In his initial press conference as president of the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein downplayed expectations for an immediate turnaround and instead stressed continued success via a solid foundation.
Indeed, today’s press conference was less about 2012 and more about establishing a good farm system and promoting a “Cubs Way” of how players approach their craft. Organizational philosophies are nothing new, of course, but we’ve not seen one associated with the Cubs. Then again, in the long history of the Cubs, there’s really never been a coherent strategy to player development and a farm system, with GMs lurching around in search of short-term rewards and the need to fill the Wrigley Field seats.
Epstein indicated that would change, while honoring baseball’s history and acknowledge the broad, passionate Cubs fan base.
“To me, baseball is better with tradition,” Epstein said. “Baseball is better with history. Baseball is better with fans who care. Baseball is better in ballparks like this. Baseball is better during the day, and baseball is — best of all — when you win. And that, ultimately, is why I’m here today.”
Still, he sent out a signal to that passionate fan face to temper expectations a little, warning that the team might not be an automatic contender to sign Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder to huge, long-term contracts. Epstein had a more mixed record with free agents in Boston than Red Sox partisans would like to admit: for every David Ortiz (a signing tinged with luck; Epstein almost signed Brad Fullmer instead, based on the advice of his stats whizzes) there’s a Jon Lackey or J.D. Drew, players who failed to live up the expectations of their huge contracts.
“The key is to pay for future performance, not past performance,” he warned at the press conference. Pujols is a player who certainly on the downside of his career, and there’s a fear among scouts that Fielder will hit the wall because of his casual approach to weight management. (Remember, Cecil Fielder hit the wall at the age of 32 and was out of baseball at the age of 34. Still, at 27, Fielder might be worth a big contract.)
It will be interesting to see how Epstein develops the front office. It’s an open secret San Diego Padres GM Jed Hoyer will be the new Cubs GM, and he’s had a chat with current manager Mike Quade. And while we’re guessing Epstein will be successful — he’s an awfully smart guy — we can’t help but be reminded a little of the last whiz-kid GM the Cubs brought in, right after he led a formerly moribund franchise to a few World Championships: Andy MacPhail. Like MacPhail, Epstein is moving up from a position to where he excelled — general manager — to a new position, president. Wrigley Field is certainly a historic spot, and history does tend to repeat itself.
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