The Cubs have named Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations and Jed Hoyer as General Manager
It’s hard to know how responsible Jim Hendry was for some of the Cubs’ biggest misfires during his time as GM. For example, it’s been widely postulated that the Alfonso Soriano deal was mandated by the Tribune Company. But the one thing that I think was obvious was that the Cubs rarely seemed to have a long-term plan. Needs were rarely addressed before they became agonizingly obvious, and since the minor league system was constantly inadeqaute, this usually meant an ill-advised free agent signing or a hastily considered trade. As a result, the team had sporadic success – more than we Cubs fans are accustomed to seeing, to be sure – but by the time this past summer rolled around, the team had gotten old, expensive, and not very good. Worse, the minor league system, especially in the upper levels, was barren. In short, this team was not very good, with not much of an apparent future aside from Starlin Castro, their young shortstop.
Additionally, Hendry was the kind of proud old-school baseball guy who simply had become obsolete in today’s game. It’s still not hard to find strident opposition to what’s known as “the Moneyball philosophy,” but the plain truth is that major league front offices operate much differently than they did 10 years ago. Objective analysis is now a vital part of the game, and while I doubt that Hendry was as old school as the caricature I have of him in my head, it seemed clear enough that he wasn’t in his element in today’s game. The Cubs needed to catch up.
Enter Theo Epstein, the Boston whiz kid who had built two World Series champions as General Manager of the Red Sox. He moves to Chicago with a promotion, hired not as GM but as President of Baseball Operations. He’s tasked with creating and implementing a long-term vision for the Cubs, and it seems to me like it’s hard to overstate the importance of this hiring. Hendry’s firing represented the end of an era that dated back to the hiring of Andy MacPhail in 1994, but Epstein’s hiring represents a change in culture that dates back longer than that. For as long as I remember, the Cubs’ basic strategy has seemed to be to aspire to being average or maybe a little better than average, and then hope that they get lucky enough in any given year to sneak into the playoffs. Hence, we’ve had occasional and mostly isolated playoff appearances bookended by years of mediocrity. Despite dominating the NL Central in financial resources and (lately anyway) payroll, the team hasn’t been able to put together a sustained run of success since before color television.
So if nothing else, Epstein brings with him a much more accomplished resume than Hendry’s. The Red Sox have won 90 games in all but 2 of Epstein’s 9 years in Boston despite playing in the AL East; Hendry’s Cubs did so only once, despite playing in a division widely regarded for most of that period as one of the weakest in baseball. Epstein will undoubtedly aspire to building a team that contends year-in and year-out. While it’s impossible to know what the future holds, that aspiration alone represents a welcome change, and his resume indicates that he’s far more likely to be successful at that task than Hendry could have been.
However, he will not be the GM, and to that end he’s hired Jed Hoyer, who worked with Epstein in Boston – and was actually briefly named co-GM there during Epstein’s contract squabbles in late 2005 – before leaving for San Diego. There he’s been the GM of the Padres for the last two years. I’ll confess that I’m not all that familiar with his work in San Diego, except that the team was surprisingly successful in 2010 but somewhat disappointing this season. Obviously that’s not enough knowledge to make much of an evaluation, and as such I’m fairly agnostic on the merits of hiring him. Like everyone else, I’ll just have to wait and see. His assistant in San Diego, Jason McLeod, has also been hired by the Cubs as head of scouting and player development.
Because Epstein and Hoyer were both still under contract with their respective teams, the Cubs will owe compensation to both teams in exchange for hiring them away. It remains to be seen which players the Cubs will have to give up, but unless the names are much bigger than anticipated, it hardly seems to matter. What’s important is that the Cubs have made an unprecedented effort (for them) to make themselves seriously matter, and to realize their natural advantage as a large-market team with a nationwide fanbase. Again, I don’t know what the future holds, but these hirings are an amazing accomplishment by the Ricketts family. This is what dedication by the ownership looks like, and as a fan, I can’t really ask for much more than that. Go Cubs go!