“Twas the night after Theo signed and all the Cubs’ fans’ houses. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The uniforms were hung by the lockers with care, in the hopes that Albert Pujols would soon be there.”
It didn’t take more than 15 minutes after reading my first article about Theo Epstein resigning from the Boston Red Sox with the intention of joining the Chicago Cubs as President of Baseball Operations for me to spy my first article. “Albert Pujols a good fit for Epstein’s Cubs,” was the title. The man isn’t even on the job yet and they are already expecting him to land the biggest free agent to hit the market in, well, maybe ever.
Needless to say that Epstein’s expectations are high in Chicago, where fans are looking to him as the savior to end their 104 year title drought.
Epstein has worked the magic before. He was hired at 28 by new Red Sox owner John Henry who was looking to shake some things up. He wanted younger blood. Someone who understood the computer models and the mathematics behind advanced statistics rather than some of the older baseball minds of the time. He wanted someone who wasn’t afraid to try something new if it meant getting better results.
It seems to have worked as in his second season as GM, the Red Sox made an improbable run to the World Series and then swept the Cardinals to end an 86 year title drought. Not to mention, they did again in 2007.
When I heard the rumors of Epstein leaving the Red Sox for the Cubs, I immediately dismissed it as simple hope that the Cubs could land such a person. Epstein is a god in Boston. Would he really want to leave that post? But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. It’s far more fun to build a winner than to try to maintain a winner. Seems Theo thought the same.
The second thought, once I realized that it was a possibility, is to think about how many General Managers have built teams with two different franchises and taken them to the World Series, much less having won two. Unfortunately, I can’t find that information anywhere. But I do know one, that would be Pat Gillick who led the 1992 and 1993 Toronto Blue Jays to World Series championships and then the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
It has to be rare because so much of building a good team requires a little luck. Luck from drafting the right players to making good free agent signings to putting the right people in place in the organization to pulling the trigger on the right trades.
George Steinbrenner had told his GM Brian Cashman that he wanted David Ortiz. Apparently Cashman misinterpreted exactly how badly Steinbrenner wanted Ortiz in Yankee pinstripes and didn’t pursue him as hard as necessary to keep him away from the Red Sox.
Kevin Millar was sold to a Japanese team, but Boston was able to block the move by waivers to claim him. He really only had one exceptional season in Boston, average the next, and below average the one after that. But it worked for 2004 and his attitude and personality was credited with loosening up the team on a playoff run that featured a 0-3 series deficit in the ALCS that year, enabling them to win the next 8, win the ALCS and then sweep the Cardinals.
And finally Curt Schilling who was under a large contract in Arizona. The Diamondbacks essentially took peanuts for him so they could stop paying him. None of the players they received were impact players and the minor leaguer was a middle of the road guy who hasn’t played in Major League Baseball or Minor League Baseball since 2004.
The three big pieces of their World Series team basically given to them. Can’t get more lucky than that.
Can Epstein repeat his success in Chicago? Maybe.
Immediately he gives the team a guy with a name. A name that was made by breaking the Curse of the Bambino. He’s been a winner and that will change the attitude of employees and players in the organization.
He’s been in a winning organization and knows what one looks like. The Cubs hope he can reproduce it and Epstein is already rumored to be making moves to bring a few of his key advisors from his early years in Boston to the organization. I think that is a good move.
I feel that the Cubs’ problems right now are deeper than a new man at the top and a change in personality can make. Some of their clubhouse problems over the last two years show that, in my opinion. From dugout shouting matches to Carlos Zambrano meltdowns, the team’s psyche is scarred. I think the Cubs would benefit from ripping the Band-Aid off as it applies to a few of these high paid, declining veterans on their roster and working to solidify their foundation.
And will Albert Pujols be Theo Epstein’s #1 priority in free agency?
It will certainly make the rumor mills, that is for sure. The prospect of their arch-rival Cubs stealing away the best player in baseball who has played for the Cardinals all of his career? That’s “Curse of the Bambino”-like.
More than just wanting Albert Pujols to return as a Cardinal and the Cubs being the third to last place on earth that I’d want him to go (New York and Boston would be the last places, gladly not likely to happen), I don’t think that Pujols would be a good fit in that organization at this moment. Their problems are more than just one player, and when it comes down to it, Pujols is a 32 year old first baseman with declining defense and he is not the offensive power he was just a few years ago. Minor injuries have nagged some of his skills away. He will be pricey, in terms of both dollars and years.
A much better fit for the Cubs? Prince Fielder. He’s four years younger than Pujols. While he’ll likely cost as much as Pujols will because he’s younger, he will probably get fewer years because he’s not the caliber of player that Pujols has been.
Regardless of what happens in the offseason, there is almost nothing I’d love more than for the Cubs to contend in the Central again. I’d love to have a Cardinals-Cubs rivalry that had more on the line than fan pride. Let’s get to September and have those fall games at Wrigley mean something. That’s what I want to see.
And it should be fun to see how Theo Epstein plans to guide them there.