Why Ricketts believes he can still land Epstein, Beane, or Friedman

Tom Ricketts is faced with his biggest decision as Cubs owner this offseason.   The person he chooses at GM will determine the direction of the Cubs for at least the next decade.  Many of us have assumed the Cubs wouldn't be in play for such big names as Theo Epstein, but Red Sox writer Nick Cafardo and the Tribune's Phil Rogers say not so fast.  As does Tom Loxas in his piece yesterday.  Epstein has not denied any of the rumors, choosing instead to say things like,

""Something like that, I can't even contemplate it long enough to comment on it. I'm all Red Sox, all the time.''

Translation:  I still have a job to do and I don't want to talk about this until the offseason.

There are two things the Cubs can offer Epstein that Boston simply cannot right now: 1) The opportunity to have complete control over baseball operations and 2) The challenge of taking a club who hasn't won a World Series title since 1908 but has the resources, fan base, and an owner who is invested in winning and building for the long haul.  The pieces are all there, the Cubs just need someone who can put them together.  Every GM in baseball knows this.  If you're a guy like Theo Epstein it's the challenge that motivates you --and the Cubs can offer him two new challenges.  I think if Epstein doesn't give this position some serious thought, he'll regret it.   Can you imagine if somebody else, like Billy Beane or a young GM took over and won a title here?  He'd instantly be the most revered GM in the game.  That GM, whoever he may be, would be the guy who took the biggest challenge in baseball -- make that in all of sports -- and got it done.  You can't tell me that wouldn't make someone like Epstein wonder if he could have been the man who accomplished that feat.

The same goes for Billy Beane.  I think if the Cubs are interested, I believe Beane would take that challenge in a heartbeat.  We know he has a big enough ego to believe he can bring a title here.  He also has a big enough ego to want to be that guy who broke the curse and to once again be thought of as the game's greatest GM -- a mantle that has been taken from him by guys like Epstein, Friedman, and the Blue Jays' Alex Anthropolous.   We've also talked about how Beane is frustrated with the Oakland situation.  He feels handcuffed.  Beane isn't the only guy now able to unearth market inefficiencies, he's just routinely getting outbid for those same players. He'd love the opportunity to work with a big budget and see what he can do.  The guess here is that he now regrets not taking the Boston job and it'd be tough for him to pass up a similar opportunity again with the Cubs.

Then there's Andrew Friedman.  When asked about the Cubs job earlier this season, his reply was "no comment".   That, in it of itself wouldn't be such a big deal but when asked the same of the Houston Astros GM job, Friedman said, "he wouldn't jump at" that opportunity.   He had no problem stating his lack of interest in Houston but did not express the same tepid endorsement of the Cubs job.  It may mean nothing, but it probably means he's at least keeping his mind open for that position.   Like Beane, he might welcome the chance to work with a larger budget.  With the Cubs, he'd be the team with the biggest financial resources in the division as opposed to being well behind the Yankees, Red Sox, and even the Blue Jays in the AL East in terms of money.  Friedman would also have the chance to be the main man in Chicago, whereas in Tampa he has had to share much of the credit with Gerry Hunsicker.

There's also one more thing to consider here when talking about these 3 candidates.  The Cubs may not be able to talk to them until October and in Epstein's case it may not be until late October.  That would mean that they would instantly have to come in and start making roster decisions as the team heads into the all-important offseason months of November and December.  If that is the case, doesn't it make more sense that the Cubs would want to keep Oneri Fleita and Tim Wilken in place as two guys who can bring these GMs up to speed on the Cubs organization?

There would be too much to do for any GM.  Hiring a new staff right off the bat would add an unnecessary, distracting burden -- and then, even if you could pull it off,  you'd have to catch up those execs as well.  No, Fleita and Wilken must be here if the Cubs are going to hire one of the big three.  It is essential that they're around to help the new GM hit the ground running this offseason.

If one of these potential Cubs GMs wants complete control over his staff, that will have to come a bit later.   As others have mentioned, if they decide they want to bring in their own people, then they can still reassign Fleita and Wilken to other positions within the organization.   My opinion, though, is that no matter who the GM is, they'll at least keep Fleita in his current position.

The last indication that Ricketts wants to land one of the big GMs is that he stated in his press conference that this new GM would report directly to him.  You can look at this two ways.  The cynical interpretation is that Ricketts wants to be Daniel Snyder and meddle in all the Cubs affairs.  But everything I know about Ricketts makes that extremely improbable.  The second way to look at this is he wants to bring in a guy who he can trust with all baseball operations.  The younger candidates aren't likely ready for that kind of responsibility.  The GM job in itself is quite a handful.  If Ricketts does eventually go after a more inexperienced GM, it's likely he'll have to bring someone else in to ease the transition --but if we are to take his press conference statements at their word, then it isn't his first choice.

The longer this search drags on, the more it appears that Ricketts is waiting to land one of the big fish out there -- or at least he's willing completely exhaust that possibility.  With this being the biggest decision he will make as Cubs owner so far, who could blame him?

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  • I think at the very least TR is going to pursue Epstein and at least Beane hard after the season. Of the two , I still see Beane as being more likely to leave for the reasons you stated . Call me a downer, but at the end fo the day I don't see these 3 leaving for the Cubs. I still people like Cherington, Levine, Coppollela and Josh Byrne emerging as favorites.

  • In reply to rodeosteve:

    If it was just Rogers saying it, I'd dismiss it more as local wishful thinking, but the fact that Cafardo is concerned enough to write about it up in Boston gives it more credibility.

    I don't think the Cubs get enough credit for being one of the most plum jobs in baseball and any GM would seem foolish not to at least consider it -- even Epstein.

    Of course, I wholeheartedly agree that there are some great non-GM candidates out there, including the ones you mentioned. And like I've stated in the past, guys like Epstein, Friedman, Beane, and Cashman weren't exactly household names when they were hired. And Epstein jumped into a pressure filled big market just as any of these guys would and did just fine.

    I do think that Ricketts has a lot of these younger names on his list, but he's still got guys like Epstein and Friedman at the top. He's going to pull out all the stops to get them -- it may not be enough in the end, but if Ricketts doesn't get his man, it won't be because he didn't do his homework or put in the effort.

  • Very interesting. Given the past, I should have no reason to feel as confident as I do....but I really think Ricketts is going to score huge here. He has a vision of what he wants, and seems to have a knack for being able to ignore the negativity, and keeps moving forward until he gets what he wants. He waited almost two years to this point, whats another month or two, right.

  • In reply to dgedz27:

    He doesn't let anybody deter that vision, does he? There will always be naysayers. I read a writer say he would be "schocked" if Epstein left for the Cubs. Why would that be shocking?

    The Cubs are offering the position of a lifetime, a challenge and the resources to do it. A good friend of mine is a CEO and he didn't get to be successful by playing it safe and staying in one place. I don't think Epstein is any different. These guys are just wired different than most people.

    The same goes for Ricketts, he's going to set a goal and he's going to do whatever he needs to do to achieve it. It may well not work out the way he hopes, but it certainly wouldn't be "shocking" to me if it did.

  • John ... couple thoughts. If any of the big names are truly on the list then it's more likely that it will be late October before some of them come available.
    That makes keeping Wilken even more important, as stated.
    Additionally, the GM job being what it is, it (seems) key, IMO, to have trusted lieutenants in place in those key spots - people to whom the new GM can turn for insight on who's who in the organization - not just names, but potential, including positives and negatives.
    Ricketts is hardly the fool ... thus the 2nd of your observations is much more the likely thought. TR has enough other stuff to worry about ... the triangle buildout, the bond issue, continued overhaul of the park, and, no doubt, a myriad of other tasks.
    Makes perfect sense to have a guy in place who's young, experienced, and well-complemented by those around him ... someone that figures to be here for quite a while. Continuity AND competency have been two characteristics long lacking.

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Exactly...if Ricketts is going to wait it out, he needs to have a staff in place that can ease the transition. I don't care how talented Boston's scouting director Wayne Britton is right now...if you've only got a short window to get prepared, he's not going to be as much help as Wilken and Fleita would be to Epstein, at least for this season. Next season may be a different story, but for now keeping key scouting front office members makes a lot of sense to me. And like you pointed out, there's always something to be said for some continuity even amidst change.

  • Of the big 3, I think Beane is the most likely. The Oakland financial situation is not going to improve any time soon and their talent level is nowhere near that of Boston & Tampa. Also, David Forst, Oakland's AGM, is very respected across MLB. Maybe they come as a package deal - Beane as EVP of baseball operations and Forst as GM. Beane has been a GM for a long time and may welcome a break from the 24/7 grind. I know TR has said he wants the GM to report directly to him but he might make an exception in this case.

  • In reply to Zorb:

    I'd agree. I'd put Beane as the most likely and Cashman (who I didn't even mention) as the least likely. I'm more confident in Epstein than Friedman...so I guess I'd rank them Beane, Epstein, Friedman, Cashman in order of likelihood. But I'd call Epstein a distant second to Beane.

    Would love to get Forst too if Oakland would allow that.

  • John, your argument regarding keeping Fleita and Wilken is very rationale. I wish I had thought of it.

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    Thanks...it just occurred to me out of the blue this morning!

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    Well, you have to figure it this way. Ricketts has to know that there is not a single AGM alive on this planet who would tell him "no" if he were to offer them the job. He also has to know that none of them, at least not the ones who could be considered serious contenders for the Cubs job (Cherrington, Copollela and Hahn), are likely to take other jobs until the Cubs job is for sure been filled. Those three didn't get to be where they are by being stupid. They all have to know that the Cubs would give them a realistic shot to be the next Epstein, Beane, Friedman or Cashman.
    Ricketts is free to swing away, and if he doesn't knock it onto Waveland, he can still get it into the basket or possibly the bleachers.

    There is also one other thing to consider, and I don't know how much it really factors in, but it's called public relations. Ricketts is also bound to realize that if he doesn't explore the possibilities he will get filleted in the press. I think he is willing to go with a complete overhaul, which could take a few years, but the fan base is likely to more supportive of that effort if a proven product is running the club.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I like the analogy...I do think most AGMs and other non-GM candidates would jump at the opportunity. This is a plum job. I'm not sure if it means they'd pass up another opportunity if it came though. They'd have to have a real sense that they had a good shot at the Cubs position. Hahn, for example, could well be offered the GM job of the White Sox -- I don't know if he'd wait to see if the Cubs missed out on Epstein first. He may not have that kind of time. Then again, maybe the Sox don't even offer the promotion unless they feel he's a threat to leave.

    Cherington and Coppolella seem more likely to be around late because there teams are in the playoffs, so would DiPoto, Levine/Preller (assuming Texas hangs on).

    I'm not sure a guy like Byrnes would wait though. He's a Baltimore native and they could make a push for him. But for the most part I do agree, I'm not sure I'm jumping to GM Houston or Baltimore while the Cubs job is still open. But maybe I'm biased?

  • I think your analysis is dead on as usual John. I think the mainstream media outside of Chicago is too stuck on this "lovable losers" narrative they've grown up writing about since J-school, and haven't done the type of analysis that you've done here. Considering that a Theo or Billy Beane is probably shrewder at finding the angles on their worst day than I am on my best, why does the MSM not think the combination of deep pocketed energetic ownership, legendary franchise, passionate fanbase, patience and a commitment to go young, and weak NL Central not equal a dream opportunity for a GM to make a lasting mark on the history of the game?

    This ain't the Tribune offering a caretaker GM position, this is the Ricketts family offering complete control to the right candidate with their considerable resources behind that promise - what am I missing here?

  • In reply to Ryno2Grace:

    Thanks Ryno...there's no question this is one of the best positions to have in baseball right now, if not in all of sports for the reasons you just stated. And you make a very good point when you say this isn't the Tribune "caretaker" position that was offered in the past. Even in that situation the Cubs were able to land McPhail and even Hendry...who we forget was once one of the game's hottest GM candidates himself.

    It is certainly not out of the realm of possibility that even someone like Epstein would find it very enticing. It irks me when people would say it would be "shocking"...why? Because it's the Cubs? Because nobody would leave Boston for Chicago? Why not?

    A lot of this stuff I see are from writers who aren't very close to the Cubs situation. They look at the Cubs in a negative light, as a hopeless situation perhaps. It's very different than how the GM candidates see the team.

    I'm very glad that guys like Ricketts and a lot of the great GM candidates out there don't put those kinds of limits on themselves. If they did, they wouldn't be as successful as they are today. We know Ricketts is going to do everything within his power to get the guy he feels is the very best for the job and I don't necessarily see any of these GMs dismissing the opportunity as quickly as so many writers have.

    I'm very confident that in the end that the Cubs will land the very best guy that was available to them -- and it could well be on of these established GMs--but even if it isn't, the Cubs will get one of the most talented guys out there.

  • I also find it interesting that he said he can't contemplate the Cubs job "long enough to comment"...doesn't that imply that he has at least contemplated it to some degree?

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