Theo Epstein Takes to the Airwaves and Talks Cubs Baseball

Theo Epstein spent Tuesday morning on two Chicago radio stations, 670 the Score and ESPN 1000. The Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations discussed a variety of topics with Mulley and Hanley then with Waddle and Silvy.

Theo Epstein told Mulley and Hanley that he’d bet on Anthony Rizzo’s future and admitted he would like to have a team with nine shortstops on Waddle and Silvy when answering a question on what position Starlin Castro and Javier Baez will play down the road. Epstein discussed the improvements on the baseball side are coinciding with the restoration of Wrigley Field and the off-season rumors that surrounded Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol.

Theo Epstein on 670 the Score

On how the Cubs will look this year …

Theo said the most important thing for the Cubs is to continue to develop the young core and identify the nucleus of the team that will be around for a long time. Epstein thinks that Cubs fans will notice a lot of differences, especially in the pitching staff. Theo thinks the pitching staff is deeper and there is more talent than last year’s staff, especially toward the end. The injuries and deadline deals took the tool on the pitching staff last year. Epstein pointed out the Cubs are seven deep in rotation options and they added a quality piece or two to the bullpen.

On having a sense of where the Cubs fans are with the rebuild …

Epstein said they have not changed their philosophy with the rebuild, even with the fact they were interested in Anibal Sanchez. The goal is build up the system where they would like it then to maintain it. Theo pointed out they have been transparent with their plans and they are not going to take shortcuts. Theo said he has never put a timeframe on the rebuild and even with all of the changes they are trying to win this year too. The goal is to continue to progress and Epstein added, “Days in the future are probably going to be better than days in the present if we do our job the right way.” Epstein indicated the fan base has been on board for the most part and been incredibly patient. The fans appear to be along for the ride for the most part and a majority of the fans he has spoken to “get it.” Epstein has been impressed by the fan base and those who are along for the ride, which he believes is most of them, will ultimately be rewarded “because when you get there it will mean a lot more if you’ve been along for the ride the entire time.”

On Anthony Rizzo and if will Rizzo be an elite talent …

Epstein said Anthony Rizzo has a chance to be an elite talent but he has a lot of growth left in his development. Epstein explained that to be an elite first baseman he has to get on base a ton and hit with power while playing good defense. Rizzo has to find a way to maintain his all-around game while figuring out a way to improve. Now that teams have seen him, Rizzo is going to have to make more adjustments then adjust back. Epstein said, “I believe in Anthony Rizzo and I would bet on this guy’s future. I believe in him as a player and as a person.” Epstein added that before they can talk about him being an elite player he must have a good sophomore season. Epstein went onto say that the good news is that Rizzo is a hard worker and is as humble as anyone.

On the farm system, the prospects and the Rookie Development Program …

The Cubs have an incredibly hard working group in player development that took the time last year to establish a “Cubs Way.” The Cubs way of playing baseball, the Cubs way of teaching baseball and the group put the work in to implement the system throughout the organization … from the Dominican Summer League to Triple-A and into the big leagues. Each player in the Cubs’ system has their own player development plan that lists his strengths and weaknesses that includes the physical, the fundamental and mental aspects of his game. The players have to sign off on their developmental plan and the way to become a big leaguer is to turn those weaknesses into strengths. While the Rookie Development Program is new to the Cubs it is something they did in Boston and it is just one component of the off-season development program. The program is used to bring in 12 players they feel is a year or two away from making their Cubs debut and it is meant to acclimate the player on what life will be like in the big leagues. Outside of how they want the game played, there is an emphasis on how to handle themselves off the field and how to adjust to some of the distractions that come with making their big league debut. The young players are the Cubs future and the system is the most important aspect because if the Cubs are to become the organization they want to be, each and every one of those young players have to be put in the position to get the most out of their ability. Epstein acknowledged that not all of them will make it but as an organization they have to make sure each one of those players are prepared so when they need them to contribute in the middle of a pennant race, they will be ready.

On the draft, having the number two pick and have they made a decision on what type of player they will draft …

The actual scouting season has not begun yet and will once the college season gets going in full swing. The Cubs just had their pre-scouting meetings to get things going. The Cubs have implemented a whole new process in amateur scouting. Theo explained it is very information driven and very thorough and they want to make sure all of the scouts are on the same page. The process of narrowing down the players begins in a week or two and lasts right up to the draft in the first week of June. The fact they took a position player first in last year’s draft then seven straight pitchers reflects that historically the best bet at the top of the draft has been a position player. With that said, in the upcoming draft Theo said they are going to take the best player. The reason they took so many pitchers after Albert Almora last year reflected on the organization’s need for pitching. Theo added, “You can rest assured that we are going to have a pitching heavy draft.”

On Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol’s future with the team, the off-season rumors and the allegations against Marmol …

Theo said first off that Alfonso Soriano is a very important part of the team. Not only for his production but for the leadership he brings. Epstein pointed out that when a team is trying to develop young, impact players it really helps to have a veteran that goes about his business the right way … and Soriano sets a good example. Theo said that they have been open with him and have told him that if a team came along and were willing to give them a piece or pieces for the future that could really make an impact, as well as putting him in a good position, they would sit down and talk to him about it. Epstein said they have not been in that position this winter and there has not been that type of a fit. Epstein added that they would not talk about developments that may or may not come along that is been the team and the player. As for Carlos Marmol, Epstein addressed the recent allegations against Marmol first. Epstein pointed out the Cubs take those types of accusations very seriously and they have looked into it. Epstein said he was happy to report that from the information they have obtained from down in the Dominican shows this will follow a similar to path to the Castro incident. Epstein explained that when all of the information comes out, Marmol will be cleared of all charges but they have to let that play out and support Marmol appropriately along the way. Epstein said that Marmol is the Cubs’ closer and pointed to how well he pitched last year. Theo added, “The same thing as Soriano. If a team came along with a need for a late inning reliever and could make us better in the future we would sit down with the merits of the deal. As we sit here right now, Carlos is our closer and we will re-evaluate if it is appropriate down the line.”

On the team’s future and the restoration of Wrigley Field …

Theo Epstein agreed it is an exciting time and to think where the team could be in a couple of years with the baseball plan coming together and the business plan coming together at the same time. The Cubs are pretty excited about 2013. Epstein cannot wait to get started and surprise some people.

Click Here for Link to Complete Audio of Theo Epstein on 670 the Score

Theo Epstein on ESPN 1000

The interview on ESPN 1000 began Eddie Vedder’s song about the Cubs with Theo admitting he did not do anything to screw up Pearl Jam playing at Wrigley Field. Epstein is obviously excited about seeing Pearl Jam play at Wrigley.

On being a Chicagoan and part of the sports landscape for a year and what he thinks his 2012 year in review would be …

Theo admitted that was a good question and said it would start with a disappointment in the sense that in any year the Cubs do not make the playoffs is a going to be a disappointment. Theo pointed out that making the playoffs every year has to be the goal and if it is not achieved then there is some sense of disappointment. With that said, Epstein feels there were a lot of positives. The Cubs were able to identify a number of core pieces. The Cubs are trying to establish a nucleus of young players that will be there for a long time and be at the heart of championship clubs. A year ago, Theo could only identify one core piece, Starlin Castro. As he looks at it now, Castro is still very much a core piece and so is Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Samardzija, who emerged as a top of the rotation starter and several prospects took steps forward … Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and a number of arms. As he looks at it today trying to envision what the heart and the nucleus of the team is going to be that is hopefully contending year in and year out, aided by free agents and trades from outside of the organization, it is a lot easier for him to envision that now than a year ago. Epstein feels that is the greatest accomplishment of the organization over the past year. There were a lot of good things done by Dale Sveum and the Major League staff. Epstein pointed out that Sveum established a winning clubhouse culture even in the face of 101 loses and all of the player development staff established a “Cubs Way” of teaching the game throughout the organization. Epstein also thinks that the amateur staff produced what he feels will prove to be a very productive draft and while there were a lot of positives behind the scenes, ultimately they fell short of the goal of making the playoffs.

On the time it took for him to adjust to being a Cub …

Every baseball culture is unique. There are way more things that one does not know about an organization than what one thinks they know about an organization before they join it. The façade is the only thing that the public is able to see for consumption but the “real grit of the organization and the real doings all occur behind the scenes.” Theo admitted it does take a while to get to know an organization but added that he could not have imagined a smoother process than the one occurred with the Cubs … and part of that has to do with the city being as welcoming as it has been to him. Part of the reason that Theo Epstein took the job with the Cubs is that he is hoping there will be some magic with the Cubs. Epstein said, “It is a very magical place, the connection is very real and it inspires us to work that much harder so that we can get to the point that we are all celebrating together.”

On the Cubs’ organization being rebuilt quicker than Wrigley Field is rebuilt …

Epstein thinks that one of the great things going on with the Cubs is that the baseball plan and the business plan “very much sync up in terms of purpose and in terms of timing.” Once they get to Spring Training it is all about 2013 but Epstein thinks if you take a moment to daydream about what the future may bring, it is easy to envision some of the young nucleus playing in a sold out, newly renovated Wrigley Field. Epstein went onto explain and those are the same players on the field because they were able to wrap them up to long term deals. Plus, they were able to take the extra revenue generated by the restored Wrigley Field to supplement the roster with outside pieces that will hopefully get the Cubs into the postseason on an annual basis.

On how important it is for baseball operations to have a rebuilt Wrigley Field …

Epstein said it is very essential. Epstein does not view it as rebuilding Wrigley but refurbishing it or restoring it. The goal for the Cubs is for whatever that is added to Wrigley to look like it fits … and that it has been there for 100 years. And if they are able to put it off, they will know they have done a good job with the renovation. From a revenue standpoint it is very essential according to Epstein. He explained that he was able to have a front row seat to this type of renovation in Boston. They were not only able to improve the fan experience but they increased the revenue that could be added to the team’s payroll.

On the patience of Cubs’ fans …

Theo has been impressed by the patience of the fan base. He pointed out the patience has not been across the board but a majority of the fans are excited about the team’s direction. Epstein added they are not telling the fans to wait one more year or wait until next year because to him that implies a quick fix or that they are going to do the same thing that has been done for the last 105 years. They are not saying that this is the year they are going to get lucky. The Cubs are asking the fan base to get on board now for a very enjoyable ride … it is really an opportunity to get on board from the ground level and watch this team and organization grow into a winner.

On the Dempster and Marmol trades and the Sanchez signing leaking out and if Epstein is concerned about things getting out before they should …

In each of those instances there was a specific factor involved. With Ryan Dempster there was a no trade clause involved and once the player and agent were brought into the mix it got out. In the Carlos Marmol case, the deal was basically done with the exception of the physical and there was a no trade involved in that deal as well and the player had to be involved. There are specific reasons as to why those trades leaked but Epstein feels that if someone asked the media if they are protective of their information he feels the answer would be yes. Epstein pointed out that just about every deal that has been done, with the exception of those three, has come out of the dark and they have surprised the media by announcing news in press releases, which hardly ever happens in big markets. Epstein admitted that they failed in those three instances but measures are being put in place to ensure they are able to operate in as much secrecy as they possibly can.

On the future positions of Starlin Castro and Javier Baez …

Epstein said that is the problem they want to have. He added, “Give me nine shortstops and we will field a team because if you look throughout baseball history, the great players are the ones who come up in the middle of the field and then move to a corner or move further along the defensive spectrum.” Epstein pointed out that Gary Sheffield came up as a shortstop, moved to third base and ended up in right field then left field … and that is pretty typical. The Cubs plan to draft and sign as many middle of the field, potential impact players as they possibly can and “nine times out of ten it naturally sorts itself out.” Players’ bodies change as they get into their mid-20s and there are reasons a player ends up moving positions. Epstein said, “There is no need in the foreseeable future to move Starlin off of shortstop and Javier Baez will continue to develop as a shortstop. If he pushes the timetable and he’s up here sooner than one might expect, I’m sure that before he gets to a point where he is ready to make his big league debut, it is our job to develop him as a versatile player who can make an impact on a Cubs team that has an everyday shortstop.”

On Keith Law ranking the Cubs as the fifth best system in baseball and what excites Epstein about the system …

Epstein said the most exciting thing about any farm system is the potential for impact. It is important and nice to have depth in the organization. Epstein thinks there is depth in some areas and would like more depth on the pitching end. The key is having impact talent and high ceiling guys that if they hit cannot only be everyday players but potential All-Stars. He would not name names but said has he looked at the system he could see three of four names right now. Epstein admitted that not all of them would make it but each organization needs that possibility.

Theo Epstein answered the question about Carlos Marmol’s status and whether or not Sammy Sosa would be welcomed back by the team any time soon. Epstein said he thought Tom Ricketts answered the Sosa question properly during the convention and acknowledged how complicated that situation is right now.

Click Here for Link to Complete Audio of Theo Epstein on ESPN 1000

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Quote of the Day

"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." – E.E. Cummings

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  • Tony_Hall

    I am ready for baseball to be back and a daily part of our days…..17 days until daily games begin.

    • Richard Hood

      Tony I got prospect question for you. Why is it that we have not heard a lot about Tim Saunders. I hadn’t heard much about him but he made it from rookie ball to A+ last year and hit every step of the way (.310 in A+).

      • mutantbeast

        If Im right, when Saunders was drafted his college coach said the Cubs got the “steal of the draft”. He,ll be a name to watch, provided he keeps hitting and his perps shine. Maybe even develop bit more power.

      • Ripsnorter1

        You haven’t heard much about him because….

        #1 He was drafted in the 32nd round, ie, low expectations, and

        #2 He has only 218 AB in his entire MiL career, ie, 2012 is it. And that .310 in Daytona A+ ball was over only 42 AB. Not a large sample size.

        He plays SS and CF, 2B, 3B and his fielding has been .924 overall, ie, Josh Vitters caliber thus far.

        But it is very, very early for Tim.

        • Tom U

          Rip, I know there is three years age difference between Saunders and these numbers on Ryne Sandberg, but look at the fielding:

          Not what you would expect out of someone who would win 11 straight Gold Gloves.

          Just supporting your statement, It’s early on Saunders.

          • Ripsnorter1


            Yes, he could develop a lot of polish.

      • Tony_Hall

        Depends on where you look for information. I was following him last year and agree that he was the steal of the draft. But, He is not going to show up on the prospects lists as a low draft choice. If he keeps it up maybe next year. But the main reason you don’t see guys like Saunders on these lists, is that stats don’t always tell the story with prospects. I don’t believe that is the case with Saunders though. But low draft picks need more than a good half season to make their mark and get the press.

  • J Daniel

    Great job, Neil! Second Tony’s comments, baseball is back!

  • John_CC

    I am really impressed with the Rookie Development Program.

    • Theboardrider

      Me too, they’re “coaching them up.” I expect to start seeing guys exceeding expectations rather than not living up to…

  • J Daniel

    They still have a long way to go and have not won anything yet, but I believe they (Theo and Co.) have this going on the right track!

    I recall about a year ago all of the bashing they took. This thing was a complete mess that needed an overhaul. That is what they have done and I believe we will see some great things in the future.

    • Theboardrider

      Yeah, it’s amazing all the bashing after like 60-90 days on the job. I think as fans people had guys they wanted and those that didn’t want Theo in the first place were never gonna get on board. At least not early, thus the bashing. Hey, I would have liked to get Andrew Friedman too, but Theo has a great track record and so far the work they’ve done has been nothing short of stellar. It’s an exciting time to be a Cubs fan IMO.

  • Tom U

    Caribbean World Series Update

    The Dominican Republic stuck the dagger into Venezuela, eliminating Navegates by winning 4-2. The Leones got another big night from first baseman Donell Linares, going 2-for-5 with a home run and 2 RBI. Dominican ends the double round robin with a 5-1 record, while Venezuela ended up 2-4. Mexico now faces Puerto Rico for a place in the finals.

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