Theo Epstein joined Barry Rozner and Matt Abbatacola last Thursday on 670 The Score and discussed several topics before the Cubs wrapped up the series in Cincinnati ahead of the weekend in St. Louis.
Epstein talked about the progress of the organization, the prospects, the big league payroll, adding impact talent to the Major League roster and the Cubs TV deal.
Theo Epstein went in to detail on the Cubs plans for Kyle Schwarber this fall. The Cubs are sending Schwarber to the Instructional League to work on his catching. Schwarber has made big strides behind the plate defensively since he’s been in the Cubs system and if he can stick behind the plate, which the Cubs think he can do, he could help round out the Cubs lineup one day.
On handling the noise from the media and fan base
“The best thing we can do is just set it aside. As much as we care about our fans and how they’re feeling and what they think, we really need to set it aside when it comes to our decision making process and create a vacuum and we just assume that the fans will be happy if we are playing baseball in October, just about every October. I think that is a pretty safe assumption and so we just focus all of our energies into trying to make that happen. But over the years I’ve seen this phenomenon, that moves a team makes with universal praise, fans and media like are usually the ones that don’t work out [laughs] in the long run because they look good on the surface or they are more shorter term. They address shorter term interests at the expense of the longer term. And then the moves that are criticized a little bit or leave people scratching their heads sometimes those are the ones that benefit the organization the most over the long run. That is not a critique of anyone. Often times the moves I think will work the best don’t. The moves that I’m a little more hesitant about work out. It is just baseball and life. You are right we just try to set aside that noise and do our jobs.”
On the media and public narrative that the Cubs process has been sped up due to the success of the prospects and if he has been caught off guard by it. And where does the process go the rest of this season and into the off-season
“I don’t think it’s been sped up or has accelerated or caught us by surprise. I remember the end of season press conference we had to do last year down in the dungeon at Wrigley. There were a lot of questions, a lot of critiques and justifiably so because we had another last place finish and we were changing managers and everything. I think I took a moment to just remind everyone that our view is that things are moving along really well. I think I said something like, ‘The Cubs are coming strong and the Cubs are coming fast,’ something like that and that is how we really felt. Morale was really outstanding in the organization. We felt like we were getting closer to realizing our vision. I think it’s just natural that more people are paying attention now and more people are putting the puzzle together because some of our most-noteworthy prospects have either broken into the big leagues or on the cusp of breaking into the big leagues. So that will grab more of a national audience and that will allow more people to put it together. I think it’s easy to see that we’re entering a new phrase over the long haul. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sped up and it doesn’t mean that we have to get away from doing the things that I think have made us fairly successful thus far, at least as far as making the organization healthier. I think teams and organizations often make mistakes when they make a check-list, a to-do list, and say, ‘At this trade deadline we must accomplish the following. Or during this one off-season we need to accomplish X, Y and Z.’ you end up seeing opportunities that aren’t there. You end up setting aside your standards. You end up making exceptions to baseball axioms that are tried and true for a good reason. You end up making mistakes that will hurt you in the long run. It doesn’t mean that we won’t be aggressive. We will be aggressive. It doesn’t mean we won’t be aware of what our 2015 big league team looks like because of course we will. We need to add the right pieces to maximize that team’s chances of competing. But it will all be done through the same lens that we built this organization, which is being mindful of our long-term vision, understanding that we are looking for elite talent, prime age and pre-prime players and we’ve got to keep moving that ball forward because the vision that we are working towards has a chance to be really special and can’t compromise it. We are going to make moves at some point that are sort of exceptions that we have to swallow hard and kind of look away and just do them because baseball is not a free market place. You can’t find players the right age all of the time. You probably can’t find players on the right contracts all of the time. You have to make exceptions to get talent, and we will, but we are just going to do it we a broader perspective and be mindful of the fact that maybe if the right player is not available this off-season he will be at the next trade deadline. If he is not available at the next trade deadline, he will be the next off-season and operate that way.”
On if certain additions are made this off-season to add impact talent to the organization would those additions change the Cubs timeline or would that be to just add talent to the organization going forward
“I think when, I will say when and not if because again I will take a broader outlook on this and talk about the next couple of off-seasons and the next couple of trade deadlines. When we add an impact piece from outside of the organization, I think it will only make us more competitive in the near term clearly and it will sort of increase our chances of making the playoffs which is a great thing. The art of it is to try to do it in a way that preserves our long-term positioning, which I think right now is fantastic. I wouldn’t necessarily, I haven’t looked closely at the other 29 organizations in a month or so since the trade deadline, but I’m not sure I would trade our long-term future for anybody’s. And so we don’t want to jeopardize that and we need to be caretakers of that and make sure it manifests in pennants year in and year out. I don’t know to answer your question I think it’s going to happen, it’s just we want to try to be smart about it and balance our short and long-term interests the best we can. But in order to even be in that position you need to have young impact talent that is cost-controlled that allows you to have $150 million roster for $75 million bucks, something like that. If you have $150 million worth of talent and it only costs you $75 million that allows you to be very aggressive in acquiring more expensive talent, more mature talent that costs some significant dollars. That has been a big part of what the organization has been about, what we’ve been trying to do in baseball operations the last few years. Shoot, we would love $300 million worth of talent for $50 million because it would allow us to be that much more aggressive and put the finishing pieces in place when the time is right.”
On if the Cubs have a hard cap on next year’s payroll
“No, there are too many variables to ever have a hard cap. We try not to look at any one year’s payroll too closely because obviously it works in concert with future years. But there is always a sliding scale based on revenues which attendance can impact that and other variables on the business side and frankly our performance on the baseball side can impact that as well. I think we have a pretty good idea of where we are for the next couple of years. If you look back a couple of years you will have a pretty good feel. I think we are at a kind of stable place payroll wise, more or less, but as we inch closer to the watershed moment for us which is a windfall that will be represented by the new TV deal, I think you will see a change of paradigm for us payroll wise. Just because we’re sort of stable with our payroll right now doesn’t mean we can’t be ultra-aggressive because of the dynamic I talked about earlier. I think we have a lot of cost-controlled talent on the roster that means we have tremendous flexibility even if our payroll stays just about the same place.”
On how he feels about where the business side of the team is
“I am feeling confident in the outlook on the business side and our colleagues in business operations are doing a great job. There are a lot of parallels. They’ve taken, just as we’ve taken the long view on the baseball side and had to withstand some criticism and take some hits for it in the short-term, I think they are strategic thinkers and they are thinking long-term as well which will only benefit us over time. I am more bullish about the TV deal now than I was a few years ago. It is incredible how fans have responded to young players and how excited they are. I don’t know how to put it bluntly but I think we are going to be must see TV for a long period of time. I think with some of the other TV deals that teams have struck have been fantastic so I think that’s going to be a game-changer for us. I think we have the right people in place to strike that deal and we are well-positioned in the meantime this sort of waiting period. We do like the talent that we’ve been able to accumulate in this organization I think there is more coming. I love the personnel we have in place and the processes we have in place now. We have to accept it is not going to be progress all of the time, there are going to be ups and downs in baseball. We are going to be interesting. We are going to be young and we are going to be talented. That TV deal down the line will, my hope is that it will allow us to keep all of this talent. Because when the impact players we have coming now start to approach free agency it will require a lot of money to keep those guys. I think that’s a big part of what the TV deal will be all about.”
On the pitching in the organization and if he thinks the Cubs have a pitcher or pitchers currently in the organization that has top of rotation stuff and makeup
“Jake Arrieta. You’ve watched him pitch. He’s gone out and done that job this year as a top of the rotation-type pitcher and carry himself with all of the confidence that is commensurate with that. Now, he’s only done it for this year and even this year is just really a partial season. But he is someone that we really believe in and that we think has a chance to keep this going. He has to go out and prove it and I think he is excited to go out and prove it year in and year out. I think there is sometimes too much hyper-focus on top of the rotation. What that really means to me is can you be an important part of a winning rotation. Another player we acquired in trade in addition to Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, to me he can be an important part of a winning rotation. He may not have classic top of the rotation-type stuff, he may never be a prototypical top of the rotation-type pitcher but I will take him as part of a winning rotation any day of the week.”
Barry Rozner had a scout tell him for as good a hitter that Kris Bryant appears to be Kyle Schwarber has a chance to be as good if not better than Bryant. On what Theo Epstein thinks of Kyle Schwarber and what the Cubs plans are for him moving forward
“[Kyle] Schwarber, he is a Cub. From the first time we laid eyes on him we wanted him to be a Cub. It’s what he does in the batter’s box. It’s what he does with his leadership. How he plays the game. It’s who he is as a person. He’s going to be I think a special player here for a long time if he keeps on this trajectory and keeps working hard and with his make-up I don’t worry about that. He fits this team so well because we are in jeopardy of getting a little bit too right-handed. I love left-handed hitters and we all want to create as much balance as we can. Kyle is a left-handed bat. We are in danger of being a club that’s a little bit too aggressive and we really value controlling the strike zone and plate discipline. And Kyle is an extremely disciplined hitter. He’s a pure hitter. He’s has a unique ability to see the ball out of the hand and barrel the baseball, take his walks, get pitches to drive. He’s got huge power, hits the ball to all fields. He can hit some light tower home runs to the pull side and to the middle, to the big part of the field as well. We are going to send him to Instructional League and really focus on his catching. He’s made some big strides already from where he was in college with is catching. Defense, especially defense behind the plate, that’s an area where players can see significant improvements. You can coach or teach plate discipline all you want year after year and you may never see significant improvement. But with defense if you have a player who is a good athlete and has good coordination, and Kyle is a sneaky good athlete, and you have a player who has got excellent work ethic and makeup, that is Kyle to a tee, you can see significant gains defensively and that is going to really be our focus. With the way the pieces are coming together, if Kyle can make it work behind the plate, and we think he can, especially from a leadership standpoint, he really rounds out our lineup and compliments our team extremely well. We are very excited about the fact that he is a Cub and will be for a longtime.”