Theo Epstein joined Barry Rozner at the top of the last Hit & Run Show of the season Sunday morning on 670 The Score.
Theo Epstein discussed the season, Joe Maddon, Tom Ricketts, his contract and how far the Cubs have come in four years in a rather candid interview.
On talking about playing the kids in Spring Training, about expectations and having reasonable expectations on how they would perform
Barry Rozner: “It’s clear to us now that you were sandbagging, right?”
Theo Epstein: [laughs] Little bit, it’s part of the job. Like to under promise and over deliver when possible.
“Well, I think that baseball history seems to indicate that it’s not reasonable to expect four young players to play such a big role and end up with a winning team. Usually young players start out, they slump a little bit. They adjust back. They find their footing and the league adjusts back to them and typically it takes an off-season for them to re-adjust back the way Anthony [Rizzo] did after his struggles in San Diego. We were bracing for that. We felt like … if you remember back at the trading deadline, when I talked to the writers after our smaller moves, we said look that’s why we didn’t add a bat because these are our guys. We are invested in these young players. We want to give them the opportunity to play and to play through some slumps to come out on the other side. We just didn’t necessarily think it would happen in August and September of this year, but it did. And that’s a remarkable thing. You’ve got to give credit to the character of these young guys as well the environment created by Joe [Maddon] and the coaching staff and the support they have from some of the veteran players, too, that remarkably all these guys seemed to hit their stride at the same time and propelled us to a couple of big months to separate us because we were only a handful of games over .500 around the trade deadline. We really stepped on the gas the last few months.”
On Joe Maddon bringing along the team and the rookies early in the season, patiently waiting for the right time to start pushing the right buttons and if he knew Maddon would be as good as he has been with the Cubs
“It really seems he went with the killer instincts early August in the Giants series when he started pulling starting pitchers and we realigned our position players a little bit right when the team needed to if we were going to make something of this season, really coming together where winning is the only goal. And also start performing at a higher level. Those things coincided and it was beautiful to see. I know one thing doesn’t happen without the other. Obviously the players stepped up their game performing at a high level so we could compete with the better teams and then Joe managing to win each night as if it were the most important game of the season. They complemented each other really well. You look up and all of a sudden we went from 2 ½ games behind the Giants to 9 ½ games up in a span of about a month.”
Looking back to the end of the 2011 season, during Theo Epstein’s first press conference he told Barry Rozner that if Terry Francona had not been fired he would still have been in Boston. The last day of the 2011 season everything went against the Red Sox and that led to him leaving for the Cubs’ job. On thinking back to that night, the final day of the 2011 season, and everything that occurred since.
“I try not to think too much about September 2011. It’s just so surreal to talk about the fate. But I did spend a lot of time the other night and a lot of us in the office spent a lot of time over the last week or so looking back to the 2012 and the late days of 2011 and we kept coming back to just the meeting we had in the office where we would sit and look at the roster. We would look at our org depth charts in the minor leagues. And we would start to say, ‘Oh, we have another draft next year and then we have another trading deadline. We just drafted a high school kid and we’re trading for guys in A-ball. Like, how are we going to be good by 2016 let alone 2015?’ It takes time. It takes a lot of time typically to rebuild a franchise. There was a lot of anxiety along the way. Not about whether we would get there but about how we could get there in enough time to keep the fans along with us and show progress. A lot of these rebuilds fail because … not because they weren’t going to eventually work, but because you run out of time. Pressure is built up, you start trying to take shortcuts. You end up dipping into free agency maybe before you should. You lose patience with the young players, who are actually going to be part of the solution in the end. That was the anxiety. Just so many things had to break our way and we had to perform at a pretty high level in order for it to work on a timetable that would appeal to the right people and enough people to get it done. So, there was a lot of relief looking at obviously at what’s now been a successful regular season in 2015 that it happened on this timetable.”
On taking the Cubs job and telling Tom Ricketts his plan for rebuilding the franchise and the patience Ricketts has shown
“Tom [Ricketts] has been the most patient one out of everybody. Going back to the time I met with him initially before I took the job, he didn’t know sort of technically everything that had to take place but he knew something different had to take place. He knew it revolved around young players. He knew that it had to be systematic. He knew we had to build around scouting and player development and he knew that it had to take time. He’s been remarkably patient. I can honestly say that never once has he pressured us into trying to speed it up, beyond the normal day-to-day we all feel frustration with how long it was taking. He’s been incredibly supportive. I don’t think this happens without that because an organization ends up reflecting the personality of its owner as well as his approach and his vision. He’s been incredibly supportive and it’s really rewarding to see him enjoying yesterday [Saturday] because he deserves it.”
On explaining The Plan during his first press conference and if he thinks people did not listen and hear what he said
“I think sometimes the loudest people were the ones that didn’t get it. But I think 98 percent of the people did get it. I’ve been really pleased and appreciative of the amount of support and patience that we’ve gotten from really fans and media alike. You’re right sometimes the ones who don’t get it are the loudest. But I can’t blame anybody. I mean everyone takes sort of a different approach to how they enjoy and understand this game and in order to really buy into a longer term rebuild and organization building, investing in young players and how long that takes, getting to know the draft and getting to know prospects, I think that can be really enjoyable for a lot of fans and rewarding for some media members. But not everyone wants to do it that way and not everyone has to do it that way. Their forum is just as valid but in the end it’s all about results. I think we are going to end up getting good results this way. There actually was no alternatives given the financial constraints that we had and given the talent and payroll situations in the organization. There was no other choice and I’m pleased with how this one seems to be working out. A lot of work ahead of us, but it doesn’t invalidate everyone else’s feedback on it. We welcome it.”
On the Cubs not winning anything yet, not accomplishing the ultimate goal, but the team taking a step in the right direction in year four, not year five, to putting the Cubs in position to complete for a spot in the tournament every year. What he said last July about the Cubs being done with selling at the trade deadline. And is he surprised about what the Cubs have accomplished in four years.
“No, when I said that I meant it. I thought at a minimum this year that we would be really young, really exciting, really interesting and that we would hang in there at least during this season and see. As I mentioned earlier, we braced ourselves for young players falling off in the second half as often happens. We were going to live with that. It would have been a good piece of adversity for us to go through and our young guys to work out of and bounce back next year. We didn’t want it to happen, but we knew that it was a good chance it would happen. Even so, I didn’t think we were going to be in a position to wave the white flag at the trade deadline. I think we were talented enough. There was plenty of young talent that was going to be on this big league team whether we pulled a trade or not. We were going to be talented enough to go out and play with anybody, even if it didn’t come together this way. We knew we wouldn’t be trading pieces at the deadline this year. But this year kinda is the year we hoped and expected to have next year. In fact that everyone matured at a pretty rapid rate and fact now is great, it gives us a better foundation to jump off of for next year. Getting into the playoffs is really great and is wonderful, but honestly I think it is more meaningful to us because it is with a young team, a core that is going to be together for a long time and we want to do consistent damage in October. Great organizations win a lot of ballgames in October, we haven’t done that yet. But this gives us an opportunity to start that process for the next year to really go out and earn our way back to October and try again. Those opportunities are so rare, so hard to come by. Teams that sometimes look like they are setup for five years never fully materialize and end up have a series of bad fortune and make bad decisions so we really want to capitalize this October while we are here.”
On celebrating a playoff berth after losing a game and if it was him or Jon Lester or Joe Maddon that not only said are the Cubs going to celebrate but the players were encouraged to celebrate really hard
“I believe it was Joe. I was upstairs watching the game and it takes us about 10 minutes to get downstairs through the crowd. And what I understand happened is it was a little quiet and then Joe came in there and made a toast to the season and said, ‘Hey, this is not about today, this game. This is about the whole season and you guys deserve to celebrate and let’s go enjoy the season.’ And you know, these guys are 21, 22, 23 and that’s all they needed to go nuts. When I walked out on the field, I thought maybe I can hang back, hang on the fringe, hang on the perimeter and not get wet because I like watching other people celebrate and then knowing what they’ve been through. The second I stepped, went up the dugout steps the whole team was lying in wait and they dowsed me. It would have been out of character for this team not to celebrate. They celebrate every regular season win with reckless abandon so to not celebrate getting into the post-season wouldn’t have made sense. We know there will be some critics out there. That’s fine. I think our guys have to be honest with who they are, celebrate the way they want. Jon Lester bought out a bar and hosted a team function last night to sort of bring it all together. A great move.”
On his contract status with the Cubs and is he interested in hanging around another five, 10 years
“Yeah. I ended up staying 10 years in Boston, nine as GM but 10 years there. That seemed about right. Long enough to try to make a difference and try to contribute to some winning teams and some championships. We have a lot of work left to do here. Honestly, I haven’t spent … the only time I think about my contract is when I’m asked about it by the media publicly. Tom and I, we see the mission the same way. I think we see our roles in a similar light and the contract talks we be appropriate after we’re done playing I’m sure. It won’t be hard to get something done. I’d like to be here to see the Cubs win multiple World Series and make up for lost time, but that starts by winning a playoff game which we haven’t done in a long time and we have an important one coming up in about 10 days. I am really looking forward to it.”
“I don’t look too far ahead and we haven’t done anything yet. But I can say that after we won the first one in Boston in 2004 it didn’t diminish at all our passion to go back and win again. I think we are set up to … if we do our jobs the right way, all of us, we can be a pretty good team for a number of years going forward. That has to be fully realized. Then again, we might look back on this conversation as ridiculous, speculating what happens after we win multiple World Series. Like I said, we have not done anything. That is the thing about the Wild Card Game too. You don’t perform in that game, you lose that game it’s cruel because your season goes up in smoke in an instant and you’re forgotten right away. It’s almost if you didn’t even make the playoffs. That’s the feeling afterwards, so all of our focus and all of our energy is on trying to do everything we can to gain a competitive advantage in that game. We all feel like that if we can get past that game we can make our mark in October.”