Theo Epstein Officially Joins Cubs: 10 Steps for Cubs over Next 10 Days
In the days since the initial announcement that Theo Epstein would take over the helm of the Chicago Cubs, Tom Ricketts has had his engine open to full throttle. Unfortunately, thanks to the stall tactics and unreasonable demands of the Boston Red Sox, Ricketts and the rest of the Cubs organization has been spinning its wheels in the deep muck of unproductive negotiations.
Call this traction. Epstein's resignation from the Red Sox and assumption of power at Wrigley Field is official, according to a joint press release from the teams Friday.
Compensation does not appear to be finalized, so we won't know how good (or bad) a deal this is for Chicago until those details come to light over the next five days.
Still, with Epstein in the fold, Chicago can proceed with its plan to bring former Epstein assistant and current San Diego Padres GM Jed Hoyer in to fill the same role.
Timing is everything. Getting this front-office shake-up out of the way before the end of the World Series was a critical step. It seems Epstein, Hoyer and Jason McLeod (former Epstein assistant and current Hoyer right-hand man) will have time to get their house in order before the offseason begins in earnest next week.
Meetings must be held; decisions must be made. Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod will need to put their vision for the club's future on the table, but not before hearing from critical incumbent parts Oneri Fleita, Tim Wilken and Ari Kaplan about the current states of the Cubs' minor-league system, organizational hierarchy and big-league roster.
The Cubs figure to be very busy this winter, and they need to act quickly to make sure they have a cohesive operation come mid-November. Here are 10 things that must get done in the next 10 days under the new Cubs regime.
1. Hold an Introductory Press Conference
This will happen Tuesday, and the objective should be to simply get past the messiness of the past 10 days without any distraction.
Epstein should be forthright and outline the plan for compensating both Boston and San Diego, if indeed those deals are not already done by then. He should get the goofy stuff out of the way, such as whether it was really he who was spotted in a Chicago Starbucks two weeks ago.
These media moments can be a nuisance, but Epstein, Hoyer, McLeod and Ricketts need to treat it as an opportunity to put a transparent, intelligent face on the franchise, and to capitalize on all the attention they have received in recent days.
2. Hold Coordination Meetings with All Front-Office Personnel
Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod all probably have a fair idea of where they stand in terms of current organizational talent; systems of development, scouting and training that are in place; and their prospective spending power.
With the presser out of the way, though, they will need to meet with Fleita, Wilken, Kaplan and several others over a couple of days in order to get specifics and have some questions answered.
The meetings should introduce the philosophies to which Epstein, Hoyer, McLeod and their staff subscribe, but should also give the incumbents a chance to note what they feel is working well as is.
3. Set Realistic, Positive Short-Term Goals for the Team
One of the inherent difficulties of running a team like the Cubs (or like the Red Sox, for that matter) is the incessant pressure to contend. Whereas Hoyer spent this season in rebuilding mode in San Diego, Cubs fans do not have the patience for that sort of unabashed sacrifice of present for future value.
Therefore, although the focus must be on the long-term health of the organization, the brain trust needs to set some goals for the 2012 season that do not involve simply selling off assets.
A win total is not the right kind of target, but by some measure of competitiveness, the group should expect the Cubs to succeed next season, and approach the winter with that in mind.
4. Find the Right Window in Which to Make a First Run at the World Series
Starlin Castro is not going anywhere for a while. Castro is the cornerstone of the Cubs franchise, or the co-cornerstone with 2012 rookie center fielder Brett Jackson.
With those and a few other pieces already in place, Epstein and staff can decide whether the team will be ready to contend seriously in 2013, or whether they ought to aim instead for the following year.
Either way, the money will be there when they need it, so the front-office cadre can confidently choose the optimal point to charge to the head of the National League.
5. Fire Mike Quade
Quade had a miserable season in the dugout, his only one as manager of a big-league club. He needs to go.
Not only did he cost the team games in 2011, but he overworked quasi-valuable relievers Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall and Jeff Samardzija.
He also abused Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza down the stretch, putting their health in jeopardy with 125-plus-pitch outings in meaningless games. Quade cost Chicago present and future wins, and he cannot be allowed to return.
6. Hire a New Manager
Ryne Sandberg, pictured, would be the clear choice, but it hardly matters whom the Cubs choose to take Quade's place. Only a handful of skippers anywhere in the game do not hurt their teams' chances to win.
Managing is a lost art. Therefore, unless the collective has the guts to find a baseball outsider who can do it right or can yank Earl Weaver out of retirement, Sandberg is the best choice simply because he would be the most popular and the toughest.
7. Move to Retain Greg Maddux
Maddux took on his role as an assistant to Jim Hendry largely out of love for the man himself. With Hendry gone, many believe Maddux will not return in any capacity in Chicago.
That may be non-negotiable, and if so, it is no irreparable loss. Still, Epstein and his fellows must make overtures to Maddux in an effort to keep him. The better baseball minds in MLB history can be counted on one hand.
Perhaps Maddux would return to the dugout as pitching coach alongside long-time teammate Sandberg. In any case, the Cubs will be better off going forward if Maddux remains in the fold, however marginally. Epstein is famous for gaining those marginal advantages.
8. Exercise Aramis Ramirez's Club Option
This is not the same as saying the team should strive to keep Ramirez; they should not. However, Ramirez has made clear that he wants a multi-year contract, and that he will decline his side of the $16 million option for 2012 if the Cubs do not.
That will save Epstein and the Cubs $2 million, which would have been the buyout on Ramirez's option otherwise.
Ramirez's statuesque defense along the third-base line (accurate right down to his stony hands) has become too much a liability to make him worth what someone will pay him, so Epstein should exercise the option just to get out from under the buyout.
9. Extend Starlin Castro
In March 2010, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Justin Upton to a six-year, $51 million contract extension that began that season. Upton would not have been eligible for arbitration until after the season, but Arizona got him to sign on through what would have been his first two years of free agency.
To that point, Upton had amassed 1,157 plate appearances, two years and 60 days of service time and 5.2 FanGraphs WAR in his career. Upton signed the deal about five months before his 23rd birthday.
Starlin Castro has one year and 150 days of service time under his belt, during which time he has come to bat 1,221 times. Because of Super Two rules, Castro will be eligible for arbitration after the 2012 season unless something gives.
He is an extra year from free agency, so the matter is perhaps less urgent than it would have been for Upton in Arizona but, then again, Castro is poised to break some sort of record for first-time arbitration-eligible players if he has a solid platform year in 2012.
His FanGraphs WAR stands at 5.6 for his career despite the fact that he is still far shy of his defensive ceiling, and Castro is some five months shy of his 22nd birthday.
An Upton-esque extension, with perhaps an extra year at $15 million or so tacked on, would make sense for both sides, and would be a great way to establish cost certainty for future seasons as bad contracts come off the books in Chicago and Epstein starts to have a freer budget.
10. Trade Carlos Zambrano
Players the Cubs force themselves to get rid of through personnel mismanagement and commitment to guys with poor makeup have generally haunted Chicago winters.
Milton Bradley did not get dealt until nearly New Year's in 2009, stalling all other pursuits for the Cubs. Sammy Sosa wasn't traded until February 2005, leaving the Cubs totally hamstrung for the season.
Epstein doesn't figure to operate that way. He has a buyer lined up for troubled pitcher Carlos Zambrano, as Zambrano buddy Ozzie Guillen has taken over the Florida Marlins at a time when the Fish are looking to fill a new stadium and are willing to spend in order to do so.
It should be simple: Epstein gets a prospect or two, the Marlins get Zambrano and the Cubs pay half his $18 million salary for 2012, plus his $1 million signing bonus payout.