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MLB Chicago Cubs: 10 Unfair Expectations for Theo Epstein's Tenure

Tommy StokkeCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2012

MLB Chicago Cubs: 10 Unfair Expectations for Theo Epstein's Tenure

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    When Theo Epstein was hired at the end of October it was hard for the terms "division titles," "National League pennant" and "World Series" to pop into Chicago Cubs fans' heads.

    If these are your expectations for the Chicago Cubs from now on, you'll have to pump the brakes faster than Chicago rush hour traffic.

    Those all may come in the future, at least once, and sustained success may be a reality more than a rumor. But with one of the best baseball minds taking control of baseball operations, the Cubs, and Epstein, have come under some unrealistic expectations.

    With the success that Epstein enjoyed in Boston comes sky-high expectations for an organization celebratory-champagne deprived.

    Here are 10 unfair expectations for Epstein's tenure with the Chicago Cubs.

Quick Success

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    Contrary to what MLB12 The Show says, don't expect the Cubs to win the 2012 World Series.

    I'm not saying that people believe this will happen this soon, but a winning season could realistically be three years away. That's just over .500. It could take even longer for the playoffs to arrive.

    Epstein doesn't have wins to carry over to this year's Cubs squad from his teams in Boston. They'll have to earn their own. And while the future may have light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel is still a ways away.

    Before Epstein can reach the level of success that Cubs fans are expecting he still must make a few moves.

    He has bad contracts in left and center field. His best starting pitcher is on a one-year deal. His future clean-up hitter will start the season in the minor leagues.

    The pieces will need to be set in place and gel before playoffs and titles can be part of the discussion. And that's still multiple years away.

No Bad Contracts

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    Cubs fans unfamiliar with Epstein's tenure in Boston may not realize that he doesn't walk across Lake Michigan to get home.

    Fans aren't quick to forget the bad contracts that Jim Hendry signed. Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano and Milton Bradley are a few that didn't pan out the way he expected when he watched them sign the dotted lines.

    They're also quick to forget that he stole Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez from the Pittsburgh Pirates before signing Ramirez to a contract that he, for the most part, lived up to. He turned a struggling Todd Hundley into starters Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek. Not to mention Hee-Seop Choi turned into Derrek Lee.

    But Cubs fans perhaps looked the other way when Epstein overpaid for John Lackey and Carl Crawford. J.D. Drew never panned out. Mike Cameron, Eric Gagne, Julio Lugo and Edgar Renteria are just a few more players that Epstein overpaid for.

    Epstein says all the right things about not rewarding players with contracts for what they've already accomplished, but he hasn't always followed his own advice. With pressure to make a big splash in future free agencies, don't be surprised to see Epstein make the same mistakes he did in Boston and overpay to please a fan base for the week.

    Hopefully he's learned from his mistakes.  

Only One Rebuilding Phase

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    Most fans are willing to accept the rebuilding process the Cubs are going through by blaming it on past management. But these next three years aren't likely to be the only time the Cubs are rebuilding.

    Sure, the pantry won't be stripped of talent or contracts like it is now. But expect this to be the only time that we see stop-gaps or overpaid contracts taking the field knowing that a championship isn't a likely accomplishment.

    And that isn't a bad thing.

    It's better for organizations to come to that realization instead of hanging in a middling zone of mediocrity. It's better to have two down years for four good ones than having five years of second-place finishes and a brief hope of a playoff berth come August.

Consistently Landing Top Free Agents

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    It was expected that with Epstein's arrival, the Cubs would be in on either Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, because they were the biggest names on the free agent market.

    That's the approach he used in Boston when signing Crawford and Lackey.

    The Cubs will be in on some top free agents over the next 10 years, but don't expect this to be Boston or New York where buying championships is more plausible than building through the farm.

    Epstein has, hopefully, learned from his mistakes and now realizes that getting in bidding wars with rivals isn't always the best answer.

    Luckily, the New York Yankees aren't sharing a stage or division with the Cubs. Right now, the Cardinals and Phillies are the most dangerous teams that can financially compete with the Cubs. The Cardinals typically are not big spenders each year.

    I feel that Epstein would much rather build his own Jacoby Ellsburys and Dustin Pedroias rather than overpaying for Crawfords or Lackeys.

Free of Criticism

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    How long will it take before the first high-ranking authority comes out and questions the decisions of Epstein?

    Not a single move that Epstein has made thus far has been challenged by the media or fans. His resume has certainly earned that.

    But there's a reason why he wasn't coveted to stay in Boston. He wasn't perfect, as nobody is.

    If anyone thinks that Cubs fans and media will turn the other way of poor moves because of his reputation, they have another thing coming.

    I think he realizes that he has time where he is bulletproof, but that vest won't be there for long if the team doesn't show a big turnaround soon.

A Repeat of Boston

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    When Epstein was handed the keys to the Boston Red Sox, it looked like Derrick Rose's 2011 Bentley; while the Cubs' roster is more comparable to the Saturn that rear-ended him.

    There's no Manny Ramirez waiting in the three-spot. There's no Pedro Martinez getting ready to take the hill. In fact, besides Matt Garza, it's hard to find a player you can name who is in the midst of his prime.

    Epstein will have plenty of remodeling to do before he can experience the success he reached in Boston.

    He has contracts to dump, players to develop and more moves to make.

NL Central Domination

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    Before the Cubs can dominate Major League Baseball, they have to conquer the NL Central first.

    Easier said than done.

    The Cubs will have to compete annually with the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most well-run organizations in baseball. There's a lot of turnover on the team this season, but the organization's success speaks loud enough to believe in the plan that they have going forward.

    A core is further along in Cincinnati than Chicago. The Pirates are building a mold that may be able to compete in years coming. The Brewers still have the reigning MVP.

    No matter how much improvement the Cubs experience in the coming years, winning the NL Central is no easy task to accomplish. With injuries, decline and free agency it's hard to truly dominate a division. I don't expect this team to turn into the Atlanta Braves of the '90s.

Long Term Commitment

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    If Theo Epstein can walk away from his dream job in Boston, there's no reason to believe he'll be around Chicago forever.

    Epstein believes that after 10 seasons in the same situation you start looking for a new challenge.

    If he experiences the success that he did in Boston he will have nothing left to accomplish for the Cubs, and as a result have no reason to stay. And if he experiences little success, expect him to be driven out of town like Hendry and Andy MacPhail were before him.

    I think he has more than 10 years in Chicago. This challenge won't be as quickly reached as it was in Boston.

    Will he be happy with just one championship? Or will he be standing at a World Series parade telling the crowd "Not five, not six, not seven..."

World Series or Bust After 2015

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    The thought is that Cubs fans will wait to rebuild for three years, but they then expect Epstein to produce World Championships.

    Making the playoffs in 2003 was unsatisfying, as was 2007 and 2008. Will that be the case going forward? Most likely.

    But it shouldn't be. The aforementioned Atlanta Braves won 14 straight division titles with only one World Series title. Is that a disappointment?

    Only one team a year gets to hoist the trophy. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. At least everyone would be doing it more than once every 100 years.

    The Phillies were handed the title when they acquired Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee. The Yankees usually add one of the top free agents to put them in talks for the World Series each year. Yet every year there's a surprise.

    Baseball is too hard to predict. Getting greedy and impatient after 2015 won't help the process.

Theo Becomes the Face of Chicago

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    Can the man in the suit really become the face of the city?

    He has plenty of things going for him. He brings success to the city that hasn't had much recently. He's not just looking for a headline or newspaper quote as some management position on the South Side.

    Is hockey popular enough to produce the face of the city?

    One could argue that it's Brian Urlacher, who's manned the defense for the Chicago Bears for the last 12 seasons. But have the Bears had enough success to do so?

    Epstein possibly has a better chance than Derrick Rose, because he's at least capable of taking his own SATs. It's also tough for Rose to overcome the shadow left by Michael Jordan over Chicago basketball.

    Chicago is a Cubs town. But Epstein, no matter how many championships he brings, cannot be that face.

    It needs to be a player. Fans come out to see the players perform instead of seeing Epstein sip on a bottle of water in his box seat.

    Perhaps it becomes homegrown talent such as Starlin Castro or Brett Jackson. Maybe Anthony Rizzo emerges as that player.

    Whoever it is, a player in pinstripes must take the responsibility and pride to become the face of the city, much in the way Sammy Sosa was back in his prime.

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