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Friday, November 4, 2011

Building a "Winning Culture"

One would think that Bud Selig is composing a drama that none of us is aware of with how things have gone down in the Theo Epstein scenario the past few weeks.  First, there were, as expected, some spotty rumors that seemed like random shots in the dark from a few bloggers and writers.  Then, Cubs fans watched as the Cardinals and Brewers both advanced to the NLCS, which is a pretty low blow from the baseball gods.  However, those spotty rumors suddenly began to gather momentum, and that snowflake-sized chance that Epstein might actually leave his hometown Red Sox for the Cubs turned into a full-on avalanche.  The Cubs were granted permission to talk with Epstein, and it didn't take long for reports of Theo in Starbucks in Chicago to surface, followed by Theo agreeing to a sparkly, new five-year deal with the Northsiders.  So, the Cardinals decide to advance the World Series, in the middle of it comes Epstein's news conference, and then suddenly the Cardinals win a World Series.  In the Dark Knight, one of the popular quotes is, "The night is darkest just before the dawn."  Is that how Cubs fans feel?  Yeah, a lot of them probably do feel that way.  Thankfully, the Astros were bad enough to make it so the WORST possible scenario didn't happen, but a 5th place finish in the dreadful NL Central for the Cubs and a World Championship after an improbable run for the Cardinals is about as bad as it gets for a Cubs fan.  So is the dawn coming now for this franchise?

Enter: Theo Epstein... and his buddies Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod.  Yup, Theo went and got the band back together from his glory years with the Boston Red Sox, when the team could seemingly do no wrong as they hit on a lot of free agent contracts and developed a farm system that was as good as any in MLB.  The Ricketts family had one goal in their GM (or what turned out to be...presidential...) search, and that was to go and get someone with player development experience from a winning franchise.  Who fits that mold better than Theo?  Nobody that was realistically available.  Theo's first move was indeed a dandy as he flipped a PTBNL for his buddies Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod from the San Diego Padres.  These two bring a lot of experience to the table.  Hoyer was, for all intents and purposes, one of Theo's right hand men in Boston, and now he has gone and gotten GM experience on his own in San Diego.  McLeod, on the other hand, has the majority of his expertise in the scouting and player development parts of organizations.  He was the key figure in Boston's drafts in the mid-2000's as the organization brought up gems like Jonathan Papelbon, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz.  A core like that is nothing to shake a stick at, and no core of players brought up through the system as probably been seen since the likes of Jeter, Posada, and Rivera came up with the Yankees in the mid-1990's.

So what?  They're just executives.  They don't play the games on the field, right?  Well, yeah.  They don't.  However, they are the ones responsible for piecing the best roster possible.  While the Red Sox collapsed in September in 2011, let's be realistic.  That kind of roster in the NL Central probably wins 100 games at a minimum, even with the collapse-like September.  That is what Theo and his buddies are looking to do.  Currently, no farm in the Central is overly strong, nobody has close to the revenue stream that the Cubs have, and frankly, the central is a division where sometimes it only takes 90 wins to grab the crown.

Cubs sucked in 2011, and it's not like they're going to win anything in 2012, so why should we care?  Well, let's be realistic, here.  The Cubs have 60+ million to spend this off season, are keeping their few good prospects in the Theo compensation negotiations, and have younger players like Castro, Soto, Garza, etc to at least create the threat of winning games.  Who knows what Theo does this off season?  60 million's a lot to spend.  Bring in Fielder and a couple of average starters, and the Cubs are probably a .500 team after one off season of moves.  Nobody is expecting a division crown in the first year, or even an above .500 record.  McLeod running the draft will probably have his first group of guys up in 2014, so looking for the Cubs to succeed in the 2013-2014 range is probably most realistic if you're looking for an early date.  Otherwise, 2015 is a good year.  Castro will be 25, Garza will be 31, and a guy like Fielder would be 32.  Personally, I don't know what to expect.  I've never seen the Cubs run by overly intelligent personnel.  I can just hope that the Cubs are creative as possible in the process of cleaning up the mess that Jim Hendry left.  Perhaps we see this in 2012 and beyond:

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