Day Two of the 2012 Cubs Convention … Behind the Scenes with Theo Epstein

Day two of the 2012 Cubs Convention focused on the new regime and their plan for now and in the future. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod delivered a consistent message throughout the day … while Dale Sveum and his coaching staff preached accountability and playing the game hard and the right way on a daily basis.

The Cubs also paid tribute to Ron Santo and his recent election into the Hall of Fame … plus the Cubs unveiled a significant change to Wrigley Field that will result in a 70-foot LED board above the wall in the right field bleachers.

Due to the amount of information, the recap of day two of the convention will be broken into three reports.

Theo Epstein began the second day of the convention …

Behind the Scenes with Theo Epstein
Day two of the Cubs Convention began with Theo Epstein and Len Kasper. In a very casual setting (two easy chairs, with cordless microphones without a podium), Epstein discussed a variety of topics with those in attendance … and with the television voice of the Cubs, Len Kasper.

Epstein was very open, honest and concise with his answers. Whether you have bought into what Theo and Jed Hoyer is selling or not, one thing is for sure the Cubs’ new regime is going to be upfront and transparent about their decisions concerning the team.

The session was packed by 8:00am and many were not allowed in the Grand Ballroom
Len began the interview by asking why he chose the Cubs, Theo’s response … “This is one of the reasons why” as he stared out into the largest room in the old hotel filled with those wanting to know what the Cubs President of Baseball Operation had to say.

Epstein felt his time with the Red Sox was up and winning with the Cubs was very appealing to him. Theo told the story about walking around Boston in 2004 after the series and noticing all of the grave sites with Sox memorabilia all over them. He said there are not many places that you could try to recreate that and the Cubs are it.

As for the Opening Ceremonies, Epstein really enjoyed the welcome and added. “I will remember the Kerry Wood moment for the rest of my life.” He explained he had a first row seat for a very special moment but as for the crowd chanting his name last night, Theo said, “I don’t think I’ve done anything to deserve it yet.”

The Sean Marshall trade was very emblematic in lots of ways for the Cubs and what trading a good player can do for a franchise that needs help building inventory. When Epstein and Hoyer took over they were excited that Marshall was part of the team. Theo said, “If we can fill the clubhouse with twenty-five Sean Marshalls moving forward, we will be going places.”

With that said, Epstein and Hoyer felt it was best for them to trade him and the new CBA had a lot to do with the decision. The Cubs had control of one player for one season and if he left for free agency they would not receive anything for him. By trading Marshall, they received five years of service time on Travis Wood, six years of service time on Dave Sappelt and six years of Major League service time for Ronald Torreyes … plus there is always a chance Sean Marshall could re-sign with the Cubs next off-season. Marshall loves Chicago and the Cubs according to Epstein so there is always a chance for him to come back.

Kasper asked about acquiring Anthony Rizzo and the off-season rumors about the Cubs interest in Prince Fielder … and just about every big name free agent. Epstein described Fielder as a unique player but the problem with most free agents is not the player’s talent but their age. Due to the rules of the CBA, most of the time free agents are on the wrong side of 30.

The key to playing consistently in October is doing so with homegrown talent. The Cubs did not set out to move Andrew Cashner for Anthony Rizzo but they felt Rizzo was and is a better long term solution for the Cubs than Cashner. Epstein and Hoyer project Rizzo as a power hitting, middle of the order bat that can drive in runs and play good defense.

As for old school scouting versus new school analytics, the Cubs are hoping they can make honest assessments of players and if they are thorough and inclusive enough they will do their job right. The clearest picture of a player is to put both the old school and new school together. Theo explained that he leaned on Bill James and Bill Lajoie in Boston and learned a lot in the process.

Len asked how the partnership with Bloomberg Sports came about. Theo explained there is a lot of data out there … two times as much as ten years ago and twenty times as much as 20 years ago. All organizations need a central information system.

Teams must have a way to go to a main system, make one click and have all the information they need about a player immediately. It took Epstein two to three years to build the system in Boston (Carmine) and they do not want to spend that long building one for the Cubs.

Theo said that the information management system the Cubs had in place was well behind where it needed to be.

The Cubs cut a unique deal with Bloomberg Sports and the Cubs system should be up and going in three weeks. The software will have proprietary info that the Cubs can only access … and Bloomberg Sports is doing the same for the MLB teams that are interested. There is information that the Cubs will only be able to access.

What was appealing to Epstein and Hoyer most about Dale Sveum was the fact he is a hard worker and is very prepared on a daily basis. Plus, Sveum will not try to be something he’s not. Sveum will have the team ready to play and will have a disciplined team that plays the game hard and the right way. Theo said, “I guarantee you that you’ll have a team that runs hard to first base every time.”

Theo briefly discussed the Cubs Youth Development Program. It is their job to prepare the players for the big leagues and that must start in the minor leagues … and just not on the field. The Cubs have to educate the players and give the players the tools to succeed.

The players that are close to the majors (Triple-A level) will start coming to Chicago in January (sounded like the program would begin in 2013) to participate in a different part of the program that focuses on players just about to start playing in the big leagues.

The lack of plate discipline the Cubs have had over the years was the next topic of conversation. Kasper brought up how bad the 2006 Cubs were for an example and how good the 2008 Cubs were at working counts and taking walks … and to no surprise, one of the most patient teams in Cubs’ history had an excellent regular season.

Epstein said that the players have to learn that their at bat is not just their at bat but it is actually the team’s at bat. Taking a lot of pitches is not necessarily the goal but making pitchers work early is. The faster a team can get into a bullpen the better … plus if it is early enough in the series, you can impact the rest of that series.

The Cubs are looking for smart players that let the game come to them. The more pitches the Cubs see according to Theo, the better off they will be. He wants his team to lead the league in OBP not finish last.

Players do not necessarily want to strikeout but strikeouts are not necessarily bad. Hitters that draw walks typically hit deep in counts and can be more susceptible to striking out. It is hard to have power without striking out and if the player is hitting with power, deep in the count, Epstein can deal with the strikeouts.

Epstein was asked about the renovation of Wrigley. Theo joked and said, the best thing would be to see the ‘W’ flag raised about 60 times a year (after home games). Epstein said the renovations are up to the business side of the team because he is going to be very busy for the next two-three years “trying to turn this thing around from top to bottom” plus implementing the new information system throughout the organization.

Theo added luckily he will have a front row seat to see all of the changes take place at Wrigley … the same as he was able to do with Fenway.

Epstein was asked about Starlin Castro and his approach at the plate. Despite the 200-plus hits last season, Castro had a low OBP and was not very selective at the plate. Theo explained that if Castro was 27 there might be a problem but he is only 21 years old. The Cubs’ new regime sees a lot of good things ahead for Castro … his projections are extraordinary. The Cubs can teach him the things he may or may not be lacking but cannot teach the natural ability he possesses.

Theo said, “I don’t think we have a lot to worry about with Castro. I think this kid’s ceiling is immensely high.”

Epstein is not sure why it was reported that he did not like the Cubs’ minor league system when he took over. He admitted that it is deeper than he first thought but there is not much impact talent. There is a lot of room for improvement but another acquisition of prospects and another draft could change that quickly.

Theo indicated the goal is for the Cubs to have a top five system in all of baseball in the next couple of years.

Epstein said he was very impressed with the Cubs’ facility in the Dominican Republic. Oneri Fleita has the players playing better fundamental ball than any other facility he’s been to in the Dominican.

When Theo was hired he figured out quickly that he was going to need as much help as possible to turn the organization around … that is when Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod came into the picture. Epstein explained it was more than a one man’s job and with the right people he could get the job done quicker. Epstein brought up that Hoyer and McLeod turned around what was a bottom five system in San Diego to one that will be ranked in the top five in two short years (Theo thinks the Padres’ system will be ranked third in the game in the pre-season rankings).

Right now the Cubs do not have enough players in the system to create a foundation to build an organization with sustained success.

There is no doubt who is now in charge of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs.

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Next Up: Day Two of the 2012 Convention … Meet Cubs Baseball Management and the Coaches’ Den

2012 Cubs Convention

Day One of the 2012 Cubs Convention … Welcome to Theo Fest

Quote of the Day

"When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all." – Theodore Roosevelt