What makes Theo Epstein’s way any different from predecessors?
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com October 26, 2011 12:34PM
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Updated: October 26, 2011 4:10PM
Theo Epstein wants a productive farm system to be the foundation of a Cubs organization that can contend for years.
Jim Hendry wanted to do that. Ed Lynch wanted to do that, too. So did Jim Frey and Dallas Green and ‘‘Salty Saltwell’’ and Bob Kennedy and every other Cubs honcho in charge of personnel.
Hendry’s last shot at it was the hiring of Tim Wilken, a scouting guru with a track record with the Toronto Blue Jays. Outside of Starlin Castro, it produced little but a bunch of Tyler Colvins, Darwin Barneys and Jeff Samardzijas.
What makes Theo Epstein so different?
A lot actually. Epstein has a lot more on his resume that portends to success in all areas of managing a major-league franchise, including the one the Cubs have lagged behind most of the major leagues for years — the farm system.
He seems to have a better knack for hiring the right people for one thing. And even at 38, he has had a greater breadth of baseball experience than previous Cubs general managers have had at 60.
This is a guy who graduated from Yale and started at the bottom. He was an entertainment co-ordinator for the San Diego Padres and later the Padres’ media-relations director. Among his first jobs in personnel as an assistant to GM Kevin Towers was helping negotiate deals that cut payroll. For what it’s worth, he was with the Padres when they drafted Jake Peavy in the 15th round in 1999.
When he was named the general manager of the Red Sox in 2002, he made the same vow he did at Wrigley Field on Tuesday.
‘‘We’re going to turn the Red Sox into a scouting and development machine,’’ he told Boston reporters. ‘‘The key’s the limit.’’
Then he went out and lived up to it. It helped that the Red Sox already had the “machine” warmed up — they had drafted Kevin Youkilis in 2001 and Jon Lester in 2002. But under Epstein, the Red Sox drafted Jonathan Papelbon in 2003, Dustin Pedroia in 2004 and Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury in 2005. Papelbon, Pedroia and Ellsbury all played key roles in the Red Sox’ 2007 World Series championship — the Red Sox’ second title in Epstein’s first five seasons as GM.
The “machine” seems to have slowed since then — the best drafted player so far is pitcher Justin Masterson, who was traded to the Indians for catcher Victor Martinez. But the Red Sox also have a lot of talent in front of their minor-leaguers right now. Whether or not Epstein and his scouts lost their touch will be better known in the next couple of seasons.
As it stands right now, Epstein is more than just another guy with the same good idea. But if he doesn’t have the same success with the Cubs that he had in Boston, it’s unlikely he’ll be much more successful at winning a World Series here than any of his predecessors. The Cubs don’t need to spend more money. They don’t’ need the General Assembly or any political guru to provide them with more cash. The Cubs have spent more than enough money to win several World Series championships.
They need to spend their money more wisely. And the best way to do that is get All-Star seasons from low-paid players.That gives you the miss room on free agents that even Theo Epstein needed in Boston.
It would be nice if Epstein could draft a Jake Peavy in the 15th round and get a couple of All-Star seasons out of him for a million dollars and a Cy Young season for $4.5 million; or draft an Albert Pujols in the 14th round and get three MVP-caliber seasons for less than $2 million. But even if you can’t do that, you still have to at least come closer to that than Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner. One Starlin Castro just doesn’t get you very far.