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?
Filed under: Uncategorized