Now that Theo Epstein is officially a member of the Cubs front office, expectations are going to change in Wrigleyville. It's not just in terms of winning, but how we view baseball and how the baseball view will view us. Hyperbole aside, this is what we can expect from Epstein and your new Chicago Cubs.
1) A modern, professional front office. We heard Epstein be quick to say that Boston's success wasn't him alone. There is a team of excellent baseball people in Boston and so shall it be for the Cubs. By this time next week, we could see at minimum a front office that includes Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, Brian O'Halloran, Tim Wilken, Oneri Fleita, and Ari Kaplan. It's a blend of new school and old school baseball expertise that I'll put up against any other team's front office.
2) A different perspective of value. No longer will the Cubs reward players for past performance, instead they'll reward them for what they feel they'll contribute going forward. In that sense, look for Starlin Castro and/or Matt Garza to be the Cubs biggest signings this offseason. Pujols is pretty much out of the question with this philosophy. The Cubs aren't going to pay Pujols mega dollars just so they can see him use most of that value in the next couple of years. Then spend they last several years paying for what Pujols used to be.
3) Evaluating players using statistics that the player can control. This is related to #2 on this list. It means they won't focus on things like RBI, pitcher's wins, and ERA -- not because they're useless to a team in the present, but because they don't tell us how much individual value those players have. Those statistics are too dependent on teammates, circumstance, and sometimes just plain old luck. In other words, they lack predictive value. They may tell us how good those players are given past circumstances, but they won't tell us a whole lot of what we can expect from them a few years down the road.
4) Finding inefficiencies in markets. We usually take this to mean stuff like OBP and other things we read in "MoneyBall". This is true to an extent, but markets change. If you listened to Epstein closely today, the inefficiency today is in the amateur markets, where you can use $20M to pick up 40 players. With that money combined with good scouting, you are likely to pick up a few role players and perhaps even an impact player or two for much less than you can get them on the free agent market. You'll also have assets (highly touted prospects) that you can use to acquire additional talent. When Epstein said that the Cubs "get it", this is exactly what he meant. They finally found an inefficiency and they exploited it.
5) Using every resource that's available to them. During the Hendry press conference, Ricketts said he "doesn't to run a team from a computer." This was not to dismiss sabermetrics/new statistical analysis. We know that the Cubs will put immense value on those things now, At the same time, it doesn't mean you throw out old school subjective scouting. The eyes still matter. There is still plenty you can learn from subjective analysis done by professionals like Tim Wilken and Oneri Fleita. In fact, it's more useful than statistics when you evaluate high school kids and 16 year old prospects in the international market. The higher you go up the ladder, the more it starts to merge with statistical analysis until eventually, at the upper levels, the balance begins to lean toward a heavier reliance on numbers.
6) Using the current system for their benefit. This means the Cubs will continue to draft and sign players for over-slot bonuses. It also means a different view toward arbitration. The Cubs will weigh the value of keeping a player for another year versus the value that draft pick compensation can bring. For example: In the larger picture, is Aramis Ramirez worth more to the Cubs as a $15m/yr player or does a supplemental first round draft pick present a higher value? That will be one of the first questions Epstein and his staff will have to answer.
In other words, you'll see smarter baseball on the field and a smarter, more efficient use of markets off the field. It's something we're going to have to get used to around here.
Filed under: Cubs Organization