Hope for the Future: Theo Epstein

Theo Epstein is good. From his humble, brief beginnings in San Diego, to his two World Series victories in Boston, it is clear that he is a game-changer. Epstein sees the game differently, placing value in the right places, and taking chances when he needs to.

The baseball teams in Boston and Chicago are similar in some ways, yet so different in others. They each have a huge market, which means big money and big fan support. Each team has a very different situation. The Cubs play in the NL Central Division, not exactly your, well, AL East. Competition has been down over the last few years and the Northsiders have yet to take advantage. Epstein built a team to win in that ever-competitive East division, and Cub fans are hopeful that similar success will soon be upon them.

Let’s take a look at the scenario Epstein came into in the fall of 2002. The Red Sox had won 93 games under manager Grady Little. They were on the brink of that next level, just a piece or two away from a title run. Headlining the rotation were 20-game winners Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe. The lineup featured stars like Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra. Also in the starting 9 was catcher Jason Varitek, who had been a solid contributor for years.

Epstein got right to work later that offseason, claiming Kevin Millar off of waivers from the Marlins. Free agent signings Bill Mueller and David Ortiz were also brought in for the 2003 season. 95 wins later Boston found itself in the playoffs, but eventually lost a controversy filled 7-game ALCS to the Yankees. Theo kept pressing and acquired starting pitcher Curt Schilling, who would win 21 games the following season, as well as closer Keith Foulke and second baseman Mark Bellhorn. In December of 2003, Epstein hired Terry Francona as manager of the team, and he led them to their first World Series since 1918, the curse of the Bambino was broken.

After a failed attempt at a World Series repeat, the Red Sox decided to re-tool, dealing some of their best prospects for even more big-league talent. In November of ’05, after Theo had resigned from the team, Boston dealt Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. Epstein returned in January but the Red Sox missed the playoffs for the first time in 3 years.

With 2007 offseason came the signing of J.D. Drew and Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, as well as impressive performances by young Dustin Pedroia and Jonathan Papelbon, both of which were drafted by Theo. Things came together again that October as Boston and Epstein won their second championship together.

“What does all this mean to me as a Cubs fan?” You may ask. Of course, you’ve heard that Theo is the savior, the one who will finally end our curse. Here is how he will do it:

I’ve broken the process into three steps: Evaluation, preparation, and execution.

  1. Obviously the Cubs are in a much different situation than the Red Sox were. The core of the team consists of Starlin Castro, Matt Garza, and perhaps Geovany Soto. There are a few veterans who could have value but are not long-solutions for the team. Over the course of the 2012 season, the new staff will look at how each individual performs and determine if they will be a part of a future championship run. Epstein will take a look at players like Darwin Barney and Blake DeWitt, and determine whether or not he thinks they can contribute in the future. For now though, the team will coast as they build from the bottom up.
  2. Drafting and developing the right way is the key to building a dynasty. There are plenty of teams who can make a run and get a shot at a World Series, but sustaining that greatness is what every team strives for. The aforementioned Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, and guys like Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Jacoby Ellsbury were all drafted by Epstein and came up through the Red Sox system. Rising stars like Daniel Bard, the Pirates’ Pedro Alvarez and Steven Pearce all were picked by Theo during his time in Boston. The right staff is needed to instill fundamentals and develop the talent of your minor league system. Several members of the Red Sox staff have accompanied Epstein in the move to the Cubs organization.
  3. There will no doubt be prospects coming up to join the big club in the coming years, all part of the master plan. The Cubs, being in a large market are able to afford a substantial payroll. As these young players come to fruition, Theo will most likely fill the holes with trades or free agent signings to hopefully compete for the World Series. Once Chicago is established as a contender, Epstein’s draft choices should gear toward sustaining the organization and keeping the team on the field at peak performance.

Theo’s proven success gives me as a Cubs fan hope for the future. Unfortunately I think we will be waiting a few years more for that elusive World Series trophy, but our time will come.

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