Theo Epstein joined Bruce Levine and Wayne Randazzo during Saturday morning’s Inside the Clubhouse (670 the Score) to discuss his team two days in to Spring Training.
Theo Epstein discussed several topics including the possibility of the team keeping Welington Castillo on the roster and carrying three catchers. Epstein also talked about the depth that has been built in the organization and the flexibility that it creates for the front office to make additions to the big league roster.
And as was the case during Thursday’s press conference, Theo Epstein sounded upbeat and confident Saturday about the team he’s assembled and his new manager, Joe Maddon.
On how far along in the process the Cubs are compared to where he planned for the team to be going into year four when he took over the organization
“On one hand and on the hand that matters most, in terms of wins and losses, we’re not far along. We haven’t accomplished anything at all. We remind ourselves of that all the time. On the other hand, as far as organization building and talent acquisition and creating a culture and creating an organization we believe in, we’re really far along. I think in some respects with the amount of young talent that we’ve brought in here and the culture that’s been created and how we teach the game and how our players play the game in the minor leagues, I think it’s been, I don’t know, maybe five or six years worth of work in three years and that’s a testament to all the hard work from the scouts and field staff that we have really bought in that first year we got together and decided how we wanted to teach the game, what we wanted to stand for, what the Cub Way would be. It’s just really nice to see it come together to at least get us to the point now where we have a ton of young talent. We have a really viable big league team and we have an opportunity, we haven’t done anything yet, but we have an opportunity now to go out and do something special over the next many years.”
“You always have a good chance to do some roster tweaking during Spring Training and especially at the end of Spring Training. But many years this continues into the season you see some moves at the beginning of April or the waiver wire is busy and then of course you look towards the middle of the season to really make fundamental moves in June and July. As far as our outlook for the season, I mean we’re excited because there’s a lot of talent on the roster. We understand we’re young and that’s where a lot of the variables come in. I think our biggest variables are health and how quickly our young players adjust. It’s not an easy time for young position players especially to adjust to pro ball. If you look at, like the top 100 prospect list from last year, of the 60 or 70 players that got big league time like three had success. One was Jose Abreu, who was coming from an advanced league in Cuba and one was 25 years old already in George Springer and one was Mookie Betts, who we drafted in Boston and is a really special player. So the rest of the players really struggled badly, including Javier Baez, our own Javier Baez. It’s just a really tough time to expect rookies to come in and hit the ground running. But we have some special players and we’re trying to create the environment for them where they can have the best chance possible to go out and succeed. If our young players adjust quickly and we stay healthy we could be extremely dangerous and we are setting our sights high for the season.”
On what his plan is for Welington Castillo and if he stays with the Cubs, like he wants, will he end up in Des Moines
(Note: Welington Castillo is out of minor league options and cannot be optioned to Triple-A Iowa. Wayne Randazzo was apparently unaware of Castillo’s time on the Cubs’ 40-man roster when he asked the question.)
“No he won’t be optioned. He’ll either be one of three catchers on the roster or having this kind of depth can be really useful in case there is an injury and stranger things have happened that he could find himself back in to a really prominent role on this team. Or, we’re always open to the possibility of a trade to put him in a good position to go out and have a leading role on a club and also benefit the organization. We’re not opposed to three catchers because that last roster spot gives us versatility then Joe [Maddon] can do plenty of things in-game with those catchers. But he will not be in the minor leagues. He’ll be a Cub or he’ll be a big leaguer somewhere else.”
On what having an experienced manager in Joe Maddon means to the front office and freeing up their time to focus on other areas instead of having to keep an eye on how the team on the field is being run
“I’m not sure it’s about the experience. I think Dale [Sveum] and Ricky [Rick Renteria] brought so many strengths to the table and they made our job easier in a lot of different ways too. You’re always looking for that elusive culture in a Major League clubhouse that is just hard to identify. But you’re looking for a certain spirit, a certain environment where you know the team is going to be extraordinarily prepared and at the same time players feel comfortable they can be themselves, they can bond with one another and you kind of get the most out of each player and the team is better prepared than the other team and proactive and engaged and takes the game to the other team. That’s really hard to find and I think it’s rare. Joe [Maddon] has a proven track record of doing that and it’s really his force of personality and just by who he is and how he goes about his business, how he treats people, how he talks, sort of a spirit he brings to an organization makes everyone around him better and it creates the exact environment we’re looking for. It’s really nice to just be able to sit back and let Joe do his thing and know that element of the organization is taken care of and we can focus on other areas.”
On the possibility the Cubs would add another starting pitcher to the staff this year if it makes sense for the team
“Yes, certainly if it made sense for us. We’ve said that in some ways you try to build your organization so you don’t have to sign free agent pitchers in their 30s to long-term contracts because they’re such risky bets. But for us with our strength being young position players and probably our organizational weakness being the amount of starting pitching prospects, who are coming through the pipeline at the upper levels, we’re in a position probably is something that we have to do at some point. We started that process with Jon Lester. We’ll just see how it develops. It is so hard to predict the future. I like being able to wait and see. Who would have predicted that Jake Arrieta when we acquired him would blossom into what he is and there’s a top of the rotation starter right there. I don’t want to put limits on the Kyle Hendricks of the world or anyone else in our rotation. We’ll have a much better idea of where we are three, four months from now. We have the ability to adjust, maybe with a big in-season deal and certainly everyone knows about the talent in next year’s free agent class. Right now we have a snapshot of where our organization is and we anticipate where it’s going but it will be different. It will look a lot different at the trading deadline and it will look a lot different at this time next year and we’ll adjust accordingly. The good thing is we have the assets that you need to build healthy rosters each year with young players and some payroll flexibility. We think we have those things. At least for now we are going to make the most of them.”
The interview ended with Theo Epstein agreeing with Bruce Levine that there is enough depth in the organization at the catcher and shortstop positions that could be used to help make the team better in the future.