After two seasons of Theo, Cubs are no closer to winning World Series
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist October 2, 2013 10:27PM
Theo Epstein stands in the infield before a Cubs workout at Wrigley Field Wednesday, April 4, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
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Updated: November 4, 2013 12:18PM
Can we put Theo on the clock?
You bet we can.
Cubs president Theo Epstein had no problem firing manager Dale Sveum the other day, with one-third of Sveum’s contract remaining. Epstein hired Sveum, despite the man’s minimalist 8-8 career managerial record, regular season and playoffs.
So why shouldn’t the erstwhile boy genius from Boston be the next person in the firing line for the Cubs’ screwed-up organization?
Epstein is now breezily entering the third year of his five-year, almost $20 million deal with the Cubs and chairman Tom Ricketts. But the team itself — that thing which fans, even Cubs fans, ostensibly come to see win — is as messed up as it has been in decades. That’s saying a lot in the realm of Cubdom.
But Theo’s two teams here have lost 197 games, the most ever in a two-year stretch for the 137-year-old organization. And the Ricketts gang, owners since October 2009, are just as dismal, having never come close to producing a winning club in four seasons. Tom Ricketts can claim the worst three-year record in Cubs history, 288 losses since 2011.
People say the Cubs were bad before Ricketts and Epstein came to town. Really? Put down the Old Styles. The Cubs had winning seasons in 2007, ’08 and ’09, winning the division twice and finishing second before Tribune Co. sold them. Since then? Four straight fifth-place finishes. An average of 94 losses a year.
And what do we hear from Epstein, the once-GM of the Red Sox given heaps of credit for the team’s 2004 and 2007 World Series crowns: Be patient.
God almighty, can we take patient and shove it up somebody’s nostril?
We’re going to rebuild the farm system, we hear from Theo. What, is he growing redwood trees from seeds? Every new prez for every baseball team since time began says he’s going to fix his farm system.
And then it’s, ‘‘Trust me, we’ve got talent down there.’’
‘‘Outside the organization, outside the city, around baseball, the story is the Cubs are coming fast and coming strong,’’ Epstein said this week. ‘‘And that’s the reality.’’
Yeah? Then why do we hear the target date for Cubs success has now been moved back to 2015? Why are we supposed to write off 2014? Hellfire, sloths move faster than Cubs talent.
How about the fact the Cubs could have had Joe Girardi, even Ryne Sandberg, a couple of times as manager, if they really wanted either. Managers make way less than college football coaches like Mack Brown or Urban Meyer. If you want one badly, you just overpay him. But, nah, the Cubs will let somebody like future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux go rather than blow competitors out of the water.
So Epstein is learning about the Cubs, becoming himself … Cub-like. That is, stunned, disoriented, delusional. This ain’t Boston, my friend. In 2003 when Epstein was named the kid GM of the Red Sox, that team was ready to pursue a World Series crown. Indeed, the Red Sox had won an amazing 98 games the year before and were about to get David ‘‘Big Papi’’ Ortiz from the Twins.
When Theo left to come to the Cubs, the Red Sox were in disarray. They would have a disastrous 2012, going 69-93. But guess what? Without breaking the bank or asking fans to wait while grass grew through the sidewalk, Epstein’s successor, Ben Cherington, rebuilt the team into the one with the best record in baseball this season.
Moreover, the elite Cardinals, a small-market team in the Cubs’ division, never go to the bottom and start over. They just reload. How about the Indians? Nobody expected anything of them this year, but the manager Theo hired and fired with the Red Sox, Terry Francona, turned them into a team that won 15 of its last 17 games.
Epstein, the boy genius? Maybe. Once. But Ivy League education and sabermetrics and moneyball and all the rest of the tech stuff are now as common as the fantasy general managers plaguing our schools and workplaces. Nor has a computer ever explained why, for instance, Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer signed Anthony Rizzo to a superstar contract.
Correct that. It probably has explained why. It just can’t explain how Rizzo began stinking as soon as he signed.
Think about outfielder Alfonso Soriano and pitcher Carlos Marmol, despised as Cubs, traded away and re-energized once departed.
Maybe Epstein will get Girardi, and all those minor-leaguers will be stars.
But if the Cubs tank again to start 2014, who eats that? The fans? Their gullets are full.
No, start the clock, the Theo Clock.
We don’t have 105 more years.