Chicago Cubs: Why Theo Epstein's Reign Has Been a Disaster so Far
Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano are still on the team.
And Chicago's ace, Matt Garza, is rumored to a different club every few days, because apparently good pitching is a position of strength on the North Side (rolls eyes).
Carlos Peña and his team-leading 28 dingers are gone, along with his positive clubhouse presence, leaving fans to ask in all seriousness: Who's on first?
David DeJesus, the Cubs new right fielder, hit .240 with 10 home runs last season. Yep, new guy, same old results.
Pitching phenom Yu Darvish is going to the Texas Rangers, a World Series contender.
Meanwhile, Prince Fielder is nowhere in sight.
Wait, weren't the Cubs supposed to be legit contenders, too?
Somehow, Hoyer & Co. are going to spend in the neighborhood of $135 million this season. But it's (shockingly) unclear what that buys for the Wrigley Field faithful, as Chicago has been effectively dormant in free agency.
Not to criticize Team Epstein, but someone has to ask:
When are the Cubs going to get better?
The Best GMs Aren't Necessarily the Best Anymore
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Maybe the Cubs arrived at the party too late.
Still believe Epstein is the only genius on the market using advanced metrics in combination with traditional scouting? Think again.
Which of the following was said by Epstein?
Anonymous Executive No. 1 said, "We are going to utilize several objective measures of player performance to evaluate and develop players. We'll rely on the more traditional objective evaluations: OPS, WHIP, Runs Created, ERC, GB/FB, K/9, K/BB, BB percentage, etc., but we'll also look to rely on some of the more recent variations: VORP, Relative Performance, EqAve, EqOBP, EqSLG, BIP percentage, wOBA, Range Factor, PMR and Zone Rating. That said, we will continue to stress the importance of our subjective evaluations. Succinctly stated, we believe that a combination of quality objective and subjective analysis will allow us to maximize our probability of success and to make the best possible decisions."
Anonymous Executive No. 2 said, "We have to build from within. We've got to be the best at finding talent, developing talent, and utilizing the talent at the major-league level."
Anonymous Executive No. 3 said, "To me, if you aren't in the business of being creative and looking for unique ways to [improve], then you're probably not doing your job very well."
Thing is, Epstein didn't say any of them.
And that means the Cubs may not have the advantage fans envisioned when Tom Ricketts put Team Epstein at the helm. These days, everyone is hiring young, sabermetric-savvy execs to run their teams.
At least the Cubs aren't falling behind for once. That's something.
1: Neal Huntington, Pittsburgh Pirates GM
2: Jeff Luhnow, Houston Astros GM
3: Jerry DiPoto, Los Angeles Angels GM
Big Z Still Planning to Report to Spring Training
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Carlos Zambrano is dynamite with no fuse.
Naturally, the Cubs plan to toss him into a major league fire every fifth day for another season.
Don't forget, he made Lou Piniella look tame.
Don't forget, he's guilty of assaulting a water cooler. And teammates, like Michael Barrett.
Don't forget, he screamed at the two quietest and most agreeable Cubs ever, in Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.
Don't forget, when he doesn't get his way he starts plunking batters on purpose.
Don't forget, last year he retired. Then unretired.
Don't forget, he promises to be a changed man every year.
Don't forget, the Cubs fall for that tired act every time.
No matter who's running the Cubs, apparently the rules are still the same: eight strikes and you're out.
Unless the habitual offender needs another one.
Marshall's Gone and Garza Is Leaving?
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Let's get this straight. One of the Cubs' best pitchers was traded and the other is rumored to be leaving soon.
But Carlos Zambrano is staying?
Stop it right now.
Look, no one said Jim Hendry was a master at evaluating talent. But he never sabotaged the team on purpose. (Other than signing Alfonso Soriano to that club-killing, hundred-year, gazillion-dollar deal. And he's usually given a pass for that contract because the Tribune company wanted to raise the team's selling price.)
So we're still waiting to learn what Hoyer & Co. have against winning major league games.
Is it time to speculate the contracts of Jed and Theo allow them to keep money not spent on free agents?
Because while the Cubs have plenty of money, and Marshall and Garza have relatively cheap contracts, Team Epstein already moved one and seems willing to move the other.
That's a signal it's already time to wait 'til next year (or the next year).
Go Cubs in 2013!
Black Hole at 3B Rears Ugly Head
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After Ron Santo, Cubs fans were treated to the likes of Ron Cey, Manny Trillo, Steve Buechele, Gary Scott, Kevin Orie, Vance Law and Jose Hernandez to name a few.
In other words, it was a litany of disappointment until Aramis Ramirez showed up.
After that, Cubs fans settled into eight seasons of stability, including his prime seasons (2003-2007), followed by his not-so-prime seasons (2008-2011).
Ramirez signed with the Brewers earlier this offseason.
And while he isn't the offensive threat he once was, and still has the defensive range of a phone booth, Chicago fans are having trouble touting the replacement, Ian Stewart.
Because Stewart made puppies cry.
His performance induced fits of creative cursing by Colorado fans, posting just a .156/.243/.221 stat line in 136 at-bats.
Hard to fathom how my grandma could hit that poorly at Coors Field.
Admit it, you're wondering if he held the bat with his feet.
Was he learning to switch hit? Just for fun, did he alternately close one eye between pitches?
If not, third base appears to be a (serious) problem.
Who's on First?
First base is another issue. Usually, a run-producer guards the bag and swats 25 homers.
Last year, Carlos Peña provided left-handed pop and defensive prowess. Imagine Starlin Castro bouncing balls to a less capable glove man. Yikes.
And while Peña has never hit for average, the Cubs would love to find 28 HR, 80 RBI and a .357 OBP for first base.
Preferably someone left-handed.
Hello, Prince Fielder?
Because the Cubs options at first base are career minor-leaguer Bryan LaHair and career backup, Jeff Baker.
So who's on first for the Cubs?
Alfonso Soriano Is Still the Starter in Left Field.
He makes this face a lot. Soriano's career strikeout rate is 22.2%.
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Mr. Strikeout is still planning to hop around left field and make mistakes.
One option is the recently re-signed Reed Johnson, who hustles more in a single play than Soriano does in a three-game series. Johnson's defense keeps him valuable, as he can play all three outfield positions. And his bat is useful, too, as his .348 OBP last year was significantly higher than Soriano's career-worst .289.
But if Blake DeWitt is the answer, the question must be, "Is there a way to get even less production?"
Sure, there are rumors of Coco Crisp joining the team.
Why stop there?
Ryan Sweeney, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui all played outfield for Oakland last year and represent upgrades over Soriano. Maybe one of them would work.
Here's how bad it is: you can't trade Soriano for those guys without paying his contract, too. And that still might not be enough.
If Bryan LaHair weren't penciled in as the starting first basemen, it'd be worth giving his left-handed bat a chance to improve upon Soriano's brand of terrible. LaHair's defense could hardly be worse.
Brace yourselves, Cub fans. It's going to be a rough year.
Because let's be honest—would any of these guys play left field for a team in contention?
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And Team Epstein is known to be shopping ace, Matt Garza, but unable to ditch deadweights like Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano.
Fans expected changes, and assumed the roster would be overhauled.
But the Cubs could be this bad with Jim Hendry.
Apparently, the plan is "win later," but right now it feels more like "win never."
And while losing is often the result at Wrigley (regardless of the plan), it's usually not so obvious the Cubs are going to swindle fans by putting a high-cost, low-output, major league team on the field.
Yet none of the recent signings indicate Chicago can finish above last next season.
Because the 2011 Cubs won just 71 games.
But the 2012 Cubs look worse.
Hey Theo, when do we get better?