In August, experiencing a sudden and largely inexplicable wave of optimism and creativity, I sat down at my keyboard to compile an ode to the Cubs’ front office. You may remember it. You most probably don’t. However, Theo Epstein’s recent speech to season ticket holders imbued the article with fresh pertinence and, as a staff, we decided to update, enrich and relaunch it as a parting autumnal gift, if not the first log on a winter hot stove we expect to be large and roaring.
Initially, I extend to you, entirely unaltered, the first draft from two months ago. An update, including fresh perspective, will follow thereafter:
“Occasionally, I feel a pang of stinging disappointment with regard to the Chicago Cubs, a nagging irritation beneath the persistent impatience. You likely feel it, too.
These waves of uncertainty can visit at any time, triggered by a myriad of circumstances and conditions. Perhaps you’re watching a Cardinals game, or a duel between warring teams in a pennant race, and the most minute details appear enticing.
Every now and then, I yearn to watch just one meaningful game; to invest heart, mind and soul in something with drama, excitement and real-world consequences. Momentarily, I may pine for the Cubs to be tangled in amongst the main show, rather than lurking on the sideline as impotent bystanders.
But, almost as quickly as these fleeting daydreams surface, they’re swatted away again by the dense power of rational thought. The intelligent fan appreciates that the Cubs’ future is brighter than all but a handful of organisations in baseball.
Just as the mind can become pre-occupied with yearning for instant success, thoughts of near reality can be all-consuming. One can literally spend hours salivating about the prospective 2015 Cubs, whilst the notion of prospects being promoted ignites a heart-pumping adrenaline rush. Soon, Javy, Kris, and Jorge will be here.
Soon, the Cubs will be playing before packed crowds at a revamped Wrigley. Soon, we’ll watch postseason baseball on cold, epochal nights. Such thoughts make the body tingle.
This idealistic vision of what the Chicago Cubs will soon become acts as a real-time anesthetic. However, fans can find even more salvation by pondering the men currently in command. Weary rooters are able to rest assured that, with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer scheming restlessly on our behalf, no stone will be left unturned in the Cubs’ quest for contention.
Whenever I see the President or General Manager give an interview, make a speech or explain The Plan, I invariably wind up shaking my head in wonderment at their superior intelligence, their pristine clarity of thought. Oftentimes, when events at the Major League level wear me down, I like to think of them hunkered down in the basement offices at Clark & Addison, tinkering away on a monster like Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein. It helps ease the anxiety.
Right now, other teams may have better players, ballparks that look less worn, and clearer routes to glory, but, deep down, I know that no organisation has a sharper, more driven baseball operations staff.
No organisation has a Theo Epstein, capable of diagnosing with incisive vision exactly what needs to be done in order to construct a winner; capable of authoring and articulating such a wide-ranging plan to reach those ends; capable of carrying it all out with such sensitivity, such passion, such dexterity.
No organisation has a Jed Hoyer, this wonderfully imaginative thinker, this innovative negotiator, this bundle of energy, enthusiasm and acuity.
No organisation has a Jason McLeod, overseeing the creation of a player development juggernaut and implementing the progressive philosophy to which it plays.
I wouldn’t want anybody else spearheading this intricate, all-encompassing rebuild. Not Ben Cherington. Not Dave Dombrowski. Not even Billy Beane. Similarly, I don’t believe Epstein or Hoyer would rather be anywhere else. Sure, they grew-up in New England rooting for the Red Sox, but that dream has already been attained. Twice.
Furthermore, the task at hand here in Chicago is The Ultimate for any baseball executive, especially those belonging to the new, suave, academic-minded demographic. In Yale frat houses and sabremetric dungeons, young men fantasize about being given free reign to blow-up and then entirely redesign every facet of a Major League Baseball franchise in their own ethos.
In essence, Theo and Jed are living out the dream we all share and, as the grand renovation inches ever closer to completion, one can visibly see the excitement in their countenance. The Cubs brain trust know they’ve judged this thing just right; they know things are working out more or less in accordance with the stated blueprint; they know this ball-playing machine, long in the making, will soon roll from the production line.
Theo and Jed just know, which is why I have every faith that we’ll eventually get to where we want to be.
The Cubs’ plan, to build through outstanding player development a sustainable roster of impact players who’ll flourish into their prime years at the same time whilst providing greater financial flexibility with which to acquire the accent pieces required to win championships, has been attempted by other teams in the past, but never with such discipline, sincerity or meaning.
We may disagree on whether this road is the only one leading to glory for the Cubs, but, to the extent that it’ll deliver an opportunity for enduring success, Theo and Jed’s plan is eminently the most prudent. I believe it’ll result in them pouring champagne over one another on the Wrigley diamond one day, celebrating as the architects who finally found the winning formula.
Thus, we must give credit to Tom Ricketts, the oft-beleaguered Cubs owner. Rather suspiciously, Ricketts is regularly accused of parsimony, with his team’s present insouciance towards big league baseball labelled as “one-dimensional” or “small market.” However, upon assuming control of the team, he realised that the only sustainable way to achieve the type of success we all crave was to undertake a full-scale operation.
Accordingly, he went out and acquired the services of the only group of men possessing the perception, authority and vitality to plot its dimensions and execute its reality. Right now, we could be suffering through a “dual” Major League-Minor League rebuild, the like of which Ruben Amaro Jr seems so fond. We could be enduring Sandy Alderson’s specialist brand of organisational purgatory, not knowing exactly what to expect from one day to the next. We could be shooting recklessly for the moon from a thin ledge of quicksand, accompanied by Brian Cashman in all his greedy glory.
Comparatively, the Cubs have a concise strategy, a sleek enforcement team, and, increasingly, a rock-solid foundation on which to build a dynasty. In these remaining months of irritation, these waning weeks of woe, try to stay calm as you watch Edwin Jackson’s ERA soar to eye-watering proportions and Junior Lake fish fruitlessly for wicked backdoor breaking balls.
Let the thoughts, indeed the optimism, on this page be a salve. Rest assured, the Chicago Cubs could not possibly be in safer hands.“
So, what has transpired in the intermittent period between article and update? Well, a whole heap. The Cubs were pretty inconsistent down the stretch and, despite considerable rebounds from Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, and Jake Arrieta’s emergence as a front-line starter, finished 73-89 in Rick Renteria’s first season at the helm.
Javy Baez arrived and struck out 95 times in 52 big league games, a prodigious feat of profligacy; Jorge Soler was far better, slashing .292/.330/.573 with 5 home runs and 20 RBI in 97 plate appearances; and Kyle Hendricks continued to draw wild and achingly romantic comparisons to Greg Maddux with a sterling 1.083 WHIP.
The demolition crew finally rolled into Wrigleyville, intent on gifting the ancient yard a face-lift and helping revenue flow ever more freely into Theo Epstein’s fiefdom; the postseason began, with five of the top ten teams in payroll missing out entirely and none of the top six advancing further than the Division Series; and, as Derek Jeter hung up his cleats, thoughts turned to a whole new era in America’s fabled pastime.
The Chicago Cubs figure to be a major part of this new dawn. At least that’s the plan. Of plans, Theo once again took to the stage last week to provide updates on the one which has underpinned every organisational move for the past three years. Again, his performance was beguiling. Again, his message was inspiring. Again, he filled Cubs Nation with burning hope.
“Our goal in 2015 is to win the National League Central,” said the President of Baseball Operations, drawing a cathartic sigh of relief from fans residing everywhere from Chicago to Wirral, England. “This is the first time we’ve had enough talent to compete. I believe when you’re competing, you have to set your sights high. Do we have enough talent to win? That’s the beauty of baseball. You don’t know until you try.”
Just like that, an entire organisation, and its attendant and devoted fanbase, sensed a tangible paradigm shift. Just like that, the team ethos morphed from Lose For the Long-Term to Let’s Try And Win This Thing! Just like that, things got exciting.
Whilst spending reckless amounts of cash on ageing free agents remains out of the question, Theo & Jed have been far more transparent about having considerable funds to spend. For the first time in their premiership, the Dynamic Duo have near enough free reign to construct around their organic core a quality, competitive and championship-calibre ballclub.
After all that basement tinkering, it’s time to experiment with bringing Frankenstein to life.
First, the prospective monster will need a heart. How about Russell Martin? Next it’ll need a soul. James Shields should suffice. Finally, it’ll need a left arm with which to hurl cut fastballs of inimitable ferocity. Jon Lester, welcome aboard.
I kid, I kid.
In all seriousness, it’s important to approach the next twelve months in a similar manner as we did the past thirty-six: with patience, class and understanding.
Yes, we all want to win. Badly. But, as Kansas City and Baltimore will attest, slow and steady can win the race. Similarly, as St Louis and San Francisco stand to illustrate, consistency and sustainability garners rings.
The Cubs are rounding into shape. Perhaps with the glacial drone of an ocean liner rather than the searing rapidity of a prize Ferrari, but they’ll get there eventually.
Theo & Jed will make sure of it.