Theo looking to create a “Cubs way” of doing things
By Gordon Wittenmyer email@example.com October 25, 2011 8:04PM
Theo Epstein gets a Wrigley Field welcome from the Cubs.
Updated: November 27, 2011 12:58PM
He doesn’t like the word ‘‘rebuilding.’’ He doesn’t believe in curses. And he doesn’t even claim to understand what he’s gotten himself into.
‘‘Boston’s not Chicago,’’ said Theo Epstein. ‘‘Chicago’s not Boston.’’
But the Cubs’ new president of baseball operations — or ‘‘savior,’’ for short — takes a vision of organization- and culture-building into his new job that involves producing a ‘‘Cubs Way’’ handbook, developing an objective-analysis computer program and staffing an expanded front office of like-minded decision-makers who may or may not pull all-nighters like they did in Boston nearly 10 years ago.
How much Epstein and incoming GM Jed Hoyer will lean on the existing Cubs front-office and scouting personnel is uncertain at least. Word from sources in the organization is that the Cubs’ annual organizational meetings have been moved back to February, just a few days ahead of pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training.
Most teams schedule org meetings for early November at the latest, to prepare for offseason roster work. Some teams already have held their meetings.
Whether it’s a sign that Epstein and the Ricketts ownership are planning a deeper shakeup, it’s clear this is the Theo Show going forward. And it’s just as clear that Epstein has become the Cubs’ most powerful baseball employee since Frank Chance.
It definitely isn’t a one-man show, Epstein insisted. But the only others assured of co-starring roles at this point are outgoing San Diego Padres GM Hoyer and his assistant GM, Jason McLeod — key assistants during the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox championship runs.
Although that president-GM structure seems to defy chairman Tom Ricketts’ insistence this summer that he didn’t need ‘‘a baseball guy to watch my baseball guy,’’ Ricketts’ response to that issue Tuesday made it clear the future of his baseball team is all about Theo, regardless of semantics.
‘‘No matter how you look at it, ultimately there has to be one person who’s responsible for the decisions of the baseball organization and accountable for the results in the baseball organization,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘As of last summer it was Jim [Hendry]. And as of today, it’s Theo. . . . It’ll be his decisions, and he’ll be accountable for those.’’
Look for many of those decisions to start being made in quick sequence once Hoyer and McLeod are officially aboard, from possible managerial and field-staff changes to deadline-driven decisions on players such as Ryan Dempster, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena.
Epstein, 37, who spent nine seasons as the Red Sox GM, promised no timetables and certainly no
repeat of his two championships the first five years in Boston.
But even as he repeatedly stressed constructing a ground-up ‘‘Cubs Way’’ of evaluating and teaching to create a steady stream of successful prospects, he also promised a ‘‘parallel front’’ of trying to contend at the big-league level every year.
Including, believe it or not, next year.
‘‘We’re going to have to have a high hit rate [on personnel decisions]. We’re going to have to take a creative look at the big-league team,’’ he said, ‘‘and work extremely hard to put them in a position to contend next year and the years that follow. But it can be done.
‘‘I [don’t] use the word ‘rebuilding.’ I think that’s one of the buzz words in baseball that leads people down the wrong path. There are parallel fronts.’’
There’s also $40 million to $50 million coming off the big-league payroll. And how much of that goes back into the big-league side or into a heavier investment in scouting and development is up to him — one more way he has far more power than Hendry before him or even team president Andy MacPhail before that.
‘‘If you’re in the game long enough, you realize that every opportunity to win is sacred,’’ he said. ‘‘If you’re in contention at the trade deadline one year, don’t take it for granted. As you approach an offseason and you’re coming off a season in which you finish in fifth place, don’t assume that you can’t go press five right buttons and all of a sudden be right in it. There are a lot of examples of that happening.
‘‘I’m not saying the timetable is immediate. Over time we’re going to get this thing done.’’
Said Ricketts, who was sold on Epstein within the first 15 minutes they talked: ‘‘I simply can’t imagine a better person for the job than Theo Epstein.’’