The Cubs are a General Managers Dream

Earlier this week, I wrote how the actions of ownership maybe a strong reason Theo Epstein wants out of Boston, but what reason would he have to make Chicago his new home? I think the draw to the Cubs is much more than breaking another “curse” or even becoming the GM of another historic franchise. The draw is all about a team built for a general manager to build from the ground up.

When Epstein joined the Red Sox the team had a solid core including a roster built with HOF talent like Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez already on the team. The roster need some additions, but to this day Epstein still hears the talk that 2004 was mostly the work of Dan Duquette.

That’s all the past though, and now he’s stuck with a roster full of long term deals that are starting to look like bad ideas. If my analysis from Monday is right though, Theo was forced into a few of those deals to draw fans and raise TV ratings. Before the John Lackey deal you have to look at J.D. Drew and, to a lesser extent, Daisuke Matsuzaka as his only big long term free agent deals. Other than that he signed his own players and extended his arbitration players.  Since then he has signed Lackey, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.  Even the exercising  of the David Ortiz option for 2011 seemed like a front office choice.

Honestly, I don’t think we will ever know who was behind what deal and when ownership made certain player demands, but I feel after 2009 the player management paradigm shifted and was less of an Epstein model.  Either way, the Red Sox are looking at $126 million guaranteed before arbitration next year and $106 in 2013. With a rotation in disarray, an opening in right field, closer and DH plus injury concerns including Kevin Youkilis that isn’t much room with a potential budget of $170 million.

On the other hand, Chicago has been clearing house in anticipation of new ownership for awhile and the roster is ready for a new GM to build. In 2012 the Roster is consisting of only Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall. There is also an option on Aramis Ramirez or his $2 million buyout.

Adding up those contracts, you have $72 million signed with Matt Garza and Geovany Soto being the biggest arbitration deals. The new ownership will obviously set the new budget, but if they return to around $140 million then there is room to work. He could even take the shot at signing away Albert Pujols from the Cardinals for a large chunk of the money.

The contract obligations are even better looking down the road. In 2013 the team has only $28 million on the books between Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol. The really good news is much of the talent that could help the team is in arbitration for their first three years. Players like Garza, Soto, Randy Wells, Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin will all be on cheap deals in 2012 and 2013; allowing the new GM time to build the roster and even extend the best of the group.

The team surely needs pitching and has plenty of holes to fill, but if Theo can get a commitment from ownership to have full control this would be the ultimate general manager situation.  It might take a year or two to really get it up to his expectations, but there would be no doubting this is his team and his players.

The minor leagues have also been a bit depleted, which would be a slight negative against the Cubs. They lost some talent in the Garza trade, but the Red Sox felt the same effect in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. On the whole, the Red Sox probably have a minor league system, but Theo takes pride in how he built that and should be able to do the same in Chicago.

Obviously Boston ownership holds the keys to this deal as Theo is under contract for another season, but they also have not made any solid statement that Theo is not available. Unless they make outrageous demands to talk to Theo, then I expect he will be headed to Chicago soon with full control of the Cubs.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Theo Epstein

After taking an interest in sabermetrics and statistical analysis Troy began trying to use it to an advantage in fantasy baseball. He started the website RotoSavants.com and also spent time at HardballTimes.com and FantasyPros911.com. After a few years the interest in the Red Sox drew him to start a Red Sox-oriented site (Yawkey Way Academy) with fellow writer Lee Perrault. A short time later he joined Fire Brand. Writer from: December 14, 2009 – July 24, 2010, March 3, 2011 – May 10, 2012.

35 Responses to “The Cubs are a General Managers Dream” Subscribe

  1. ChipBuck October 6, 2011 at 7:10 AM #

    One thing that's commonly understated about Theo's early years is how he systematically built for the present and future. By signing guys like Walker, Millar, Mueller, and Ortiz; he was filing holes with cheap, undervalued talent with the idea of letting leave for nothing more than draft compensation picks. While he didn't get much in return for those guys after they left (Ortiz notwithstanding), he made a killing off of guys like Pedro, D-Lowe, Damon, O-Cab, etc. by letting them leave rather than retaining them; thus giving them a boatload of draft picks. It will be interesting to see how Theo could rebuild the Cubs (assuming he left) considering the draft compensation system could very well be scrapped with the signing of the new CBA. Without it in place, it undercuts the rebuilding efforts of the new generation of GMs.

  2. Matt October 6, 2011 at 8:46 AM #

    There have also been rumblings about Theo wanting to be a team president. Perhaps he is more interested in being in charge of an entire organization rather than just the on-field product. He has already proved he can build winning baseball team maybe now he wants to build a organization, much like he saw Larry and Tom do with the Red Sox.

    • ChipBuck October 6, 2011 at 9:52 AM #

      I'd love to see Theo promoted to president, and have Luchhino showed the door. Luchhino is nothing more than a pot stirrer of the Randy Levine variety.

      • TroyPatterson October 6, 2011 at 10:18 AM #

        I still don't know how much I buy the Theo to President talk. I mean I hear they might offer, but not sure if Theo really wants that job. I know he likes the development and building the minor leagues would be his top priority, but does he want out of the day to day player management?

        • ChipBuck October 6, 2011 at 10:44 AM #

          He could still have a hand in the player development and the minor leagues. Andy MacPhail served as President/CEO of the Cubs, and is serving in that same role with the Orioles. The Red Sox could theoretically do the same thing. It'd just be a title change.

      • Tim Daloisio October 6, 2011 at 10:33 AM #

        +1

        • Don October 6, 2011 at 11:27 AM #

          If Theo wants to be a team president, the Cubs already have one in Crane Kenney. Ricketts has said that Kenney, a holdover from the Tribune ownership, will stay in place. Ricketts also made it clear that he wants a GM that will report directly to him.

          • @chriskelley81 October 7, 2011 at 12:26 PM #

            Hey Don – pretty sure Crane Kenney isn't going to hold up Ricketts offering Theo the team president gig.

            We've heard from multiple sources that the unwritten rule for allowing team personnel to speak with another team is only if they'd be taking a promotion. Having said that, Theo would have to be the next president of the Cubs.

            As far as letting him go is concerned – I think there is a strong candidate currently in the front office in Ben Cherington. He could step in and take over without losing too much. Otherwise, get Billy Beane – I want to see what he can do with a budget double of what he has in Oakland.

  3. darryljohnston October 6, 2011 at 10:37 AM #

    I like Lucchino but I seem to be in the collective minority. I heard rumblings of Larry becoming the next MLB commisioner. Any truth to that?

    Great job on this Troy!

    • ChipBuck October 6, 2011 at 10:40 AM #

      I've heard a rumor that he's a potential candidate, but nothing more than that.

    • @fenwayhotspur October 6, 2011 at 11:04 AM #

      Only rumors as far as I'd know. I'd support him in that role if it means less of his hands in player development.

  4. @fenwayhotspur October 6, 2011 at 10:44 AM #

    It'll be interesting if Theo does end up leaving to see the fallout of who/what deals were more upper management driven than driven by him.

    The three big FA deals I think Theo was ultimately 100% responsible for were Julio Lugo, JD Drew, and Matsuzaka.

    1. Lugo was championed by Theo. (Troy reminded me of this yesterday) That even if Lugo lived up to his contract, positional contracts are still 100% judged in the public eye by offense. Lugo's not Nomar, he's not hitting .330 and 25 HRs a year. Shortstops will always be misjudged in this town unless they are in that Nomar/Weeks/A-Rod mold. It's the same reason why JD gets overlooked, and no one will address Ellsbury's defense when he puts up a poor UZR next year.

    2. JD fit into exactly what the Red Sox needed at the time: a solid defender and on base machine. While Drew's contract didn't magically save the organization money like Ortiz' early deals did (how underrated are those?), Drew provided exactly what they paid him for except for his last, injury-plagued year, but that's the risk you take with veterans.

    3. Matsuzaka made sense. We were ALL excited. The numbers were there, the potential was there. The extra $ to force NESN into Japan was a no brainer. Sometimes these gambles work out like Kuroda, sometimes the guy ends up not being able to adjust and loses his control.

    The other contracts didn't make sense. Renteria and Lackey just seemed 100% out of place to the overall archetype Theo was designing. To this day, I still don't understand why they were targets. I'm wondering if Lackey was a capitulation because Theo most likely won the "Re-sign Jason Bay" battle.

    /guessing

    • ChipBuck October 6, 2011 at 10:52 AM #

      You're making way too much sense Lee. Seriously, you need to stop that. The Renteria contract wasn't a huge problem for me at the time, but looking back now, I'm baffled by it. His 2005 numbers (errors aside) were actually on par with his pre-2003 performance baseline. He was a mediocre offensive player prior to 2003-2004, so the FO should have given some pause when giving him 4/$40M. Regression was pretty likely, especially with switching leagues.

      As for Lackey, I was against that one from before it happened. Everyone was talking about Lackey still being in ace, when in fact, he hadn't been an ace since 2007. He'd been injury proned and inconsistent over the previous two seasons, and seemed to be much less effective with his FF and CU. 3/$40M, given the climate for similar pitchers (by performance, not reputation), seemed much more reasonable; although I would've preferred the deal to have been smaller. I expected regression, but I figured he'd be a reliable #3 through at least 2013 before tailing off. I never imagined he'd drop off this quickly.

      • @fenwayhotspur October 6, 2011 at 10:59 AM #

        "As for Lackey, I was against that one from before it happened. Everyone was talking about Lackey still being in ace, when in fact, he hadn't been an ace since 2007."

        I don't know anyone that thought that was a good idea. I remember seeing it and hoping I accidentally read an Onion article.

        Like you, I said to myself, "Ok fine, we're overpaying for a guy you assume can eat innings and maybe scrape a 4.00 ERA on average. We're a big club, we do stuff like that sometimes for stability and to hit the big HR acquisition on our own terms."

        But still, low Ks and low GB% is absolutely not Theo's type of pitchers to acquire. He knows better.

        • ChipBuck October 6, 2011 at 11:28 AM #

          I think people had a much higher opinion at the time, whether it was deserved or not. When I say "ace," perhaps I should have clarified I didn't mean a "true ace." From 2005-2007, he was one of the best, most valuable pitchers in baseball. He'd clearly slipped in 2008-2009, but you could conceivably assume him to be a 2/3 guy on most teams.

          I didn't think it was a great idea either. I saw a pitcher who'd been injured, and seen his K% rate precipitously decline for five consecutive seasons. As for his GB%, I don't think it was that poor prior to his time with the Sox. Contrary to popular belief his GB/FB ratio has consistently been above 1.00 for his career, and he posted ~44-45% GB% between 2004-2010. It's not spectacular, but it's a solid rate.

          (continued)

        • ChipBuck October 6, 2011 at 11:29 AM #

          part 2

          You're right that he wasn't Theo's type of pitcher, but my issue is more so with the contract than the acquisition itself. At the time, there wasn't any reason to expect him not to pitch reasonably well. The problem is the money and length that was doled out to a guy that didn't project well five years out.

        • darryljohnston October 6, 2011 at 11:50 AM #

          I thought it was a good idea at the time. I think he was the 'best' pitcher available on the FA market and after Bay and then Matt Holliday turned down the ~80mm, I thought taking an A- pitcher was the right move.

          Sure his K/9 was around 7+ with a GB rate in the mid 40's but I still thought the attitude and the ability to eat up innings would play well behind Lester, Beckett, Dice-K and Buchholz. Now in hindsight, it didn't.

          All that being said, SIERA still loves him even if no one us do!

      • Matt October 6, 2011 at 11:04 AM #

        Renteria is an ineresting case. He had two productive seasons at the plate with the Braves in 2006 and 2007. His ability to hit was still there. That brings up the whole "can't play in this market" issue. Although, as a stat oriented fan I am always hesitant to rationalize poor performance with that excuse.

        • ChipBuck October 6, 2011 at 11:30 AM #

          Yeah, I don't think he couldn't play in the market. Sometimes players have bad years. We don't know how he would have performed in 2006. It's tough to say what went wrong specifically.

        • @fenwayhotspur October 6, 2011 at 11:31 AM #

          Even though we are stat oriented I don't doubt there are a multitude of reasons why players don't perform the way they "should" in certain scenarios. It's just hard to quantify it. That's why i struggle with the "Can't play in this market" argument the media used for Edgar. It's like Chip's battle with Pedro Gomez. We demand proof and evidence. Correlation does not equal causation.

          • Matt October 6, 2011 at 12:55 PM #

            Talk radio is getting on the Red Sox for using Carmine, their computer projection system. It has worked wonderfully for some free agents (Ortiz, Mueller, Millar, Beltre, Acevez) and was proved correct with Renteria. I wonder if the problem is more with the scouts they use to determine if a player "can play in this market." Like you guys said, it is hard to quantify.

          • darryljohnston October 6, 2011 at 1:00 PM #

            Someone needs to get on talk radio about being 'talk radio'. The Carmine thing is the new scapegoat because someone found out the system had a name. Now it's a big topic.

  5. Don October 6, 2011 at 11:19 AM #

    If the Cubs do hire Theo, I'd like to see the sox get Brett Jackson in compensation. Jackson is probably the Cubs' top prospect and it's assumed he'll be playing center field at Wrigley at some point next season. He's a left-handed hitter who's hit.292/.393/.491 in three minor league seasons. Might be just the cure for Boston's hole in right field.

    • ChipBuck October 6, 2011 at 11:32 AM #

      Interesting. Honestly, I'd like to figure out a way to stick them with Lackey's contract. I don't think that'll happen, but it'd be fun to see them try. The compensation aspect will be the biggest roadblock going forward should Theo decide to bolt for the Cubs. John Henry knows he has a great baseball mind in Theo. Even if he wants to let him leave, he'd be dumb not to extract every last bit of compensation for him.

    • @fenwayhotspur October 6, 2011 at 11:32 AM #

      Can they just take Lackey too? :)

      • TroyPatterson October 6, 2011 at 11:42 AM #

        That's a sure way to make sure Theo stays in Boston.

    • TroyPatterson October 6, 2011 at 8:20 PM #

      I agree that the Castro compensation is a far fetched idea and just suggesting it would likely end the Theo search by the Cubs. I think Brett Jackson would be a solid return depending on further scouting on his defense.

      • TroyPatterson October 6, 2011 at 9:02 PM #

        It'll be interesting because they seem to be asking for something just to talk to Theo. That would be a much lesser quality and could hurt there request if Theo leaves. They probably can't get Jackson that way.

        • Don October 6, 2011 at 10:23 PM #

          The Red Sox might get two prospects, as the White Sox did from the Marlins when Ozzie Guillen signed there.

          Another possibility might be infielder Ryan Flaherty, from Portland, Maine. Flaherty was the Cubs first-round pick in 2009 and advanced to Triple-A Iowa this season. For a while this year, he was leading the minor leagues in RBI (for what that's worth). He can play second, short and third … but the Cubs might look at him to replace Aramis Ramirez next season at third.

  6. Don October 6, 2011 at 11:40 AM #

    Or how bout a Lackey for Zambrano trade? One head case for another. Sox would only have to deal with one more year of Zambrano's contract; Cubs would have to deal with Lackey for three years.

    • ChipBuck October 6, 2011 at 11:44 AM #

      Ugh…One year of Z for three years of Lackey. If that was the price, I think I could swallow it. Don't quote me on that. I've neve been a fan of Zambrano. He reminds me too much of healthier right-handed version of Mike Hampton. He's successful despite walking way too many batters.

      • Don October 6, 2011 at 11:57 AM #

        Zambrano is one of the few players who can throw out all the numbers on. The guy has serious emotional issues. He makes Lackey look like an Eagle Scout.

        Meanwhile, the Cubs are on the hook for $18 million for Zambrano next season. There's almost zero chance he'll pitch for the them again. I honestly wonder if any team would trade for him. Maybe someone out there will see him as a reclamation project … but, sheez!

  7. Mr Punch October 6, 2011 at 2:22 PM #

    To my mind there is no difference between the Drew signing and the Lackey/Renteria signings (apart from the 31-year-old-outfielder-with-upside thing). In each case, Theo had a hole to fill, and he went out and signed the best available guy in his opinion. Renteria was actually the best of these on paper, but he didn't work out; it's very much to Theo's credit that he moved the guy forthwith.

    I suspect that a lot of what the Sox do in the free agent market has to do with avoiding head-to-head bidding against the Yankees, which they always lose. (The Sox beat the Yanks on Matsuzaka, but that was one bid, not an auction.)

    • Matt October 7, 2011 at 8:08 AM #

      Good point. We need to remember that free agent contracts are not given out in a vacuum. There are many factors that go in to why teams sign big ticket free agents.

  8. Don October 6, 2011 at 10:43 PM #

    And for those who allege that Red Sox starting pitchers might have drinking issues, check this out …

    Tim Lincecum is being sued by his former landlord for allegedly causing $200,000 worth of damage at a furnished apartment in San Francisco. "My belief is there was some kind of party that left it in really bad condition," attorney Jonathan Bonstein, representing the landlord, told the San Jose Mercury News on Thursday. "Maybe there's a perfectly good explanation on his side, but we haven't heard it yet."