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Cubs president Theo Epstein ‘energized’ by progress

The Chicago Cubs President Baseball Operations Theo EpsteWrigley Field June 2012. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

The Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein at Wrigley Field in June 2012. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 25, 2012 11:53AM

On Sunday, Cubs president Theo Epstein took a walk with his young son Jack around an empty, silent Wrigley Field.

‘‘The ivy was red, yellow . . . orange,’’ Epstein said Tuesday. ‘‘And I just flashed to how great it would be to be playing baseball this time of year at Wrigley.’’

Epstein claims progress was made during his unsightly 101-loss debut season with the Cubs. He claims to have derived inspiration from late-October runs by teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants and the second wild-card berth.

‘‘You can’t help but look at what the Cardinals [did] and the Giants now, and teams that are able to be factors in October year in and year out,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘You can’t help but look at that and understand that’s the goal.’’

But when? How long will it take? How close will the Cubs have to be in June for the front office not to pull the plug at the trade deadline and make a run at one of the five National League playoff berths?

The question is always relevant, but it becomes more so with the progress Epstein said he saw in identifying a handful of players he considers part of the next competitive core. There’s also the unveiling of 2013 ticket prices that, while trumpeted as being lowered on average, actually features increases for more than half of the 65 seating/game categories.

‘‘Nothing would make me happier than being solidly in contention in June and July and adding pieces for next year,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘We’ll build a team and leave a little bit of cushion [in the payroll] so that if things break our way and we get off to a great start, we can add pieces.

‘‘With the second wild card, that’s never a fantasy. It’s just not.’’

Epstein, who ‘‘celebrates’’ a year on the job Thursday, hopes to add two free-agent starting pitchers to join Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza in the rotation. He also can use a third baseman, an outfielder and bench and bullpen depth.

The likelihood that it’s enough seems slim, but Epstein insists he’s ‘‘energized by a lot of things that are going on here.’’

A year ago, he identified only shortstop Starlin Castro as a certain core piece. Now he adds Anthony Rizzo and Samardzija, as well as top prospect Javier Baez and amateur acquisitions Jorge Soler and Albert Almora. Second baseman Darwin Barney and catcher Welington Castillo also are poised to be in that group, he said.

‘‘That core, at least in my mind, went from one player to about half a dozen,’’ he said. ‘‘And if we can do that again in 2013, and we look up and we have close to a dozen players in our core, I’ll feel great about the overall health of the organization.

‘‘Now, I also want to make the playoffs. And I understand that’s a big challenge. So I’m really hoping we hit on a few guys this winter and we get off to a good start and we have one of those unexpected seasons.’’

NOTE: The Cubs rounded out their coaching staff, naming David Bell the third-base coach and removing the interim tag from hitting coach James Rowson. They also re-signed assistant general manager Randy Bush, a Jim Hendry holdover, for three more years.

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