Hey Cubs Fans – Wait for Delivery Before You Invest Your Trust in Theo Epstein

by Kent Sterling

This guy needs some company, but until some good deeds are done, why would rational people join him.

This guy needs some company, but until some good deeds are done, why would rational people join him.

Had a good talk with Dan Dakich on 1070 the Fan today.  Dan related that he has decided to trust Cubs President Theo Epstein in his rebuilding of the Cubs as long as they are headed toward what the Cardinals have become.  I told him in a less than polite way that he should think back to rebuilding efforts of John Holland, Salty Saltwell, Bob Kennedy, Dallas Green, Jim Frey, Larry Himes, Ed Lynch, and Jim Hendry before deciding that Theo the Genius is capable of that little trick.

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Chicago media and Cubs fans in large part have been willing over the last two years to believe in the five-year plan that coincides with the length of Epstein’s contract.  They have seen Nate Scheirholtz, Ryan Sweeney, Edwin Jackson, Darwin Barney, and the rest of the square pegs as necessary evils while surefire all-stars Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, and the newly minted next stud Kris Bryant polish their skills until they are ready to play for the rich and bored of Chicago.

They wait with baited breath for the next future ex-manager to be hired, hoping that he will last more than five full seasons, as no Cubs manager has since the late and lamented Leo Durocher. The list of candidates continues to grow, rather than shrink to a manageable list of finalists.  Hmmm. Manny Acta, Dave Martinez, A.J. Hinch, Eric Wedge, Torey Lovullo, Rick Reneria, or some other poor bastard – tough choices.

Epstein’s formula so far is to deal valuable pieces after the teams he assembles prove themselves incapable of competing.  The trades are for farm system upgrades – not necessarily pieces that will ever compete at the major league level, but those who will make for a more competitive experience as bonafide prospects move up the ladder.

That makes sense.  In fact, the whole schematic makes a lot of sense.  Build from the ground up.  Draft to a culture.  Teach them how to play the Cubs Way.  First, you define what the hell “The Cubs Way” means, so they went out and hired eternally youthful first base coach Dave McKay because as a guy who spent 16 seasons in St. Louis with Tony LaRussa, he knows quite well what The Cardinal Way is.  It all makes sense.

We’ll not quite all of it, because the Cardinals Way isn’t just about baseball; it’s about living and owning by a set of principles the Cubs are so far beneath they can’t see the Cardinals ass.

Sure, the Cardinals know to hit cutoff men, where they should be deployed, and how to run the bases, but what they also know is that treating the fans well is good for business if it reflects the overall goodness the team wishes to represent.  The DeWitt Family not only provides the financial support needed to run the team, they also make sure that the business is run by credible and decent people.  As with any for profit operation, there is a level of pragmatism that the Cardinals need to indulge, but as an overall philosophy, they seem to earnestly believe that by treating people well, the business will thrive.

Conversely, the Cubs seem to be of the opinion that lying and manipulating will achieve the results they crave.  Owner Tom Ricketts threatens to move from Wrigley Field to strong-arm the city into approving his planned improvements, but not before guaranteeing a championship if the improvements are made.  Ricketts would sooner overpay for a free agent than abandon the only asset of value that draws the misguided fans who plunk down the third highest ticket prices in baseball.  Wait, Edwin Jackson was signed for four years and $52 million, so overpaying for mediocrity is a pool into which Ricketts has plunged.  And guaranteeing a championship is as good an example of shameless pandering in the long history of a franchise that has had nothing going for it but the ability to pander for decades.

Buying tickets and watching this odd collection of underachievers who will be managed by the least bad manager willing to accept the job should wait for the day when the plan – this grand scheme – begins to show signs of working.  I might be inclined to trust Epstein if not for the hollow rhetoric that spews from Ricketts’ mouth like perfumed bile.

The day a Cubs fan should feel good about trusting that the team and organization are headed in the right direction might be coming, but not until baseball and the business office are operated in a fashion that shows a genuine empathy and generosity of spirit for the fans who make it all go around.

That’s the real Cardinal Way, and until the shrewd moves to build the farm system are mirrored by reason and decency in the business office, it’s just another plan that circles the drain until the next bunch come along thinking they are the smartest men in the room.

6 Responses to Hey Cubs Fans – Wait for Delivery Before You Invest Your Trust in Theo Epstein
  1. DexWex
    October 28, 2013 | 1:49 pm

    “Owner Tom Ricketts threatens to move from Wrigley Field to strong-arm the city into approving his planned improvements”

    When did Ricketts threaten to move? Various mayors and politicians from the Chicago suburbs proposed that the Cubs should move, but the Cubs organization never (publicly) acknowledged those offers as being options.

    And who is strong-arming who? The Ricketts family is pledging $500M of their own money (not taxpayer) to restore Wrigley and build a hotel on land they own. The rooftop owners are the ones that are refusing to negotiate and maintaining they will sue unless the Cubs do everything they want.

    • kentsterling
      October 28, 2013 | 7:10 pm

      Ricketts told the media this summer that if the city did not approve the plan, he would have no choice but to consider moving from Wrigley Field.

      http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-05-02/business/chi-wrigley-upgrades-20130501_1_stadium-renovation-new-signs-chairman-tom-ricketts

      The Cubs don’t earn points for paying to rehab their own facility, and the deal that might allow the rooftop owners to successfully sue was negotiated by he own deputy, Crane Kenney. The deal sucks, no doubt, but it was a 20-year contract signed in 2004, and the rooftop owners invested in their own infrastructure based upon the language of the contract.

      It’s not “everything they want” that will prompt a lawsuit, but a material deviation from the terms of the contract.

  2. OfficiallyPatient
    October 31, 2013 | 2:50 pm

    Kent,

    Who hurt you…? This seems very upsetting to you and it’s just business, not personal.

    The reality is that a farm system takes 8-10 year to build correctly. Theo has given no one any reason to be concerned about the minor leagues. Some guys will make it, some guys won’t. Good systems have good depth. Dallas Green built not rebuilt. Frey was not a GM nor was Himes. I find it insulting that you put Himes in the same sentence with Dallas Green.

    This team was run by newspaper execs for too long.. I am more than willing to give Theo a wide latitude.

    You forgot Andy McPhail and don’t believe for a second that he did not split because he foresaw the ridiculous bankroll for free agents coming.

    BTW: I don’t think for a moment that Theo thinks he is the smartest man in the room. He is looking to hire the guys who believe they make the smartest decisions in the room in which they sit.

    Regards

    • kentsterling
      October 31, 2013 | 4:41 pm

      I left McPhail off the list because his principal service was as team president, not GM – minus a brief time in 2000-2001.

      Dallas Green was the only GM who was worth the title in my lifetime, and I go back to the occasionally bright John Holland. Himes was an idiot. His handling of the Greg Maddux free agency was horrifyingly self-indulgent.

      I’m all for giving Theo a reasonable length of time. I’m more than willing to wait until 2020, if that’s the time he needs, but don’t sell tickets for the third highest prices in baseball. And don’t sign mediocrity like Edwin Jackson for a ticket so far above his market value that he wakes up feeling like he won the lottery.

      There is every reason to be concerned about the minor leagues. The list of reasons is as long as the selections the Cubs have made since the infancy of the June Draft. These are different guys making decision, but that doesn’t make them any smarter.

      And Theo sure behaves like a guy with toes in two separate incongruous pools – one is “I’m a really smart Ivy Leaguer”, and the other in the “Hey, I’m a regular guy – let’s get a beer!”

      I hope the Cubs get it together, but I’m going to bury that hope deep in a place I don’t pay a lot of attention to because I wore it on my sleeve – literally through seasons and postseasons filled with misery.

  3. Mark lavelle
    December 29, 2013 | 8:44 pm

    3 years ago the Chicago Cubs fired Jim Hendry – He spent the most dollars per win and did not make the playoffs. He deserved to be fired.
    The second worst performance. That year, ( most dollars spent per win and also did not make the playoffs),
    was Theo Epstein and his Boston Red Sox. So the Cubs fire the worst baseball executive and hire Theo Epstein the next to worst baseball executive. Theo hires a new manager with no experience for 2 years, a bust out. Then fires his hand picked man before he has a replacement in hand. Embarrassed he can’t find an experienced manager,so he hires another rookie, learn on the job manager.
    It may be time do to yell that King Theo has no clothes!

    • kentsterling
      December 29, 2013 | 9:23 pm

      Mark – You’re one of the few that get it. Those who do aren’t any happier as Cubs fans, but knowing that we’re right allows us to accept the misery with a smug grace.

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