Before there was Theo, there was Andy (and George)

Before there was Theo, there was Andy (and George)
George Santayana

While local writers fawn over Theo, so smitten that they volunteer to give Boston anything they want just to have him here as quickly as possible, there's one thing they all lack.

Perspective.

We expect that lack of perspective from Steve Rosenbloom, who is willing to give up Matt Garza and/or Starlin Castro to get his hands on Theo.  What makes this deliciously ironic to me is that Rosenbloom is a big fan of world class poker.  Yet no writer out there is willing to fold faster and in more spectacularly disastrous fashion when it comes to compensation negotiations.

We read also that the usually more rational David Haugh is willing to give up any player except Starlin Castro.

The premise for such thinking is this:  Theo = World Series and nobody else offers that chance.  The logic is that Theo won 2 World Series in Boston, therefore he should be able to do it here in Chicago.

Let's rewind the clock 20 years.

The Cubs were headed downhill after showing glimpses of hope in the mid and late 1980s.  This was a town that could almost taste the World Series.  Dallas Green had raised the bar in Chicago before he left.  This was no longer a team that had no hope to make the playoffs.  They had done it in 1984 and then again in 1989 with a team largely built by Green (and subsequently dismantled by Jim Frey).  The poor performances in the early 90s were no longer acceptable.  The Cubs needed to raise the bar once again.

So they brought in a ringer.  A genius, some even said.  They brought in a guy who had won two World Series already.  He built a productive farm system and teams built around homegrown players.  When it came to acquiring players, he was adept at exploiting market inefficiencies, not in the modern statistical sense, but by researching performance patterns by players.  He knew how to find guys off the scrap heap and found treasure in the discarded.  He was a unique talent who seemingly had an uncanny sense for acquiring players cheaply just when their careers were about to rebound.  And he did this in a small market.  Surely, he could do even better in a large market like Chicago.  Right?

That man, of course, was Andy McPhail.

No matter what you think of him now, he was Theo Epstein back then.  If you were a Cubs fan, you were giddy with excitement.  This guy is going to finally bring a title here to Chicago.  If he could do it in Minnesota, he could do it here.

Twenty years later, we still don't have that title.  It just wasn't that simple.

What we paid for McPhail back then was a decent, but not great pitching prospect named Hector Trinidad.  He ranked 10th per Baseball America at the time in a system that was much weaker than the one we have today.

Looking back on it now, would you have been so eager to trade the Cubs best players at the time?  In case you have forgotten, they were Ryne Sandberg and Mark Grace.  Would McPhail have been worth it?

In retrospect, no.  Not even close.

Yet you have both Boston writers and Chicago writers insisting that Theo Epstein is worth one of the Cubs top players or prospects.  Why?  Because Theo has won two World Series.  Because he is a genius.  Because he is a unique talent with an uncanny ability to find talent where others cannot.

Sound familiar?

In the famous words of Spanish-American philospher and essayist George Santayana,

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it"

That's not to say the Cubs shouldn't bring in Theo Epstein.  I'm only saying that they do it with a sense of perspective.

And history.

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  • Nicely said. I have a question. Which team really has the
    advantage? I still think its the Cubs, because they can
    afford to wait more than Boston.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Thanks!

    I'm going to say Boston has the advantage because in the end, they have something that we want. But I think the advantage has been overstated by a lot of pundits out there. Boston also has plenty to lose and because of that, it will get done for less compensation than some are assuming. If Boston had ALL the leverage, they'd have no reason to back off of Matt Garza or Starlin Castro. The simple fact is that they have something to lose and eventually they have to back down from their ridiculous demands.

  • I also believe the Cubs ( in the end) have the advantage. Andy MacPhail is a perfect example of not elevating anyone to baseball God status before they do anything here. Andy MacPhail had a spotless record as the Twins GM before he came here and see what happened? I like Theo coming here more than when MacPhail came but stil.......

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    I like the Theo situation better too, but a big part of that is we now have an ownership who is willing to put winning a title as a priority. Unlike McPhail, the new GM will be set up to succeed.

    At any rate, the compensation some are suggesting or willing to give up is far above and beyond what is necessary.

  • Great take on the two situations John. Nobody should be overhyped. Here are a few articles from the past which I offer as proof of this.

    http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1994-09-11/news/9409100278_1_andy-macphail-terry-ryan-cubs-job
    The first article has this to say about McPhail: "MacPhail, 41, was successfully wooed by Tribune Company honcho Jim Dowdle after taking the Twins to two World Series titles (1987 and '91) despite working under the constraints of a small-market club." (Sure sounds a lot like Andrew Friedman, huh?)

    http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1988-04-30/news/8801270122_1_andy-macphail-tommy-herr-glove-and-range
    This article has a name drop in the last sentence. Love it when things link up like that!

    And here is what was thought of Theo Epstein when he was first hired:
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_kmnew/is_200212/ai_kepm312213/?tag=content;col1

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Thanks BTC..these got caught up in the spam filter so I had to release them. I think they're a fun read and a good history lesson for those who think that Theo can ride in on a white horse and save the day.

    Seems we have a tendency to forget what's convenient to forget. I like Epstein as much as the next guy, but I think it's just been over the top out there and it seems Boston is trying to take advantage of that.

    The Chicago media isn't helping things at all either.

  • HOPE THIS DOESN'T POST TWICE. It took a bit to find the articles.

    Great take on the two situations, John. Nobody should be overhyped. Here are a few articles from the past which I offer as proof of this.

    http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1994-09-11/news/9409100278_1_andy-macphail-terry-ryan-cubs-job
    The first article has this to say about McPhail: "MacPhail, 41, was successfully wooed by Tribune Company honcho Jim Dowdle after taking the Twins to two World Series titles (1987 and '91) despite working under the constraints of a small-market club." (Sure sounds a lot like Andrew Friedman, huh?)

    http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1988-04-30/news/8801270122_1_andy-macphail-tommy-herr-glove-and-range
    This article has a name drop in the last sentence. Love it when things link up like that!

    And here is what was thought of Theo Epstein in Boston when he was first hired:
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_kmnew/is_200212/ai_kepm312213/?tag=content;col1

  • HOPE THIS DOESN'T POST TWICE. It took a bit to find the articles and it didn't go through the first two times. I refreshed, logged out and logged back in so hopefully this is only a one time post!

    Great take on the two situations, John. Nobody should be overhyped. Here are a few articles from the past which I offer as proof of this.

    http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1994-09-11/news/9409100278_1_andy-macphail-terry-ryan-cubs-job
    The first article has this to say about McPhail: "MacPhail, 41, was successfully wooed by Tribune Company honcho Jim Dowdle after taking the Twins to two World Series titles (1987 and '91) despite working under the constraints of a small-market club." (Sure sounds a lot like Andrew Friedman, huh?)

    http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1988-04-30/news/8801270122_1_andy-macphail-tommy-herr-glove-and-range
    This article has a name drop in the last sentence. Love it when things link up like that!

    And here is what was thought of Theo Epstein in Boston when he was first hired:
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_kmnew/is_200212/ai_kepm312213/?tag=content;col1

  • So if Boston asks for Mc Nutt you are saying no?

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Yeah, I would. They should back down. They know it's unreasonable, they're banking on our eagerness to get this done and that we believe Theo to be the one and only option.

  • ahh John,

    This is scratching me right where I itch. The poker analogy is perfect. i love how so many other people are willing to push the Cubs all in...So silly. They always go to " If Theo wins you a world series, then he's well worth a Matt Garza." Well isn't Theo AND Matt Garza better than just Theo? I know the answer so please don't respond.... Another gem is "The Red Sox have what the Cubs want...." without acknowledging the fact that the Red Sox DON'T WANT IT!!!!! or even worse.. "I understand that but...." and the pontificating as if they don't understand...

    The good news is it sounds as though Theo is moving forward as if he's already been hired. I don't know if Hoyer's coming or not. ( Part of me wants to see the Cubs stare down the Red Sox in compensation talks, ive them two minor leaguers, then turn around and give Try McNutt as compensation for Hoyer just as a nice middle finger to Red Sox management....). But it sounds like Theo has plans and will hit the ground running when this damn thing finally gets done.

    Bobby V by Thanksgiving baby!!!!!!

  • In reply to felzz:

    Exactly! And what people don't look at is the Red Sox side. They are losing one year of a GM who does not want to come back. What exactly is fair value for one year of a GM?

    They're trying to set the price here by portraying Theo as a savior and as the only option. After all, what price wouldn't you pay for a savior to bring you your World Series? And hurry now, because there's only one savior left!

    It's a sucker sales pitch and it's disappointing that the Chicago media is buying it.

  • In reply to felzz:

    And I agree... sending McNutt to get Jed Hoyer would almost be worth it!

  • http://www.minorleagueball.com/2010/12/6/1857658/chicago-cubs-top-20-prospects-for-2011

    A January 2011 Top 20 ranking.

    Isn't Jackson in danger of being a Rule 5 guy? And hasn't there been talk of Golden being very talented and very raw?

    Hmmm ... let's see ... FL got #4 and #5 for a manager ...

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Careful with rankings though, they can be deceiving. Those players the Sox received were ranked that highly a year ago. They've since dropped off. One now projects as a utility IF'er and the other as a reliever.

    Cubs shouldn't pay much more than that for Theo. Golden is probably still too much as he projects to a starting RF with power. I've heard Flaherty and a reliever (possibly Jackson). That sounds fair to me.

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    (@Buster_ESPN) Perception BOS's leverage in Theo matter increased by holding up Cubs' business is funny. As if Theo not making CHC plans.

    (@Buster_ESPN) Any way for BOS to keep Epstein from thinking about Cubs job?Making calls? No.He'll hit ground running whenever deal finished about 2 hours ago

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Big fan of Olney...doesn't have that huge east coast bias that others do. Check out Muskat's blog, Peter Gammons is out of his mind.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    Based on 2011 rankings, Gammons is dead wrong. McNutt was more highly thought of coming into 2011 than starting pitcher in the Red Sox system except for Ranaudo, and based on performances of the starters in both systems, I'd say that hasn't changed. The minor league starters were as bad as our were this past season.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Exactly. It just sounds like Red Sox propaganda. There is just no basis in fact. This article by Fangraphs just came up. Best quote..

    ""For the Boston Red Sox, the addition of McNutt would instantly make him the highest ceiling pitching prospect at the upper levels"

  • I'm sorry, but Peter Gammons is an idiot. He's a big time Boston homer, and he's letting his inner meatball get way out of control here.
    24 prospects better than McNutt is just silly.

    As to the rankings, I like how hard it is to rank our system now. There's 13-14 guys in the top 10 conversation, and 11-30 has never looked more promising. Looking forward to the prospect depth chart John!

  • In reply to dgedz27:

    It's ridiculous. They may not have a single starting pitching prospect better than McNutt. That's why they want him.

    I think I may have to move that prospect chart up a few days.

  • According to Wikipedia, "Peter Gammons (born April 9, 1945)[1][2] is an American sportswriter, media personality, professional jock rider of the Boston Red Sox..." He certainly is riding their jocks!

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Haha! Actually just found out he is employed by NESN who is...run by by the Red Sox. That's what we call company/corporate propaganda.

  • We all should take Schilling with a grain of salt, but...

    http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/sports/132180328.html

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    I agree with Schilling. Theo is obviously a bright guy who works very hard. He'll be great here in Chicago with everything he'll have to work with.

    Then again, Schilling is also pumping Theo up while negotiations are ongoing. I'm taking everything with a grain of salt these days!

  • fb_avatar

    (@keithlaw) #Cubs RHP Trey McNutt 91-94 in the first inning here in Scottsdale.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Should we read anything into the fact that McNutt is actually pitching and not pulled from the game?

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Not that it means much, McNutt getting rocked. Vitters back in the lineup today, Junior Lake still on fire.

  • In reply to dgedz27:

    53 pitches already and only 30 strikes...must be having problems with his command. Wish I was there. Hope to get down there by November.

  • Article on Cubs prospects here:

    Maybe this will quell the Vitter's rumors?

    http://www.bleachernation.com/2011/10/19/cubs-prospects-are-wrapping-up-their-seasons-and-other-mostly-non-theo-bullets/

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Hey BTC, covered that last night (though it was in the comments section, I think). Someone out there on Twitter asked Muskat and was kind of enough to fill me in on it.

  • McNutt is really struggling today.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Last two starts have been rough. Tons of pitches early. Hopefully we can get that command down pretty quickly.

  • In reply to dgedz27:

    Command is what's holding him back at this point. With it, he's a solid starter, without it, he's a reliever. So hoping he or someone in the Cubs system can figure it out.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Seems like he needs to trust his stuff more. Last start he seemed to throw his changeup a ton. He was probably working on it. When you factor stuff like that in, I guess we can't take a whole lot from the results. It's good he's getting some extra innings in after having a few injuries this year.

  • The first sentence in Peter Gammons' Wikipedia page states:

    "professional jock rider of the Boston Red Sox."

    Yeah, that sounds about right.

    Also given that he is employed the Fenway Sports Group (through NESN), sure doesn't make him sound like a Red Sox mouthpiece now does it.

  • In reply to Alex:

    The only people those kind of comments are going to fly with are Red Sox fans. Cubs fans and impartial sources like Kevin Goldstein and Fangraphs have already disagreed.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree with you John, but where is Gammons' credibility then?

    To say what he did about the Cubs farm system and to portray TR and his negotiators as some kind of hayseeds that can't tell the difference between a baseball bat and a rake.

    I've heard Gordon Edes on the radio and though he might lean a little Boston, he come out much more credible and objective.

    I'd love to hear Gammons come on a Chicago radio show and spout the same hot garbage about the Cubs farm system. Then have the radio host surprise him by saying "Let's take some phone calls for Peter Gammons."

  • In reply to Alex:

    Edes is one of the few Boston writers I'll read.

    Gammons has to lose a lot of credibility with that interview, and certainly in Chicago. It comes off as both biased and transparent. He sounds more like a casual fan than an objective journalist -- and you really have to question his agenda when you consider his employer.

  • So few prospects ever pan out that I would not get too wrapped up in who gets sent to the Red Sox. Yes, we should not pay more than we have to, but the odds are in 5 years nobody will even know who McNutt, Vitters, etc even are. I think a team's hardcore fans can get a little too tied to certain prospects, especially when they have been hearing about them for years. I am not saying Haugh/Rosenbloom are correct about this, but that I don't find it even slightly objectionable to include McNutt in the deal. We are going to have to give up someone decent, and I think it is fair that we do. The leverage the Red Sox have is the simple fact that we are taking their GM who is still under contract. So throw them a good prospect and be done with it. Hopefully Theo can unload some dead wood (Soriano, Zambrano, etc) and get a few prospects in return.

  • In reply to johnbres2:

    Of course, and I see your point but I look at it a little differently. You want to limit that risk and pay what's fair for a GM.

    Look at it from Boston's side. What are they losing? One year of a lame duck GM...it's not worth as much as they're making it out to be. They're trying to profit from what they perceive is our eagerness, desperation to get this done.

    But there's no hurry, really. We all want this done and over with...but there's no need to get this done right now if it doesn't make sense for us. We certainly don't need to overpay right now. They need to get this done as much as we do and at some point they're going to come down, and we'll probably raise our offer as well. We're going to give up somebody good in the end, but as long as there isn't a pressing tangible need to close the deal, then there's no reason to give up anything better than we have to.

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    Callis took Gammons to task on twitter.

    http://twitter.com/#!/jimcallisBA

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Callis is one of my favorite all-time baseball writers. Definitely a guy I've looked up to over the years. Gammons was at one point as well, but his best stuff is well behind him.

  • John,
    This is a nice follow up piece to yours:

    http://bostonherald.com/sports/columnists/view/20111020new_cubs_chief_theo_epstein_must_learn_to_watch_his_back_and_his_hires

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