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Tom Ricketts gives Theo Epstein green light to go after Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder

ST. LOUIS MO - JUNE 4: Albert Pujols #5 St. Louis Cardinals hits walk-off home run against Chicago Cubs Busch

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 4: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a walk-off home run against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium on June 4, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals beat the Cubs 5-4 in 12 innings. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\GYI0065010600.jpg

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Updated: January 1, 2012 8:21AM



If Theo Epstein wants to sign a free agent such as Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder to a long mega-deal, that will be his call, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said Tuesday.

Never mind the Cubs’ failures with similar commitments in recent years — or Epstein’s in Boston in seasons immediately preceding his hiring as Cubs president.

‘‘Like I’ve always said, there’s one person responsible for making those decisions and one person accountable for those results,’’ Ricketts said during a session with beat writers, among several media stops this week. ‘‘So if he believes strongly that’s what’s in the best interest for the team, then he’s got my support.’’

Ricketts wouldn’t address specific national reports linking the Cubs to both of the top sluggers in the free-agent market.

A recent report suggesting serious interest in Pujols appears particularly specious because of the Cubs’ longer-range goals, Pujols’ age, his contract expectations and thoughts among several Cubs insiders.

It looks more like an attempt to stir up the appearance of a wider market for the St. Louis star.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Ricketts also deferred to Epstein on the Carlos Zambrano situation but didn’t necessarily back off what he said on national TV in August about having a ‘‘hard time imagining’’ Zambrano pitching again for the Cubs.

‘‘I think what Theo said publicly is he’s willing to give Carlos a chance to earn his way back on the team,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘It’s his decision, and I support it 100 percent.’’

Asked if, on the other hand, both sides might benefit from a fresh start, he said: ‘‘Yeah, I think that’s a possibility. We’ll see. We’ll just let things develop over the next few months, and hopefully it gets back to a place that works for everybody.’’

Bottom line: Epstein has full possession of the keys to the baseball operation, and Ricketts says it was apparent from early in the evaluation process that he was the right one for that job.

‘‘The fact is, people should be confident that we have a really good front-office baseball team, and they’re going to make the right decisions to win next year,’’ Ricketts said, ‘‘and make those decisions without sacrificing something down the line.’’

Next year?

‘‘You get 25 guys playing hard and working together and who stay healthy, baseball tells you that anything can happen when you get that,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ll see how the offseason goes, but I imagine we’re going to be right in it next year.’’

Quirk on board

Former big-league catcher Jamie Quirk, who spent the last two seasons as the Astros’ bullpen coach, told Houston media he has accepted the bench-coach job on Cubs manager Dale Sveum’s staff, and local sources confirmed that.

Pat Listach, the Cubs’ bench coach last season, is expected back as a base coach. Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo also has been asked to return, and bullpen coach Lester Strode is being retained by the organization.

The Cubs plan to unveil Sveum’s staff late this week, including Chris Bosio as the pitching coach.

Santo’s time

Yet another selection committee will meet Sunday — coincidentally on the anniversary of Ron Santo’s death — to determine whether the legendary third baseman finally gains his deserved spot in the Hall of Fame.

Many consider the vote by a 16-member panel the best chance in a decade for Santo, and the Cubs are lobbying voters with a compelling case for his selection.

‘‘Obviously, Ron belongs in the Hall of Fame, and we’re doing what we can to get that message out to the people that have the power to make the decision,’’ Ricketts said, ‘‘and we’re hopeful they’ll see it that way come this weekend.’’



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