Epstein joins the Cubs
CHICAGO—Theo Epstein knew it was time to move on, even though it meant leaving the team he loved. After nearly a decade as general manager in Boston where he won two World Series titles, Epstein decided change would be a good thing.
"After 10 years, no matter how passionate you are, you see the same issues, day after day and you are around the same people day after day," Epstein said. "You are around the same landscape day after day for 10 years and eventually you will benefit from a new landscape and fresh problems."
Fresh problems? There are plenty of those in Chicago.
Epstein was introduced as the new president of baseball operations for the Cubs on Tuesday, going from one team that ended its long championship drought while he was at the helm to one desperately searching for a title after more than a century of futility and frustration.
"I think it's equally as big a challenge," Epstein said Tuesday.
There is so much work to do, from building a strong minor league system and sharp scouting to putting together an evaluation system that is on the cutting edge. All while trying to win with moves that make sense.
"I didn't use the world rebuilding and I wouldn't. I think that is just a buzzword in baseball that leads people down the wrong path," Epstein said.
"The best way I can describe it is there are parallel fronts -- the job of building the scouting and player development foundation that is going to serve well for the long haul and treating every opportunity to win as sacred."
The 37-year-old Epstein left the Red Sox with a year left on his contract as general manager. The teams made the announcement Friday night, but held off on the news conference until Tuesday, a travel day for the World Series.
Epstein got a five-year deal worth a reported $18.5 million. The Cubs and Red Sox still have to hash out compensation for Epstein and a Major League Baseball spokesman confirmed that Commissioner Bud Selig has set a Nov. 1 deadline or else he will mediate the issue.
With that pending, the focus was squarely on Epstein, with nearly 100 media members attending his inaugural news conference and "Cubs Welcome Theo Epstein" splashed across the famous Wrigley Field marquee at the corner of Clark and Addison on Tuesday morning.
The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908 and one of Epstein's first decisions will be deciding the future of manager Mike Quade, who has a year left on his two-year deal. Chicago was 71-91 last season and the team Epstein inherits will not be nearly as talented as the one he took over with the Red Sox in 2002.
"I need to get to know Mike Quade better. I had a great conversation with him on the phone. We're going to get together over the next week," Epstein said.
Various reports say the Cubs aren't through bringing in front office staff from other teams and San Diego's GM Jed Hoyer and Padres assistant Jason McLeod could be reunited with Epstein in Chicago. The three worked together in Boston and Hoyer could be the Cubs' new GM.
Epstein wouldn't comment directly on Hoyer but said if the Cubs do bring in a GM it will be because of his talent.
"Obviously, there is some scuttlebutt going on right now about things that are happening," Epstein said. "I think it was important to develop a structure that allowed for the hiring of the GM if we got the right person."
When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, it ended talk of the so-called "Curse of the Bambino" that hung over the team, supposedly for sending Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.
Of course, the Cubs have one of their own. As legend has it, they were cursed by a tavern owner at the 1945 World Series when he was asked to leave a game because he was accompanied by his pet goat.
"I don't believe in curses and I guess I played a small part in helping prove they don't exist from a baseball standpoint," Epstein said. "I do believe you can be honest and up front about the fact that a certain organization hasn't gotten the job done and hasn't won a World Series in a long time. And that's the approach we took in Boston. It wasn't a curse."
Epstein fits the description owner Tom Ricketts put forth after he fired Jim Hendry this summer -- he uses math and formulas as one way to determine the value of players while also combining those evaluations with scouting.
The new owner, whose family took over the Cubs two years ago, was all smiles Tuesday in introducing Epstein, who was the youngest GM in major league history when he took over at 28 in Boston back in 2002 and trumped that by becoming the youngest GM to win a World Series title.
"We began that search in August and I said I was looking for someone with a background in player development, someone who has a proven track record of success, someone who has a strong analytical background and someone who has experience in creating a culture of winning," Ricketts said. "It was also important to me that that person who would not be content with past successes but would build on those success to improve themselves and improve the organization."
Under Epstein's guidance, Boston went 839-619 (.575) in the regular season and a 34-23 in the playoffs, winning more than 90 games in all but two seasons.
He acquired such stars as David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, Jason Bay and Adrian Gonzalez, though he will be remembered for bringing in highly-priced players who fell short, including Edgar Renteria, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey and Carl Crawford.
Epstein has a history of smart draft moves (Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz) and he has spent freely.
Epstein quickly pointed out that winning a championship doesn't happen over night but with the right moves a struggling team can get right back into contention the following season.
"We're going to have to grind our way to the top," he said.
He said the Cubs would be active in free agency, but wouldn't commit to whether the Cubs might be interested in a big-name, long-term star like Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols.
"There will be a time and place for that," he said. "I'm not going to say whether it's now or down the road."