Chicago Cubs: Analyzing All of Theo Epstein's Moves Before His Debut Season
After being hired by the Boston Red Sox in 2002 at the age of 28, Epstein became the youngest general manager in the history of Major League Baseball and made a quick impact on the team by leading them to a World Series championship that had—something that had eluded the Red Sox for 86 years.
Cubs fans are hoping that he will have the same impact on their team, which is seeking their first World Series championship since 1908. While the 2002 Red Sox team was better equipped for a quick turnaround, the Cubs will undergo a year or two of rebuilding before any real success can be expected.
That being said, Epstein has wasted no time in making moves that he believes will benefit the Cubs organization for the future.
Hiring Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod
Epstein's first move was to hire a general manager who he was comfortable with and was compatible with the way Epstein runs his team.
Jed Hoyer was the assistant general manager for the Boston Red Sox under Epstein until 2009 when he left to be the GM of the San Diego Padres. Along with Hoyer, Epstein brought in Jason McLeod from the Padres to be the VP of Scouting and Player Development for the Cubs.
Both Hoyer and McLeod have a phenomenal track record in scouting talent, free-agent signings and trades to better the organization for the present and future. Some of these players include: Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett.
Bringing in guys who have this kind of experience, but more importantly success, is essential for the Cubs to become an elite team. In the short five months that these three have been a part of the Cubs, they have made significant deals that show serious dedication to their future.
Hiring Dale Sveum
In order to be a consistent World Series competitor, the Cubs needed to find a manager who has patience, a great sense of the game, the ability to develop talent, and knowledge of what it takes to win.
Dale Sveum is a perfect fit for the Chicago Cubs.
Sveum may not have much experience as a manager (He was 7-5 as interim manager for the Brewers in 2008) but he has been around winning organizations his whole career. He was the third base coach for the Boston Red Sox when they won their first World Series in 86 years in 2004. After leaving the Red Sox, Sveum joined the Milwaukee Brewers acting as a bench coach, third base coach, interim manager and hitting coach from 2006-11.
With the Cubs expected to struggle in their first year or two under the new regime, Sveum will have time to learn on the job and impose his coaching style to a young Cubs team.
Trading Carlos Zambrano
Carlos Zambrano had been the Cubs biggest hope every offseason and biggest disaster during the season for too long.
Former Cubs GM, Jim Hendry, let Zambrano off the hook too many times which made Cubs fans increasingly disturbed by his deteriorating attitude each season. Before the past few seasons were about to begin, Zambrano was the focus of the team because of his apologies and promises to be a more relaxed player, one deserving of an $18 million per year contract.
Cubs fans were let down every season.
Whether it was an injury, a move to the bullpen or an on-field tantrum, Zambrano always found a way into the dog house. It was time for Big Z to go.
With new management, Zambrano no longer had ties to those who brought him in as an 18-year-old kid from Venezuela. Epstein quietly searched for a team willing to take Zambrano for a very low cost and succeeded.
Although the Cubs had to eat most of Zambrano's salary, they were able to acquire RHP Chris Volstad from the Miami Marlins. Volstad, a young pitcher with Major League experience, has the potential to be a consistent contributor to the Cubs in the present and the future.
Signing David DeJesus
With a free-agent class full of superstars such as Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes and C.J. Wilson, Cubs fans may have hoped that Theo Epstein would make a big splash in the free-agent market.
Instead, Epstein stuck with his original plan by making small moves that wouldn't hurt their future salary situation. In the past, Cubs fans were used to the organization pursuing high-prized free agents, such as Alfonso Soriano, but were often let down by poor production along with massive, unmovable contracts.
When the Cubs signed DeJesus to a two-year deal they were essentially looking for an inexpensive, leadoff man with good defensive skills to hold an outfield position until prospect, Brett Jackson is ready for the big leagues.
Even though DeJesus is coming off a down year, (.240 AVG, 46 RBIs, 4 SB in 131 games) he has the potential to be a low-risk, high-reward player.
Trading Tyler Colvin to Rockies for 3B Ian Stewart
After letting longtime Cubs third basemen Aramis Ramirez walk and sign with the Milwaukee Brewers, Epstein needed to find a capable, yet cheap option to play third base.
The next deal Epstein made was trading outfielder Tyler Colvin and infielder D.J. LeMahieu to the Rockies for third basemen Ian Stewart. Like DeJesus, Ian Stewart is a low-risk, high-reward type of player coming off a down season for the Rockies.
It's unlikely that Stewart is a long-term solution for the Cubs, but with no other clear solution it will be Stewart's job to lose this season.
The Cubs drafted third base prospect Josh Vitters out of high school, but he hasn't seemed to progress enough to crack into the big league roster. There was also speculation that the Cubs would potentially consider going after New York Mets third baseman David Wright, but it never went much further than speculation.
Trading Sean Marshall
Sean Marshall was not only the best reliever for the Cubs the past two seasons, but arguably the best left-handed relief pitcher in baseball during that span.
Trading Sean Marshall for LHP Travis Wood is the one move that has puzzled many Cubs fans, including myself. It was a confusing trade because he was extremely effective, relatively inexpensive and a good person to have in the clubhouse, yet the Cubs didn't get much in return for him.
The main reason the Cubs did trade Marshall was due to their lack of quality starting pitchers. Although the 25-year-old Wood only has a couple years of Major League experience, he has performed pretty well, posting an 11-10 record and 4.18 ERA.
Trading for Anthony Rizzo
While trading a young, potential superstar pitcher in Andrew Cashner, Rizzo holds that same potential at first base. Even though Cashner could be a star, he battled arm injuries that kept him out of the season last year. It's possible that Theo Epstein saw that as a warning sign and traded him while his value was still high.
Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod have a history with Rizzo, both in the Red Sox and Padres organizations. Rizzo was the main piece in the deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez to Boston last year.
Signing Paul Maholm
Signing veteran LHP Paul Maholm to a one-year deal was another one of Theo Epstein's low-risk, high-eward moves, as well as a starter who can eat innings.
So far, signing Maholm has been a fantastic move for the Cubs as he has been one of the best pitchers throughout spring training. While it is hard to expect the same results throughout the entire regular season, if Maholm plays well in the first half of the season, he could be a valuable trade chip for teams in need of starting pitching.
Maholm, 29, spent his previous seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates where run support has been rare and wins hard to come by, but it looks like he will be a steal for the upcoming season.
Re-Signing Kerry Wood
In 11 of his 13 seasons in the majors, Kerry Wood has been the face of the Chicago Cubs.
Re-signing Kerry Wood is arguably Epstein's most significant move for the 2012 season because Wood is one of the best all-around guys in baseball. Even though he could have signed more lucrative deals with teams like the Philadelphia Phillies or New York Yankees, Kerry Wood gave the Cubs a hometown discount of $3 million for one year.
He is a great addition to the team because of his experience as both a starter and reliever, and will be able to act as a coach to the young pitchers, while filling the setup man role as well.
Wood's career has been filled with injuries and he has already had to sit out during spring training due to back spasms. However, regardless of whether he is healthy or not, having Kerry Wood in the organization is a good thing for the Cubs.
Signing Gerardo Concepcion
Although the Cubs missed out on signing the best Cuban prospect, Yoenis Cespedes, they were able to lure another highly-touted prospect from Cuba.
In early March, the Cubs signed 18-year-old Cuban prospect Gerardo Concepcion to a five-year deal with $6 million guaranteed. Concepcion is a great signing for the Cubs because he is relatively cheap and has a very high ceiling.
It will take a few years of grooming before Cubs fans can expect to see him on the big league roster, but Concepcion could be the young superstar pitcher that the Cubs have lacked since the days of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.
The Cubs have also been actively pursuing another Cuban prospect, 20-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler. Soler has been highly coveted by multiple teams and has the potential to be even better than fellow Cuban Cespedes, but he has yet to become eligible for free agency.
There have been reports that the Cubs and Soler agreed to a deal; however, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer quickly shot those rumors down. Signing Soler, when he becomes available, would be a great way for Theo Epstein to conclude an already successful first season with the Cubs.