What Theo means to the Cubs

What Theo means to the Cubs
( Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune / October 25, 2011 )

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


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  • My favorite moment from Theo's presser was right after it ended they cut to Kap Man and Holly and in the background you see Gail Fischer walking away from the buffet with huge plate full of food....

    All kidding aside, that was an impressive press conference. While I think press conferences are extremely overblown ( some even view them as wins or losses.), I was impressed by the directness and the intelligence with which Theo Spoke. Instead of "We're gonna win" we were treated to "Foundation for sustained success." ... Paying for future success as opposed to past success. No mention of goats, curses, 103 years. etc. It really sounded like a new Era. and I can't wait for the off season...

    I'm gonna go watch Tony Larussa screw up the call to the bullpen again.

  • In reply to felzz:

    Agreed. It was professional...about building and looking forward, not back. Very impressed.

  • I picked up on #4 as well John, and I knew you would love that as much as I did. You have been saying often that spending 20 mil on 40 different prospects is better than using all 20 mil on 1 guy, not only becuase you get more depth, but you have a greater chance of getting the next Castro- a guy that can be cost effective for multiple years while playing like a star.

    Loved everthing about the press conference, but Theo stating that building a system has been in the past one of his two favorite experiences, and him pretty much stating that as his #1 priority now, that was my favorite part of the day.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    & I hope this inefficiency stays around for a while, with Bud Selig wanting to get rid of both over slotting in the draft & internationally signing, instead favoring a worldwide draft. It's also a plus that not many teams can exploit this strategy like we can currently.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    It is most definitely an advantage for us, but a smart small market team like Tampa has shown it can be used as an advantage by any team. It's not even that new, the Expos of the 1970s always understood this!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yes but not all small market teams can, and certainly most of them can't resign those guys when it's time for free agency.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    Exactly! That to me is the new inefficiency where you can get surplus value. Too many teams know about OBP now, so it's hard to say that's still an efficiency. That is very close to being properly valued now as opposed to undervalued as it was in the past.

    This is why Beane fell behind, he is still valuing that stuff when other teams have caught up. Friedman, on the other hand, knew exactly how to spend the small amount of money he was given.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I forget if it was Theo or Tom, but one of them pretty much guaranteed that they are going to commit the same resources to the draft every year. Music to out ears!

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    Yes! Not sure which said but I'm sure they both agree on that. The Cubs really do finally get it!

  • I cannot help but wonder how many times the management of the Cardinals, Brewers, Reds, have said "Oh, #!?%" the past week.

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    Haha! Quite a few times, I'd imagine. The Cubs are now a factor in that weak division, especially beginning in 2013. All the other contending teams are built to win now, so it may not be long before the Cubs become a threat to take the NL Central.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    We can only hope that the Cardinals will get sentimental and pay Albert Pujols for his past performances, and in doing so, tie up so much of their payroll in one player that it becomes a detriment to their overall efforts.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    If they sign Pujols to a long contract, it'll still be beneficial in the short term, but in the long term -- when the Cubs are ready to compete -- it won't be as big a plus for them. Pujols is so skilled though that we should expect him to keep performing at a high level if he stays healthy, but like you say, if he's taking up a significant portion of the payroll, it limits what they can do around him. And as we've seen in the past, Pujols can't do it on his own.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed on you points and also keep in mind that the Cards made a foolish and expensive long-term signing in Matt Holliday. That signing greatly helped the Cubs. It'll either push Pujols out the door or completely hamstring their payroll for years to come. Either way we win.

  • In reply to Boogens:

    Very true. I'd almost forgotten about that Holliday signing. Though I have to say I'd much rather see Pujols out the door!

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    In unrelated news, scratch Farrell off the list. The Blue Jays aren't letting him go anywhere.

    "Blue Jays just announced they'll no longer allow lateral moves. That kills speculation of Farrell going to Sox, or to Cubs." ~ Gordon Eades via Twitter

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Always thought that was a longshot, anyway. Farrell a great manager. Toronto is on the upswing with him and Alex Anthropolous leading the way.

  • It's a too frequently used term, but I'm going to use it anyway. The Cubs image has a certain swagger now. Theo didn't need to pound the table and insist on winning now, and all of that other false macho bull crap. He gives off that air of confidence and you can easily see how that will resonate through the organization.

  • In reply to dgedz27:

    There's definitely that feel now. The Cubs bought some instant credibility and I think it will be an intangible benefit for us. We've had enough years as being likeable, it'd be nice to be respected for a change.

  • Let's hope that the new front office does imploy various new means to
    measure value in young players and veterains. Let hope we
    don't have to give up any of our very good players in compensation.
    Also not giving up draft choices for middle aged FA's.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    The first part will happen. We will measure value in different ways. It shouldn't take from your enjoyment of the old measurements, though. As far as the Cubs are concerned, they'll now be looking at numbers that have predictive value, which will help them make better decisions. But it doesn't mean we shouldn't think it's cool if a hitter hits .300 with 120 RBIs or if a pitcher wins 20 games with a 2.80 ERA...or if Starlin Castro gets more 200 hit seasons.

    As for compensation, we're going to give up a decent prospect, but I don't think it will be one of our top 7 or 8 guys, nor do I believe it will be a lower level guy with upside like Marco Hernandez.

    The Cubs will more closely weigh the value between draft picks and FA signings. If they can get FA value that's greater than a draft pick, then they'll do it. If not, they'll pass. Balance is the key.

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    According to Levine, Hoyer and McLeod have already been in Chicago for three days, and they will be introduced officially no later than Monday.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Not surprised at all. Good to see they're moving along quickly. O'Halloran next?

  • I am confident that the Cubs will not give up too much in compensation. Already there is buzz out of Boston that Ben Cherington is getting pressure from above ( i.e Henry and Lucchino) to get some something pretty substantial from the Cubs. The word out of Boston that the higher ups want to punish Epstein for taking off. Heard that on the Score with Boers and Bernstein. If that's the case , screw em , get Selig involved and have him arbitrate this. That might be the only way to get this resolved.

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    In reply to Steve Flores:

    "Cherington said compensation from Cubs was agreed to be "significant." means pressure on from above to beat Theo." ~ Jon Heyman via Twitter

    Selig is going to end up settling this, and that is okay with me. It may be the only way for Boston to save face. They'll be able to say that the Cubs and Selig screwed them over. I really think they're afraid letting Epstein go is going to be viewed by history in the same way as trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees, and that is what is driving this.

    Don't get me wrong. Payback is part of their motivation as well. When they gave their permission to Ricketts to talk to Epstein, I don't think it ever occurred to them he would say "yes," and there is no doubt that they are mad about it, but Selig is right. Once permission was given and Epstein said "yes," there was no going back under any circumstances. They had to let him go.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Heyman hasn't exactly been on the mark throughout the process and "significant" is vague. It probably just means a legitimate prospect.

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    In reply to Steve Flores:

    One more thing, Mooney reported earlier that Epstein was asked a question by a reporter after the presser went off the air about the compensation and that Epstein hinted something to the effect that Selig would end up settling it.

    Also there are some rumors coming out of MLB's front office that Boston and San Diego will each receive one player from the Cubs as compensation.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I believe the Cubs are fine with giving up a legit prospect. I think Cherington is getting pressure to get a top prospect, one that is considered to be one the 3 or 4 best in the Cubs system. I see another impasse and Selig getting involved. This works for the Sox , like you said Mike. The Red Sox can then cry to their fans and the media , that mean ol' Selig butted in a prevented them for getting what they felt they deserved.

  • On a bit of a downer note, McNutt was horri-bad again today in the AFL. That's 3 bad starts in a row, not sure what's going on with him. What's really discouraging is he's getting hit hard. Where's the late movement on his pitches? Is he healthy?

  • In reply to dgedz27:

    I missed it today. Just got home. He's not hurt as far as I know. What's been hurting him has been his command. The velocity and movement seem to be there as far as what I heard on past performances. But the lack of command is discouraging, I agree.

  • I just watch a video clip of the press conference and I am really
    impress on what Theo had to say. Like they say "There is no "I"
    in team" . I do not think Quade had the teams best interest in
    Sept. Wins do always make a good coach/manager.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    It was a good press conference. He said a lot of things we were hoping to hear.

  • I'm of two minds ...

    1. Scares me to death that the decision will be made to keep Zambrano ... at least early on because of lack of quality pitching depth in the organization. I can only pray that TE is talked off that ... and that Cashner et al will given their due.
    2. Hugely excited at his comment on being in the Boston draft room and the notion that the Cubs "got it" with what they did with the MLB Draft. Wilken was HUGELY instrumental in urging TR and Spendry to take gambles on Maples and Dunston ... big gambles with the prospect of BIG upsides.

    I don't care how the money gets divided ... staff, scouts, misc. resources, MLB and Intl drafting, rule 5 and non-tenders ... whatever. Build us a winning organization that gives the Cubs a chance to be contenders in October EVERY year. TE made specific mention of being impressed that TR spent time with every piece of the organization over the summer immersing himself in the details of the baseball side of the business.

    This is a young, highly motivated, driven young man with ... a track record of success!!! What? This is no longer our fathers Cubs!!!

    The OpEd piece in the Globe was well crafted, heartfelt, personal and professional. It was a classy way to say goodby to a city, a fan base, and an organization.

    Anyone notice the reference to Kenney being moved - officially - to the business side? Finally!!!

  • That draft, as I said at one time, was a franchise changer. Not only in terms of the players they drafted, but also the respect they earned around baseball -- a respect that eventually helped them land Theo.

    I don't know what to think about Z, but if Epstein eventually thinks that he can provide some value then I'm comfortable with it. I think his value is that of a mid-rotation innings eater these days, which normally cost about half his salary. If I had to choose between getting rid of Zambrano OR Soriano. I'd choose getting rid of Soriano. He's the worst possible fit right now for us.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I wonder if Theo isn't trying to get some value for Big Z. One of the Cubs problems is that they hurt the value of their players by how they react when things go badly. Everyone thinks the Cubs will just release Zambrano (paying all of his $18+M salary), and get nothing in return. But if Theo saying he is evaluating Z for next year's team, maybe some other team might offer something (prospect or some $$) in order to get him. I don't this will happen, but it at least has to put doubt in other teams minds.

  • In reply to Timbo:

    That's a real good point, Timbo. He could just be trying to regain some leverage, something the Cubs frittered away the past two seasons when it comes to Zambrano. Teams at this point are probably waiting for the Cubs to buy him out and release him. They have to make a decision on him for the 40 man roster in November. If the Cubs keep him past that point, perhaps the Cubs will gain some leverage -- but it would mean they wouldn't be able to protect a younger player.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yes, lots of things to consider. Do you think the Cubs will put a youngster on the line for any potential savings?

  • In reply to Timbo:

    If they do, it's a borderline guy, not a top prospect, maybe more a Marwin Gonzalez type.

  • Anyone listen to the press conference on While on commercial break David Kaplan and Todd Hollandsworth were chatting with their mics open. They were talking about Ryne Sandberg. I couldn't make out every word but it sounded from Kap's comments that Sandberg was somewhere in the area trying not to be seen. Could Theo and company already be interviewing manager candidates?

  • In reply to JeffK:

    Similar to the Epstein sighting, there were rumors that Sandberg was seen walking down Michigan Ave. Two Cubs fans claimed they saw him, though neither talked to him.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Kaplan seemed to know exactly where Sandberg was hiding out because he mentioned a couple of places, but I couldn't make them out.

  • In reply to JeffK:

    Kaplan is a pretty connected guy so there may be some credence to that story. Ryno doesn't seem like the perfect fit, but maybe Theo thinks he can mold him.

  • Any word on Theo bringing Jonathan Gilula over to the Cubs?

  • In reply to Alex:

    Nothing new. Cherington said today that the Cubs/Epstein have not asked for permission to talk to any Boston front office guys.

  • I spent my morning pouring over the clips from the presser and other TE interviews (instead of doing what I should have been doing, but that is another story). I swear I got teary-eyed I was so happy to hear everything TE said.

    Looking forward to the day in the not-too-distant future when I see all these ignorant European youths aping American culture by wearing CUBS caps instead of Yankees, Red Sux, Dodgers, or (and this really tweaks me) WhiteSox caps, although I will have to be careful not to vomit when the Cubs caps are in all shades of the rainbow....

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    He talked about so many of the things we'd like to see done and it has me absolutely giddy.

    What...the White Sox in Norway? That's crazy. That's so odd. I always think of the Sox as having such limited geographic appeal, unlike the Cubs who I seem to find all over the U.S. I will say that there hat is more stylish than ours, though, so maybe that's why they sell pretty well.

    Incidentally, I once took a trip and spent a few days in the rain forest near the Amazon basin and I saw two native kids wearing Chicago Bulls jerseys. Now that was crazy to me.

  • Well, after listening to Theo on 670 a few minutes ago, I am glad that I am WRONG and my feeling that they were keeping Q was that sick feeling. What sealed it for me? When asked what he looks for in a manager he said, "#1 quality is leadership. Well, seeing how Q handled the team and lack of leadership quality only means one thing. :D

  • White Sox hats, etc: You can go anywhere in the world and not escape U.S. pop culture items, for too many reasons to go into. White Sox hats and the hats of any sports teams that are black are "gangsta." That is part of U.S. pop culture too. ["Sox" sets off spell-check but "gangsta" does not!]

    Zambrano: I am more curious than concerned to see how the new team manages this. I would rather see Cashner and Samardzija in the rotation if they can do it. But - and I have said this about others too - what is gained by paying Z to play someplace else and then overpaying another retread to play here? And we saw how going into the season with just enough big league pitching worked out last year. A pessimistic view perhaps, but can you ever have enough pitching? If you are going to release Z now, why not keep him for insurance at least? And I know part of the answer at least.

  • In reply to bruno14:

    I agree that if you're going to pay Z to play elsewhere then you have to replace him cheaply, possibly in-house for it to make financial sense. The same goes for Soriano. I don't see any way that these new Cubs would replace either player with another expensive player. That would only add to the cost and risk.

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