Theo Epstein joined Matt Spiegel and Patrick Mannelly on 670 The Score last Friday morning prior to the start of the Cubs Convention.
Theo Epstein discussed a variety of topics that he did not cover earlier in the day on MLB Network Radio. Epstein talked about Javier Baez, what the Wrigley Field Restoration means to the baseball department, Arismendy Alcantara, the off-season and of course Joe Maddon.
On Anthony Rizzo’s guarantee of the Cubs winning the NL Central and if he’s okay with Rizzo making the statement
“Oh yeah. I think that’s the mindset you want with your players. You want guys excited, optimistic and I think having swagger on the field is a good thing it’s important. If that starts with a little bit of swagger off the field, that’s fine. You want guys in that frame of mind.”
On how this off-season has been different for him and what the Cubs have been trying to do now that the paradigm has shifted with wins at the big league level a higher priority than in recent years
“It’s just a little different. I mean we focus from building the organization the last three years to building an organization and a Major League team. A lot more thought going in to the Major League roster, how it fits together, pieces that we need immediately, pieces that we know we will need in a year or two and assessing free agent markets relative to the trade market in relation to future free agent markets and kind of an objective assessment of what we are and ways that we can put ourselves in a position where if a lot of things go well we can be playing in October.”
On the Cubs saying the team would not sell-out the future to win in 2015. Does that mean the Cubs won’t sell-out by using prospects to acquire talent or does it mean the team will not go after other high-priced players?
“Kind of both. I think the mindset of not selling out for any one year is pretty innate to what we do. I think we’re all-in for our future and that future starts now. It just means that there’s no one year that’s any more important than any future years but we are competitive and we’re trying to win. We are trying to win now and we’re trying to win in the future. I think there is an exception to that which is if we demonstrate over the first few months of the season that we are a legitimate contender and we’re close and those one or two or three extra wins really matter, it might be the difference between us getting in and not getting in or winning the division or winning the Wild Card, then absolutely you prioritize that season that you’re in, perhaps at the expense of future years. But what it really means is that we’re never going to abandon the concept of building an organization, building a self-sustaining organization focused on young players. The draft is just as important as it has been. Our player development is just as important as it has been. It’s just now we have a flow of talent up to the big leagues and we’ve added from outside the organization. We have a chance to do the most important thing which is win at the big league level.”
On having restraint dealing players this off-season, such as Starlin Castro or Javier Baez or some other middle infield prospect for a pitcher from the Mets or another team, is that a fair guess to make about this off-season?
“Yeah, yeah I think that is always present right? I mean you’re always kind of balancing the future and the present. I think any organization out there could take all of their future assets, whether its future dollars and backload some contracts in order to sign the two or three best free agents out there or they could take their three best prospects and say ‘We’re just going to see what we can get to help our big league team now and we don’t care how old they are as long as they can help us this season.’ Any team out there can mortgage their future for the present and probably add a good, I don’t know, 10 or 15 wins to their outlook for the immediate future. But what are you left with? There won’t be any depth behind the Major League roster, which you need over the course of 162. You won’t have impactful young players coming behind that in order to sustain any kind of success you may or may not achieve. I just don’t think it works that way. Maybe it does in other sports to a certain extent but in baseball there’s a time and a place to that in moderation but that’s when those extra wins, one or two wins, really matter and you can make that assessment during the course of the season. We tried to add as many wins as we could to the 2015 Cubs with being mindful of what it is we are building and what we’re all about as an organization the fact that we want to dominate over a long period of time.”
On Javier Baez and prospects struggles and at what point does he have to think about the reality of dealing a prospect that the Cubs may know what type of player he is before the rest of the league does?
“I think organizations do that all of the time from before he’s drafted. Sometimes you draft a player knowing that he’s like, for one reason or another, he’s likely to be a trade piece. Maybe you believe more in the talent than you believe in the makeup and he’s a trade piece. Maybe you’re drafting a player you know you have depth at that position and you’re drafting him to be a trade piece. You’re constantly making those kinds of assessments. I’ll say this just a brief trial at the Major League level does not impact our thoughts on a player. Specifically in Javy’s case [Javier Baez] he was called up in a large part as a means to an end. I think he needed to see big league pitching and needed to see how good it is. He needed to see how quickly they would find his weaknesses. He needed to see how quickly they would adjust to him to put the ball in his court this winter and going into 2015 to make the necessary adjustments. So you’re constantly evaluating your own talent but you go in knowing that not all of your best prospects are going to reach their ceilings and there is going to be a balancing act. You need two or three of them to reach their ceilings and the rest even to become complimentary players great, from a cost-controlled basis, and you’re going to trade some of them as well. You just try to pick the right ones.”
On Javier Baez playing Winter Ball and does the organization recommend to a player he participate in Winter Ball or does the player ask if they can participate? Do the players work on specific things in Winter Ball or just go play?
“It is a great question. It can work both ways. Sometimes it’s the recommendation of the club to tell a player that as part of your development there are things you need to work on and here’s the best environment for you we recommend. You can force them, but you can recommend that they go play. Then a lot of times with Latin American players there is a connection with a Winter Ball team and they want to play for pride or for extra money in the winter. The team based on how much the player played the year before may have the right to veto that and say ‘no’. In Javy’s case it was sort of a collective idea. We put our heads together and obviously he has some things to work on he’s sort of better understanding now after his big league trial. It’s been good for him. We sent our hitting coach, John Mallee down there to get to know Javy a little bit. Javy has been showing up to the ballpark early, working extremely hard, playing really good defense and continuing to evolve as a hitter which is a process that is going to go into 2015. But it’s competitive down there. You see a lot of off-speed pitches. You see a lot of older pitching, which is good. And the games really matter down there to the fans and the players play hard.”
How many other guys has he recommended to play Winter Ball this year?
“Three or four. Arismendy Alcantara had a really good Winter Ball campaign. He was probably the best player on Licey. He hit .325 and showed his power and his patience. For him the big thing was to continuing to get reps in center field and more or less played solid defense and he continued to mature as a new centerfielder.”
On Arismendy Alcantara possibly being the Cubs version of Ben Zobrist and is that an acceptable way to think about Alcantara for the upcoming season?
“Yeah, I think it’s acceptable. I think that’s something you grow into. It’s a little bit easier for veteran players who know themselves better and have a foundation to show up every day and look at the lineup card and figure out what position they are playing on that given day. But I think that it can be good for young players too. Joe [Maddon] has made the point that it takes a little pressure of their bat if they just have to focus contributing defensively and being versatile can take the heat off their bat a little bit. I think he’s the rare player that might be able to pull that off. I don’t think we want to label Alcantara as Zobrist because Zobrist has been one of the very best players in the game over the last four or five years when you add up his contributions. That’s something he can aspire to. For right now he’s a really exciting athlete who might end up playing a ton of center field for us [Note: This interview took place prior to the Cubs acquiring Dexter Fowler from the Astros], he might end up moving around. This is a kid who had 20-20 last year [20 home runs, 20 stolen bases] and 69 extra basehits between Triple-A and the big leagues at age 22. It’s hard to find that and we are excited about his future.”
On how much interaction he’s had with Joe Maddon this off-season to discuss philosophies and approaches or has all of that already been covered?
“It’s been pretty seamless. I think we see the game, we see players in a really similar fashion. It’s just fun being around him. I mean he’s got such an active mind. He’s got such a free spirit. I think he’s someone who really gets the most out of every day and every situation. We found being around him you’re energized. You’re kind of stimulated a little bit intellectually. You find yourself sitting up in your seat kind of eager to listen, eager to learn, eager to share something that he might riff on or go off on. I think that’s the same effect that he has on players. Players kind of end up sitting up in the chairs figuratively and eager to please him and interact and put their heads together. He’s just a great presence to have around. I think he brings out the best in people and we’ve already seen that on display.”
Matt Spiegel asked Theo Epstein about the Wrigley Field construction and delay with the bleacher. Epstein said the business operations department would go over the details about Wrigley Field during the convention. Click on this link for the details from the Business Operations Update
Theo Epstein does not see a problem with the construction continuing once the season begins as long as they are allowed to hit balls into the bleachers in April.
On how important the Wrigley Field Restoration Project is to the baseball side
“It’s important and it goes beyond the resources that we might get because of it. Revenue is important and it goes beyond free agent recruitment, although that can be important. It’s always better to walk a guy through a great clubhouse than it is to show him the model of a really great clubhouse and avoid the clubhouse that you have. But it’s important to because of what it provides to the players on a day-to-day basis. They are showing up here 81 times a year to live for the day and come together as a team and go and try to win a baseball game. So if you can put them in outstanding surroundings with a great environment, I think your environment over the course of a day affects your mood, it affects your energy, it affects your focus, if affects your ability to prepare. Our clubhouse, that’s going to debut on Opening Day in 2016 is going to be the second biggest in all of baseball after Yankee Stadium. It’s going to be state-of-the-art. It’s going to be an outstanding place to interact with your teammates and prepare to win a baseball game. So that affects us in terms of wins and losses and that’s the most important thing.”
Matt Spiegel also asked Theo Epstein about the TV and media rights. Epstein said Crane Kenney and the Business Operations department would address the TV rights during the convention.
Epstein added, “The big payday is coming in the future. That’s the one that is going to fundamentally alter our roster construction because it’s going to change, take us from middle class to upper class in terms of player payroll.”
On if he still has confidence the big TV deals will be available to teams in 2020
“Oh yeah. I think it ebbs and flows. Maybe no one will ever see a deal exactly like the Dodgers deal but the content of Cubs baseball on day-in, day-out over a course of 162 games is going to be a very, very valuable commodity. It’s outstanding content in a media market that’s starved for content. So we are going to do quite well.”