,” Lester says. “In Boston, it always seemed like he had that thumb on him at all times.”

Says Epstein: “I’m probably a little bit more mature, more experienced and [have] a better sense of how to manage time and work-life balance.”

Through their shared history together and a winter of negotiating, Lester was able to view a side of Epstein that remains hidden from others. The back and forth when Lester and his wife, Farrah, were making one of the biggest decisions of their lives: How does living and playing in Chicago compare with Boston? What about Wrigley Field and the working conditions? What is the family room like, compared with Fenway? Conversations. Emails. Texts.

“You get to sit down and continually talk to somebody for two months, two-and-a-half months, three months; you start to build that relationship a little to where the guard is let down and it’s not just a GM or president and a player, it’s more on a personal level,” Lester says. “So I got to see that a little bit.

“I think his personality has pretty much stayed the same. His passion for what he does has probably stayed the same if not grown a little bit coming from Boston to here and trying to create a winner.

“Obviously, his baseball mind hasn’t changed. He still believes in the same things as he did in Boston: build the farm system, try to build from within and then bring in pieces when you can.”

When the Red Sox won it all in ’04, the team employed only one homegrown player on its roster, Trot Nixon. When they won again in ’07, Epstein’s fifth season on the job, eight products of the Boston farm system were on the roster.

So maybe he’s lightened up a wee bit simply because, as with the rest of us, time and family have a way of smoothing the rough edges. Age can’t help but expand your world.

No longer is Epstein the young, single, ambitious kid eager to finish a project for the boss by the morning’s first light.

Now, he’s married with two sons, Jack, 7, and Drew, 1.

“I wouldn’t say I’m more relaxed,” he says via email. “I think we’ve been pretty locked in, pretty intensely focused the last four years. We felt like there was only the smallest of margins for error with this big-market rebuild, so we needed to get it right.”

The fear of getting it wrong still keeps him up late into the night, working, studying, emailing. But for the first time in his four years there, autumn has come to Wrigley Field and the construction cones are few and far between.

Already kind to Epstein, history at this point is preparing to jump up onto his lap and begin warmly licking his face.

“We believe we’re going to [win],” Maddon says. “Of course, when I came on board, we talked about doing it this year because, like I said, why would you not want to aim high?

“Why would you not want to aim high?”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Cubs’ Young Bats, Veteran Rotation Perfect Mix to Keep Matching the Hype

For almost four years now, there has been absolutely no shortage of hype.

Ever since Theo Epstein agreed to turn around the Chicago Cubs to the tune of $18.5 million for five years, the North Side faithful—and beyond—have salivated for the season when the new president of baseball operations would make good. In Epstein’s fourth season running the show, the hype is now developing into substance.

Epstein, along with general manager Jed Hoyer and the Ricketts family’s deep pockets, has used the draft (Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber), the domestic and international free-agent markets (Jon Lester and Jorge Soler) and shrewd trades (Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta) to build the Cubs into legitimate contenders in 2015.

With a mix of young position players and some veteran pitching, the Cubs’ plan has gone from living off potential to a win-now attitude. And finally, with a recent surge that has seen them win 11 times in 12 games to move into the second wild-card spot, the Cubs’ play is matching the hype.

“Keep it rolling,” manager Joe Maddon told reporters after Tuesday night’s win, which put the Cubs 15 games over .500 for the first time since the end of 2008 and a year after finishing 16 games below .500. “The next goal is 20. I’m really proud of these guys and the way they’re going about their business.”

Right now is the first time in Epstein’s reign that excitement on the major league field has been anywhere near this current level. The Cubs are 3.5 games ahead of the San Francisco Giants for that second wild-card berth, and it would be the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 2008. If Chicago can get there and manage to win a game, it would be its first playoff victory since 2003.

Just based on where this club was at the end of last season, it would appear the Cubs are about a year ahead of a reasonable contending schedule.

Considering that on any given day, six of their regular position starters are 25 years old or younger, growing pains and inconsistency would be an understandable hurdle as they adapt to major league rigors and pitching. That is why Epstein was ecstatic with the team’s midseason record.

“If somebody came up to me in spring training and said here’s where you’ll be at the end of the first half, I’d have taken it in a heartbeat,” Epstein told the Associated Press (via the New York Times) last month when the Cubs were seven games over .500 at the All-Star break.

There have been bumps.

All-Star rookie third baseman Bryant hit .177/.302/.329 with 31 strikeouts over his previous 23 games before he went 1-for-4 with a double and five men left on base Tuesday. But there have also been clear signs of why the Cubs had the No. 1-rated farm system in baseball entering this season, according to John Manuel of Baseball America.

The team’s top four prospects are all in the majors right now, and the last man to debut, catcher/left fielder Schwarber, hit .385/.484/.808 with a 1.292 OPS, two doubles and three home runs in his previous seven games going into Tuesday.

Part of the credit can go to Maddon. He is in his first year on the job with the Cubs after earning a reputation as an open-minded analytical manager with the Tampa Bay Rays. There, he worked under then-GM Andrew Friedman, who has the same kind of reputation. Friedman now runs a similar ship to Chicago’s front office with the Los Angeles Dodgers (he is the president of baseball ops with a whiz-kid GM, Farhan Zaidi).

But more of the credit has to go to the fact the Cubs have as much talent as any team in the sport. And the credit for that has to go to Epstein and Hoyer, as does the construction of the veteran pitching staff, which has a 2.61 ERA in its last 12 games.

The rotation in particular is the group solidifying the Cubs’ run to the postseason. The front office got the OK from ownership to pursue a difference-making starter over the winter, and Epstein’s gang went hard on Lester and landed him for six years at $155 million, the largest contract in franchise history.

Days before netting Lester, the Cubs signed Jason Hammel to a free-agent deal. Those two, along with Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and recently acquired Dan Haren, give the team a balance of youth on one side and experience on the other. In that same 12-game stretch, the rotation has a sub-3.00 ERA.

There will be some correction over the team’s next 51 games. The offense won’t be so potent as its 116 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) in August, according to FanGraphs. And the pitching won’t be so dominant through the end of the regular season. But that correction won’t be so dramatic that it takes the Cubs out of contention.

This team has the right combination of youthful upside and veteran experience that makes almost every other organization envious until they are a bright shade of green.

“These last 11 games have helped us as far as our mentality and getting out of a group rut that we were in,” Rizzo told reporters Tuesday after going 2-for-3 to raise his average to .419 in August. “We’re all very confident here and have to keep it going. The mentality in here has been unbelievable.”

Because of that, the possibility of this Cubs team breaking its 107-year World Series drought is becoming less unbelievable as the hype is becoming justified.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Epstein and Hoyer: A Timeline of the First Two Years of the Cubs’ Rebuild

There’s no doubt that the bold move of luring Theo Epstein away from the Boston Red Sox to become the Chicago Cubs‘ president of baseball operations changed the culture of baseball on the north side of Chicago. Instantly, there was a change in organizational philosophy and for the first time in seemingly forever, the Cubs were preparing to undergo a rebuild.

Gone were the days when noncompetitive Cubs teams tried to rebuild through signing free agents to overpriced multi-year deals. Looking back over the first two-plus years of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s how the Cubs got to this point. 


October 13, 2011: The Cubs hire Theo Epstein as their president of baseball operations.

In order to make this deal possible, Epstein had to resign as the GM of the Boston Red Sox because he had a year left on his deal in Boston. With the hire, the Cubs made it clear that they wanted to head in a completely new direction. One could say that Epstein has a record of reversing curses, and the Cubs were clearly hopeful that he could continue that trend. As part of the deal, the league also announced that the Cubs would have to provide the Red Sox with compensation. 


October 26, 2011: The Cubs hire Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod from the San Diego Padres organization. 

They name Hoyer as the team’s general manager and McLeod as the director of scouting and player development. These two helped Epstein build a championship team in Boston in 2004. With these hires, the top of the Cubs’ new front office was effectively set. 


November 2, 2011: The Cubs fire manager Mike Quade

As can usually be expected when there’s a regime change in the front office, there’s a regime change in the dugout, as well. While Quade didn’t have much to work with, the team still evidently felt that going in a new direction at manager as well was the right move for the team going forward. 


November 17, 2011: The Cubs hire manager Dale Sveum.

The former Brewers hitting coach is tabbed as the next manager of the Cubs after the team interviewed several candidates, including Mike Maddux (who later withdrew his name from consideration) and Sandy Alomar Jr. 


January 6, 2012: The Cubs trade pitcher Andrew Cashner to the Padres for pitcher Zach Cates and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. 

After missing out on Prince Fielder in free agency, making a move like this gave the Cubs what they believed to be their first baseman of the future in Anthony Rizzo. Whether he turns out the way that management envisioned remains to be seen, but this move majorly changed the direction of the club long-term. 


January 11, 2012: The Cubs sign pitcher Paul Maholm to a one-year deal. 

This signing of former division rival Maholm normally wouldn’t seem like a big deal in terms of the organization’s future, but what he got them at the trade deadline made his signing an important one. A signing like this was also a indication of things to come in the Epstein/Hoyer regime; signing mid-level players to one-year deals and hoping to trade them at the deadline for prospects has become a successful trend for the Cubs’ front office. 


February 21, 2012: The Cubs send pitcher Chris Carpenter to the Red Sox as compensation for Theo Epstein coming to the Cubs before his deal with Boston expired. 

No, this wasn’t the Cardinals‘ former ace Chris Carpenter, but this was significant because Carpenter was one of the Cubs’ better pitching prospects. One of the biggest problems facing the Cubs right now is their lack of pitching depth in the minor leagues, so this move could prove significant even though Carpenter hasn’t panned out on the big league level as of yet.


June 12, 2012: The Cubs fire hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo

Once thought of as the savior for the Cubs lineup after coming over from Texas, the lack of offensive production forced the Cubs’ front office to move in a new direction. With this move, most remaining top front office members and coaching staff were selected by Epstein and Hoyer


June 26, 2012: The Cubs recall 1B Anthony Rizzo from Triple-A Iowa. 

After trading for him in January, the Cubs decide that it was time for Rizzo to play first base in a Chicago Cubs uniform. He didn’t disappoint in his first prolonged big league action, hitting 15 home runs and driving in 48 while batting .285 in 87 games. His season was highlighted by a walk-off two-run homer against the rival Cardinals on July 29th. 


June 30, 2012: The Cubs and OF Jorge Soler agree to a nine-year deal. 

Cuban defector Soler boasts more raw power than many youngsters in baseball. This signing is the first major move of the Epstein and Hoyer regime that shifted focus to the future, when the team should be competing in the playoffs. 


July 11, 2012: The Cubs sign OF Albert Almora to a minor league contract after drafting him sixth overall in the June draft. 

Following this pick, the Cubs believed that they had found their leadoff man of the future. Coming out of high school, Almora still had to grow quite a bit, and again the forward-thinking front office knew that when his time came, it would also likely be the Cubs’ time to compete. 


July 30, 2012: The Cubs trade pitcher Paul Maholm and OF Reed Johnson to the Braves for pitchers Jaye Chapman and Arodys Vizcaino

Since they signed Maholm to a one-year deal in the offseason, the Cubs basically scooped up Chapman and Vizcaino for the price of Maholm‘s contract from April through July. Vizcaino was coming off of Tommy John surgery at the time of the deal and he suffered a setback in 2013, but he seems ready to make an impact from the bullpen in the 2014 season.


August 15, 2012: Cubs fire vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita

This came as somewhat of a surprise after Fleita signed a four-year extension the previous offseason, but again Epstein and Hoyer evidently felt that putting their own guys in place at the top was the right way to go. Fleita had been with the organization in various capacities since 1995. 


August 28, 2012: The Cubs and SS Starlin Castro agree to a seven-year contract extension. 

In an interesting deal, both sides were taking a risk. By signing the budding star to a seven-year, $60 million contract, the Cubs are saying that they believe he will be a force to be reckoned with in the future. If he turns out to be a superstar, then it’s a good deal for the Cubs and a bad deal for Castro. Should he completely flop, then it’s the other way around. Just a year-and-a-half into the extension, it’s unclear who the winner of this contract is right now. 


August 29, 2012: The Cubs hire Brandon Hyde as director of player development. 

This move meant that Hyde would now be in charge of running the Cubs’ farm system and making sure that players at all levels were progressing the way they were supposed to be. Effectively, Hyde was the replacement for Fleita after he was fired two weeks before. Recently, Hyde was moved to the dugout to be the Cubs’ bench coach for the 2014 season. 


November 27, 2012: The Cubs and pitcher Scott Feldman agree to terms on a one-year deal. 

Like the Maholm signing, this didn’t seem like big news at the time, but the group of players that he brought in return made this signing a big deal. It also established a trend that the front office would like to continue: signing players in the same fashion that they signed Maholm the year before. 


December 7, 2012: The Cubs and pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa agree to terms on a two-year deal. 

At the time, it seemed like Fujikawa would be the setup man to closer Carlos Marmol. However, injuries made him ineffective and eventually ended his season extremely prematurely. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in June, he is expected back at some point toward the middle of the 2014 season. As of right now, this move isn’t significant, but he could be a wild card in the bullpen if he stays healthy and can be effective in 2014. 


December 21, 2012: The Cubs and OF Nate Schierholtz agree to terms on a one-year deal. 

This move was reminiscent of the sort that Epstein and Hoyer have liked making in the past. Take a player that was marginally productive as a role player and throw him into the everyday starting lineup and see how he does.

This strategy worked out really well for the Cubs and Schierholtz, as the lefty ended up hitting 21 home runs in 2013, which was more than double his previous career high. Moving forward, Schierholtz could be a very interesting trade piece in 2014 if the Cubs decide to go that route since they have so many young outfielders waiting in the minor leagues. 


January 3, 2013: The Cubs and Edwin Jackson agree to terms on a four-year deal.

Giving $48 million ($52 million including a signing bonus) to a player that has never seemed to stick in one city seemed risky at the time. For a guy who can eat up innings and be a workhorse, the deal didn’t seem atrocious, but 2013 proved to be a major down year for Jackson. He lost 18 games and had an ERA just below 5.00.

He showed a glimpse of why he got the contract he did when he went 3-1 with a 1.84 ERA in July. Since he gets behind in counts often, Jackson will never have a low ERA, but if he can consistently work late into games and keep the Cubs in it, he can be a solid contributor as a third starter. 


April 3, 2013: The Cubs and Ryan Sweeney agree to terms on a minor league contract. 

This was a low-risk proposition for the Cubs, who snatched up Sweeney on the chance that he could eventually be productive at the major league level again. The signing proved to be a smart one as Sweeney ended up totaling six home runs and 19 RBI in limited action.

He was injured often in 2013, but after receiving another contract from the Cubs in the 2013 offseason, he projects as a starter until some of the club’s young talent starts making its way to Wrigley Field.


May 13, 2013: The Cubs and 1B Anthony Rizzo agree to terms on a seven-year contract extension. 

Following suit from the extension they gave Castro, the Cubs again gave Rizzo more money than he was worth up front in hopes that he would eventually be worth far more in the future. For a left-handed hitter with the power to hit more than 30 home runs a year, it seemed like a relatively safe risk for the organization. 


July 2, 2013: The Cubs trade C Steve Clevenger and pitcher Scott Feldman to the Orioles for starting pitcher Jake Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop. 

When it’s all said and done, this may be one of the biggest steals that the Cubs have pulled off in a while. While Clevenger was showing promise, he was never going to be the Cubs’ everyday catcher. Feldman was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason with the goal of getting a return for him exactly like this. 

What the Cubs received in return was two promising pitchers whose teams essentially gave up on them. Arrieta was a former top prospect, and after performing well down the stretch for the Cubs, he projects into the No. 4 or 5 slot in the Cubs’ 2014 starting rotation. 

Strop pitched extremely well for the Orioles in 2012, going 5-2 with a 2.44 ERA in the setup role. However, things seemed to fall apart early in the 2013 season for Strop, and the Orioles lost trust in him. There was a period of two weeks between May and June that Strop wasn’t used once in Baltimore. Once he came to the Cubs, though, management informed him that he was tipping his slider, and once he corrected that, it was smooth sailing for the righty

After arriving in Chicago, Strop posted a 2.83 ERA while going 2-2. Without the signing of Jose Veras in the 2013 offseason, Strop would have had a great chance at being the team’s 2014 closer. That being said, he still looks like the setup man or closer of the future. 


July 12, 2013: The Cubs and 3B Kris Bryant agree to terms on a minor league contract. 

After drafting him second overall in the June draft, the Cubs were able to sign the player that was far and away the best hitter in the draft. In college at San Diego, Bryant clubbed 31 home runs, which was 10 more than the next closest player. 

He continued his dominance in the minor leagues and is now on the fast track to Chicago. 


July 19, 2013: The Cubs recall OF Junior Lake from Tripla-A Iowa. 

Originally a shortstop and third base prospect, Lake is plugged into the Cubs outfield because the organization evidently projects him getting more playing time there. For a player who wasn’t necessarily a top-flight prospect, Lake performed extremely well. 

The fleet-footed Lake hit six homers to go along with 16 RBI and batted .284 in 236 at-bats. That performance, as well as his room to grow, have him on track to be a starting outfielder for the Cubs in 2014 and possibly beyond depending on his sustained performance. 


July 23, 2013: The Cubs trade pitcher Matt Garza to the Rangers for 3B Mike Olt and pitchers C.J. Edwards and Justin Grimm. 

While the Feldman trade may have been the Cubs’ biggest trade steal, this was the Cubs’ biggest trade yield. The Cubs received Mike Olt, who was a top prospect in the Rangers organization, and after battling through vision issues a year ago he is primed to make a run at the starting third base job this spring training. 

C.J. Edwards is an undersized, yet extremely impressive young pitcher. He needs to fill out his 6’2″, 155-pound frame, but the production people have seen from Edwards in the lower levels of the minor leagues is already enough to call him one of two top pitching prospects in the Cubs organization. 

Grimm is not as highly touted a prospect as Edwards, but he produced at the major league level a season ago and will be battling for one of the final projected bullpen spots this spring training. 


July 26, 2013: The Cubs trade OF Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees for pitcher Corey Black. 

Ridding themselves of the last bad contract from the Jim Hendry era, the Cubs were actually able to get a decent return. Black isn’t nearly major league-ready, but the fact that the Cubs got a player who can project into their rotation at some point in the future was solid given Soriano’s remaining contract. 

While he didn’t perform poorly, Soriano never lived up to the giant contract that he signed with the Cubs. This move was symbolic of a franchise shifting directions and looking toward the future as it developed an entirely new brand of Cubs baseball. 


September 30, 2013: The Cubs fire manager Dale Sveum

It seemed obvious from the moment they hired him that Sveum wasn’t going to be the Cubs’ manager when they were competing for championships, but his departure came a season or two earlier than most likely expected. 

Like Quade, he wasn’t given much to work with, but his smug demeanor didn’t play out well with the team losing as many games as it did. He did help groom some players like Castro and Rizzo, but his tenure was a forgettable one from the Cubs’ perspective. 


November 7, 2013: The Cubs hire Rick Renteria as manager. 

After missing out on coming to an agreement with former Cubs catcher Joe Girardi, the club decided to hire Padres bench coach Rick Renteria. The club made it a point to add more Spanish-speaking managerial staff due to its plethora of Spanish-speaking talent in the minor leagues, and Renteria fit the bill in that respect and others. 

Renteria is seemingly in a gray area as manager of this team. When Sveum took the job two years before, it seemed apparent that he wouldn’t be coaching the team when it was contending. Now, though, Renteria will be coaching a team that is still at least a year, and maybe two, away from competing. How he performs as manager may directly affect if he’s around when the club’s competing or not. 


December 12, 2013: The Cubs trade OF Brian Bogusevic to the Marlins for OF Justin Ruggiano

Acquiring Ruggiano gives the Cubs more versatility on their bench. He figures to be a fourth outfielder and an often-utilized pinch hitter. He hit 18 home runs last season while not playing every day, so the move provides the Cubs with more depth on their bench. 


December 16, 2013: The Cubs and reliever Wesley Wright agree to a one-year deal. 

What this deal did more than anything is give the team more flexibility in the bullpen. Now Wright joins James Russell as the two lefties in the Cubs’ ‘pen. Being able to use multiple lefties is invaluable to a team whose bullpen underachieved a season ago.


December 27, 2013: The Cubs and reliever Jose Veras agree to terms on a one-year deal.

This signing adds even more depth to a drastically improved Cubs bullpen. It allows the Cubs to have a proven closer at the ready while pitchers like Pedro Strop and Arodys Vizcaino develop into the possible closers of the future.


January 13, 2014: The Cubs announce that “Clark” will be the first mascot in team history. 

In possibly the worst-timed mascot announcement of all time, the Cubs managed to discourage a fanbase even further. 



The first two years of the rebuild have been a roller-coaster ride, as expected. What will be more indicative of the progress of the rebuild will be how the next two years go. How they go could determine the future of a franchise rooted in futility. Fortunately, Epstein and Hoyer are hoping that they can make lightning strike twice.

For a full list of Cubs transactions over the past two-plus seasons, click here


As always, if you want to hear more or just want to talk Cubs baseball with me, follow me and/or message me on Twitter @KornSports


Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

David Price and 3 Arbitration-Eligible MLB Stars Who Should Be Traded

Major League Baseball’s hot stove is cold, but will only need a few impact moves to heat up again over the next few weeks. Despite pitchers and catchers preparing to arrive for spring training in less than a month, there’s still major business to tend to this offseason.

With arbitration numbers exchanged, settlements achieved and hearings set for February, the short-term payroll for each team is coming into focus for 2014. 

The free-agent market is still ripe with options, but trades could be the most efficient team-building route for the following teams. 

Here are four arbitration-eligible stars who should be moved between now and the start of spring training.


*Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts. 

Begin Slideshow

The 5 MLB Teams That Can’t Afford to Fail at the Trade Deadline

With the July 31 trade deadline looming, less than two weeks remain for teams looking to make a non-waiver deal.

The deadline represents an integral period of time for both contending and rebuilding organizations. Contenders, like the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers, must decide if this year is theirs and sacrifice a bit of the future to improve the present.

On the flip side, a team like the New York Mets would have to juggle an already-livid fanbase if they entertained trading homegrown closer Bobby Parnell, for instance. While a big return for Parnell would help fill gaping voids for 2014 and beyond, it’s never a popular decision to throw in the towel—especially in New York.

Regardless of a team’s direction, the strategy must be a resolute one: Failure simply isn’t an option.

Below are five MLB teams that can’t afford to fail at the trade deadline this year.

All statistics sourced (through July 18, 2013) from Baseball-Reference.com.

Begin Slideshow

Why the Chicago Cubs Are Smart to Avoid Bourn, LaRoche, Soriano and Lohse

One of the most surprising developments of the MLB offseason was the Chicago Cubs‘ pursuit of free-agent pitcher Anibal Sanchez.

The Cubs’ interest didn’t result in signing Sanchez and adding him to the top of their starting rotation. But offering a five-year, $77 million contract did make a statement of purpose to the other 29 MLB teams and any players deciding where to take their talents. 

While the Cubs may be rebuilding under Theo Epstein, the team intends to be competitive and become a playoff contender again. Ownership and the front office will pay top dollar for the best available players who can help the Cubs accomplish that objective. 

Yet this doesn’t mean that the Cubs will just start pushing piles of cash at any player that casts an interested glance their way. Epstein has shown during this offseason that he will carefully choose which free agents will receive large contract offers.

Sanchez appears to have been the exception for the Cubs, not the regular way of doing business on the North Side. 

While their interest in Sanchez would seem to signal that the Cubs are open for business to any top free agent, Epstein has made it clear that the rules in MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement regarding the draft and free agency require teams to exercise discretion. 

As Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan explained in a recent column, teams that made a qualifying offer to its free agents will receive a first-round draft pick when that player signs elsewhere. The draft selection will come from the club inking the free agent to a new contract.

A team like the Cubs won’t lose their first-round pick for the 2013 draft, as the top 10 selections are protected under MLB rules. The Cubs have the No. 2 selection this year. 

But if Epstein were to sign a player who’s received a qualifying offer from his previous team, such as outfielder Michael Bourn, starting pitcher Kyle Lohse or reliever Rafael Soriano, the Cubs would still lose their second-round selection, along with the bonus money allotted to teams to sign a particular amateur player. 

For the Cubs, that’s just too high a price to pay at this stage of Epstein’s rebuilding project.

A second-round pick should be a player that develops into a major league contributor. How fast he helps the Cubs depends on a variety of factors, of course. But this team needs to accumulate talent and build depth. Giving away draft picks runs contrary to that goal.

Epstein said as much himself during an interview with Boston’s WEEI on Thursday (Jan. 3). 

“When you surrender a draft pick and the pool space that goes with it,” Epstein said, as transcribed by CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, “you’re really admitting that you’re not going to have as impactful a draft that year as you would otherwise.”

“That’s something that’s really hard to do, given the price of free agents these days and just how meaningful it is to develop your own talent and have that player under control for six years.”

The Cubs aren’t going to compete in the NL Central and return to playoff contention by going out and offering megabucks deals to the top free agents, as the Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers do. This team tried that under the Jim Hendry regime, bringing in players like Alfonso Soriano, and it didn’t work.

At a certain point, after the Cubs have become competitive, perhaps Epstein will then look to the free-agent and trade markets to fill holes with expensive players.

However, that approach didn’t work in the latter years of Epstein’s tenure with the Boston Red Sox. Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Adrian Gonzalez disappointed with their lack of production, and their contracts became payroll burdens. Maybe Epstein has learned from those mistakes. 

The Cubs are going to compete by developing players and locking them down with long-term, club-friendly contracts, as they did with shortstop Starlin Castro last year. First baseman Anthony Rizzo and starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija look like two other potential cornerstone players for the franchise. 

Some prospects, such as Brett Jackson, may not end up developing into the players that the Cubs need. But the team has to find out if young talent can grow into major league contributors before deciding whether or not to fill holes through free agents or trades. 

Since 2008, four of the five teams that went on to win the World Series were largely built through the draft. The Philadelphia Phillies had eight draft picks on their 2008 championship team. The St. Louis Cardinals had six homegrown players. Last year’s San Francisco Giants team had seven draft picks on their roster. 

This is what Epstein meant when he told the Chicago Tribune‘s Paul Sullivan that the Cubs needed “waves and waves” of prospects coming through the team’s minor league system.

Not all of those players are going to make it to the majors, so an organization needs volume. They can’t depend on one player to develop. Several, if not dozens, might yield a few contributors—or better yet, impact players that can make a difference in the Cubs’ fortunes.

That philosophy could also result in Soriano and Matt Garza being traded at some point during the upcoming season. While those two veterans could help the Cubs be more competitive in 2013, they likely won’t be a part of the Cubs’ future. Better to utilize them for bringing in prospects that might help build an eventual contender. 

The Cubs could benefit in the short term by signing players like Bourn or Lohse. Those players would certainly help field a competitive club but won’t benefit the franchise in the years to come by relinquishing the draft picks that will help them stockpile amateur talent and find future stars. 

While it might not be flashy or exciting to put a team together without familiar stars, it’s the right move for the Cubs in their current state of reconstruction.


Follow @iancass on Twitter

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Chicago Cubs Sign Kyuji Fujikawa; Are Carlos Marmol’s Days Numbered?

Ken Rosenthal tweeted earlier that the Chicago Cubs have agreed to terms with Kyuji Fujikawa.

It was previously thought that the Angels were the front-runners for acquiring the Japanese closer.

Fujikawa should fill in nicely as the Cubs‘ closer for the 2013 season. In six seasons spent across the Pacific, Fujikawa has accumulated a total of 202 saves and pitched to the tune of a minuscule 1.36 ERA. How that translates in the big leagues is yet to be seen, but it is very promising.

Theo Epstein has stated that if there were sound investments available, the Cubs would be not be afraid to spend money this offseason. To that end, he seems to be keeping his word. He has already made moves to improve the starting rotation, and now he has taken strides to improve the bullpen.

So, does the signing of Fujikawa mark the end of Carlos Marmol in a Cubs uniform?

Marmol has served as the Cubs’ closer the past few seasons, but it certainly seems like the Cubs are ready to move in another direction. Marmol‘s fate with the team was all but sealed once the team tried to include him in a deal to bring Dan Haren to Chicago.

Now his future is almost definitely with another team. It should be an interesting week coming up with Winter Meetings kicking off on Monday, as the team will surely be trying to move Marmol. He and Alfonso Soriano should be at the center of any trade talks for the Cubs next week.

With some of the moves we have already seen this offseason, the Cubs seem determined to improve on their 101-loss season in 2012. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Why the Chicago Cubs Salvaged a Huge Deadline Opportunity to Build Bright Future

The trade deadline was minutes away from becoming a blown opportunity for the Chicago Cubs, team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

The Cubs had two huge trade chips in starting pitchers Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza, top arms that would yield a wave of minor league prospects—especially pitching prospects—that the team needed to rebuild its organization. To not trade one or either of them would have been a huge disappointment. 

Epstein stared that disappointment right in the face as the minutes ticked down to the 3:00 p.m. CT trade deadline.

Dempster had already killed what would have been a good deal with the Atlanta Braves last week. Invoking his “10-and-5” rights (10 years in the majors, five with the same team) to veto the trade that cost the Cubs top pitching prospect Randall Delgado, an arm that could have been one of the best in their future rotation. 

The Cubs tried to rebound from the deal falling through by working out a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dempster’s preferred destination. But Epstein and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti could never come to an agreement on a deal.

As the Los Angeles Times‘ Dylan Hernandez writes, the Dodgers didn’t want to surrender a top prospect like Zach Lee for a player who could become a free agent after the season. Colletti also likely felt he didn’t have to trade top talent, given that Dempster already made it known he wanted to go to Chavez Ravine. 

The Dodgers pulled out of negotiations shortly before the trade deadline, leaving Epstein with only two other options, the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers.


Last Team Standing

The Yankees showed interest in Dempster, fueled largely by former Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild and GM Jim Hendry stumping for him. But Cashman was reportedly not highly motivated to make a deal because the Yankees already have starting pitching. CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte (when he returns) form a strong top three in the rotation.

That left the Rangers, who were extremely motivated to get a starting pitcher.

Even before Colby Lewis suffered a season-ending elbow injury, Texas was looking for a No. 1 type starter for the top of its rotation. That need became even more urgent once the Los Angeles Angels got Zack Greinke, presenting a formidable challenge for the Rangers’ AL West lead. 

Minutes before the trade deadline hit, the Cubs and Rangers had a deal with Single-A pitcher Kyle Hendricks and third baseman Christian Villanueva joining the load of prospects that Epstein had acquired in the past two days. 


Arms and More Arms

The Cubs couldn’t trade Garza for full value because of a triceps injury he developed last week that made him unable to pitch until after the July 31 deadline. Even though teams were surely interested in Garza based on past performance, no one was willing to take a risk on a pitcher who hadn’t taken the mound in more than a week and whose health was in question. 

Epstein was able to compensate for not being able to trade Garza by dealing another starting pitcher. Having already negotiated with the Braves for Dempster, the Cubs were able to work out another trade with Atlanta for left-hander Paul Maholm.

In return, Epstein got two excellent prospects from the Braves. Arodys Vizcaino is coming off Tommy John surgery earlier this year, but was still considered one of Atlanta’s top two minor league pitchers. Jaye Chapman has pitched well for Triple-A Gwinnett this season with 60 strikeouts in 53.2 innings. 

The other trade deadline deal Epstein pulled off was another trade with the Rangers, sending catcher Geovany Soto to Texas for Double-A pitcher Jacob Brigham.

Brigham wasn’t considered a top prospect in the Rangers organization, pitching for the second consecutive season in Double-A. But the Cubs weren’t going to get an elite prospect for Soto, who’s played in only 52 games while batting under .200. Besides, Brigham has strikeout stuff and racks up innings, two qualities that should get him a shot in the majors. 


Waves and Waves of Pitching Prospects

Two weeks ago, when speaking to Chicago reporters, Epstein said the Cubs needed “waves and waves” of pitching prospects coming through the minor league system to help rebuild the organization. One or two arms wasn’t going to be enough. The Cubs obviously wanted talent, but they also needed depth.

Four young arms isn’t a bad haul for four veteran players, two of whom were likely considered expendable. 

Yes, if Epstein had been able to trade Garza and outfielder Alfonso Soriano, he would have collected more arms. But it’s possible Epstein could make more deals before baseball’s Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline.

Soriano and the $42 million remaining on his contract will surely clear waivers, allowing the Cubs to make a deal. And if Garza gets picked up on waivers, perhaps Epstein can arrange a trade with the club that claimed him. 

Outfielders Bryan LaHair and David DeJesus, along with infielder Darwin Barney are another trio of players that could be dealt away over the next four weeks. That could yield another wave of arms into the Cubs’ minor league system. 

Hoarding prospects and rebuilding with younger players is a completely different way of doing business than Epstein conducted in Boston. With the Red Sox, he could build through trades and free agency. The Cubs obviously aren’t to that point.

But so far, Epstein has shown a pretty good talent for building an organization through other methods. The future looks more promising for the Cubs than it did even 24 hours ago. And there should be much more to come.


Follow @iancass on Twitter

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Copyright © 1996-2010 Kuzul. All rights reserved.
iDream theme by Templates Next | Powered by WordPress