In light of the recent frustration over so-called minor signings. We can take a look at how the 2004 Red Sox were built and it wasn’t from big name signings. Yes, the Red Sox were a good team before Theo Epstein came, but he made them a better, more efficient team that spread out it’s talent better all over the roster — in part because he consistently found great value on the free agent and trade markets.
Back in 2011, I wrote about this process and while Cubs Den has grown since then and there are plenty of new readers, I thought we could all use a reminder of how Epstein really built the Red Sox.
Theo’s Early Red Sox Blueprint Could be a Model for the Cubs.
(This piece was originally published on November 1st, 2o11)
There’s been some great debate today as to how the Cubs should go about building for next season. Some believe the Cubs should strictly go with the farm, others believe they should spend big in free agency, while others believe the Cubs should build through trades and/or bargain free agent signings. There’s probably quite a few who might also vote “all of the above”.
All of this got me thinking: How did Theo himself do it the first time around? Granted this isn’t going to be an apples to apples comparison since the Red Sox had better major league talent than the Cubs did when Theo took over, but their farm system was similar — decent, but thin at the upper levels.
I decided to look at all the starters from the 2004 team that were not with the team when Theo took over in late 2002. Here are the results:
Starting Lineup Acquisitions
1B: Kevin Millar – Acquired for cash from the Marlins
2b: Mark Bellhorn – Acquired in a minor, conditional deal from the Rockies
SS: Pokey Reese – Signed as a low cost FA ($1M), played 96 games before Red Sox acquired Orlando Cabrera
3B: Bill Mueller – Signed as a low cost FA ($2.1M)
RF: Gabe Kaplar – Signed as alow cost FA ($750K)
Starting Rotation Acquisitions
RHP – Curt Schilling – Acquired via trade for for Michael Gross (minors) Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, and Jorge de la Rosa
RHP – Brandon Arroyo – Acquired off waivers from Pittsburgh
Additionally Tim Wakefield was moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation in 2003. He was originally signed on a minor league deal.
The team’s biggest star, David Ortiz, was picked up after being released by the Twins for $1.25M.
So what does this all mean? We have heard Epstein hint that he isn’t going for the big signing right away. In his own words, “there is a time and a place for that”.
It’s also not a team built from his farm system. That came later with the 2007 champions when his own front office’s picks had a chance to develop. Similarly, the Cubs best current prospects are the lowest levels of the minors and the Cubs figure to keep on investing in the draft and international market for the foreseeable future.
Rather, Epstein mostly built the team with undervalued free agent signings and other bargain players to quickly change the makeup of the ballclub. Building through the farm came gradually and had a larger effect on the roster 5 years later.
The Cubs are in a different position than the Red Sox were in 2002 and may use a couple of prospects right away to fill some holes. We may see farm products in the bullpen and at 3B and 1B.
There may be a couple of tweaks here and there to allow for those differences, but overall it’s a formula that we may well see him use again as he tries to reshape a Cubs team.
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