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Thursday, October 04, 2012

Wittenmeyer: Theo Epstein’s major remodeling of Cubs raises red flags

“We’re not trying to hide the ball,” Epstein said in the final days of the season. “We’re trying to be honest with [the fans]. There might be some tough things we have to tell them along the way. There might be another trade deadline in our future where we trade away about 40 percent of a really good rotation.’’

The idea, he has said repeatedly, is to build a strong and steady pipeline of homegrown players that will assure that “sustained success,” supplemented only then by flexing the big-market muscle to add any lacking piece or two needed to get over the top in a given year.

For the customer being asked to pay an average of $46.30 for a ticket — especially those who bought in the afterglow of Epstein’s hiring last fall — it’s a risky proposition.

Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, scouting boss Jason McLeod and the rest of the front office knew amateur-signing restrictions were coming when they took their jobs, but it wasn’t until they settled into their new offices that they learned how draconian the draft and international free-agent spending limits would be.

By their own accounts, the Cubs expected to spend more than $20 million on over-slot talent deep in the draft — as Epstein and Hoyer had in Boston and San Diego before. But MLB capped the Cubs’ draft allotment at less than $9 million — under penalty of lost future picks. And limits on international signings went into effect in July, just after they inked Jorge Soler to that nine-year, $30 million deal.

McCoy Posted: October 04, 2012 at 10:52 AM | 123 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   101. Cabbage Posted: October 04, 2012 at 10:48 PM (#4254752)
I'm perfectly ok with how this season went. Honestly.

I expected them to lose about 90 games, but the difference between 90 and 100 games is vastly less than the difference between 80 and 90.

Other than that, there were a lot of bright spots. The farm system has improved dramatically -- Theo's stated goal of collecting "assets" and building a pipeline of player development appears on track after one season. Obviously nothing is guaranteed. But if you'd asked me what would constitute a successful season for the Cubs farm, this would be it. Almora/Baez/Soler are three very impressive prospects, and there at least some depth behind them.

Its not perfect -- there are basically no established pitching prospects. But the 2012 draft focused heavily on pitching (its likely the Cubs only took Almora because they had him at the top of their board), and there has already been a push on the international market. Pitching is also the kind of thing that develops (and dies) quickly. The Cubs have the chips on the table (2012 draft), and we'll hope things start to build from there.

If we want to define goals for next season, they'd be along similar lines (no particular order): Baez/Almora/Soler hit; Some of the 2012 arms, along with Paniagua and (maybe) Maples, log innings, rack up K's, and dont terrify scouts; Main 2013 draftees sign; International signings continue; mid-level depth develops (Rhee and those guys)
   102. Walt Davis Posted: October 04, 2012 at 10:55 PM (#4254760)
But since Cubs fans apparently thing that Epstein should be able to draft a Mike Trout as late as the 24th pick

Don't know if it's a repeatable skill (probably not) but:

Pedroia 65th pick, 31 WAR

I got no problem with that. Also in that particular second round: Gallardo 15 WAR, Seth Smith 4 WAR (meh), Pence 18 WAR, Suzuki 10 WAR.

Other 2nd round picks by the Sox (not sure when Theo starts getting credit): Shoppach 2001 7 WAR, Lester 2002 23 WAR, Masterson 2006 6 WAR.

Some others:

David Murphy #17 2003 9 WAR
Papelbon 4th 2003 17 WAR
Ellsbury #23 2005 14 WAR
Buchholz #42 2005 10 WAR
Lowrie #45 2005 5 WAR
Bard #28 2006 4 WAR
Reddick 17th 2006 6 WAR
Middlebrooks 5th 2007
Rizzo 6th 2007

I get 132 WAR (and counting) over 7 drafts with nothing better than #17. An excellent 2B, an excellent SP, a (sometimes) good CF, hopefully a good 1B and some average players.

Theo (and Beane to a lesser extent) have done quite nicely drafting late.

Moreover, this draft performance, this "proven" ability to build a system is what is supposed to have us so excited about having Theo. You don't build a system with top 5 picks (even the Rays haven't had super success with their #1 picks), you build it by making good/useful picks throughout the draft. Yes, given we stink now and for the foreseeable future, hopefully Theo's magic will work even better with some high picks. But if you're telling me he doesn't have that magic, that the Cubs will only be good if Theo hits it big on the same picks that anybody who reads BA can make, then we're in serious trouble and definitely followed the wrong strategy last offseason.
   103. McCoy Posted: October 04, 2012 at 11:00 PM (#4254766)
ther than that, there were a lot of bright spots. The farm system has improved dramatically

The problem is that the Cubs didn't need to lose 90 games or 100 games for Almora, Soler, and Baez to be bright spots. We got none of them because of trades that happened during Theo's tenure here.
   104. Cabbage Posted: October 05, 2012 at 12:30 AM (#4254818)
The problem is that the Cubs didn't need to lose 90 games or 100 games for Almora, Soler, and Baez to be bright spots.

Sure, but the Cubs don't need to win 75 or 80 games for next season to be successful... unless you think they have a shot at the playoffs. Which I do not. In the slightest.
   105. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: October 05, 2012 at 12:52 AM (#4254823)
Where did this idiotic attitude come from that you only sign good players to long-term contracts to compete immediately. You sign good players to long-term contracts because you expect them to be good for a long time.

I don't really agree with this. You sign good players to long-term contracts because that's what it takes to get them. Do you think the Tigers really think Fielder will be good over the last half of his contract? The odds are against it. You sign good players and figure they'll be worth the money in the first part of the contract and the last part is the price to pay for the first part.

Odds are that whoever you pick will never have as much value as three years of Aramis.

This is true, but by the time the Cubs are good, those 3 years of Aramis will be in the rear-view mirror, so if you do get some value, it will be at the right time.

Both of these point out the problem here. Aramis would have been a good signing. Good player, not going to break out or anything, and not blocking anyone good over the 3 years he's signed for. Fine. But that's why post 58 is a load of crap. Sign those players (hindsight is 20-20 of course) and you have a chance if everything breaks right to contend for a wild card. But you pay the piper later when you're paying huge amounts of money for the downside of those guys' careers. Not worth it.

You cannot spend money on Pujols/Reyes/Fielder type players now without addressing the consequences later, when the kids* come up. It is actually not possible for the Cubs to just spend a ton of money on 2012 without committing to spend a ton of money on those same players in 2017. Aramis is the exception**, not the rule.

*I think that everyone is conceding that both "tank now" and "compete for wild card by spending now" are supposed to end up with a bunch of kids coming up in 3-6 years.

**Don't forget that there was a non-zero chance of Stewart actually being good. Again, hindsight and all.
   106. KT's Pot Arb Posted: October 05, 2012 at 03:07 AM (#4254841)
Odds are that whoever you pick will never have as much value as three years of Aramis.


Besides the timing part that Greg mentioned, do none of these Cubs fans want Theo to be able to ever trade FOR veteran talent when that talent can be mean a championship? It boggles my mind that so many think so narrowly about farm system depth. The attitude that the draft and the farm is low priority, we will just buy free agents is a silly recipe for mediocrity.

Where would the Yankees be without Granderson, and Cano? Their farm system developed one and enabled them to buy the other. No team, even the Yankees, have the budget to live on free agents alone.

There are three ways to bring in talent. Free agency, trades and the draft. When they start filling out the team with talent from the farm, free agency alone will never be enough to fill in the cracks. picking up other teams well paid veterans will be one of the best ways to address big holes, but you can't make many of those those trades or the best ones without a deep, well regarded farm system.

McCoy, you complain about third, yet you don't want Theo to have the trade chips to take a run at David Wright?
   107. McCoy Posted: October 05, 2012 at 06:08 AM (#4254848)
But that's why post 58 is a load of crap. Sign those players (hindsight is 20-20 of course) and you have a chance if everything breaks right to contend for a wild card. But you pay the piper later when you're paying huge amounts of money for the downside of those guys' careers. Not worth it.

Um, Aramis was signed to a reasonable 3 year contract. What piper would the Cubs have to pay? The Cubs are a large market team with a ton of resources and a ton of payroll space. Worrying about what might happen 5 years from now by signing the best players in the game now is foolish.

The attitude that the draft and the farm is low priority, we will just buy free agents is a silly recipe for mediocrity.

Who had this attitude?

Where would the Yankees be without Granderson, and Cano? Their farm system developed one and enabled them to buy the other. No team, even the Yankees, have the budget to live on free agents alone.

When was the last time the Yankees lost 100+ games in a season? When was the last time the Yankees went 77-85?

McCoy, you complain about third, yet you don't want Theo to have the trade chips to take a run at David Wright?

Huh?
   108. Walt Davis Posted: October 05, 2012 at 06:09 AM (#4254849)
The attitude that the draft and the farm is low priority, we will just buy free agents is a silly recipe for mediocrity.

Of course nobody's saying this so I don't know who you think you're arguing with.

The Cubs are the highest revenue team in the NL. They are no worse than the third highest potential revenue team in the NL (Mets, Dodgers). There is no reason they can't win and build because, y'know, there's no reason they shouldn't be carrying a $150 M payroll every season other than Ricketts wants the money for himself, there's nobody to spend it on and Theo misread the draft/international changes.

Farm systems are CHEAP. The Pirates made a splash by spending $10 M for a year. $10 M is chump change to the Pirates much less the Cubs.

The myth that is bandied about is that somehow saving money at the ML level helps you build. It doesn't. It can't. There has never been anything to spend $50 M on in the draft and international market. Per year. Passing on Pujols does nothing to help you build other than getting a higher draft pick by losing lots of baseball games.

Please, please, please people -- remember, the new TV contracts, EVERY team gets $30 M more than they got last year, every year, for the length of those contracts. Pujols was free. Or Aramis and Wilson were free. You think Moreno didn't know that money was coming? You think (blanking) in Detroit didn't know that money was coming? You think the Dodgers' new owners didn't know that money was coming?

Cubs' 2013 payroll stands at $55-60 M including my guesstimates of the arb awards. If it wasn't the right time to sign Pujols and Wilson last year it's obviously not the right time for Hamilton and Greinke now. If it wasn't the right time for ARam last year, it's not the right time for BJ Upton or Michael Bourn now (unless they'll sign for something like DeJesus money). Youkilis if the Sox don't exercise the option -- why would we want to do that, why would he want to do that? There might be some short-termish, cheapish starters.

This is a very, very bad team right now. We played 300 ball over the last two months. And we shouldn't add talent because ... we want the #1 pick next year.

I don't really agree with this. You sign good players to long-term contracts because that's what it takes to get them.

And that's what it takes to get them because you're not the only person who expects them to be good for a long time. Note, while I understand how my use of "long time" and "long-term" may have been unintentionally misleading, I didn't say they would be good for the entire length of their contract. Pujols will be good (I believe and believed more last offseason) for a long time. He will not be good at 41-42 and maybe good but not playing a lot at 39-40. But for the next 5-6 years he'll be damn good and he'll be pretty good for another 2-3.

Fielder? He's not an old man you know, he's got plenty of good hitting left in him. No, I'd rather not have him at 33-34 but that's a ways away. And Detroit (a) panicked a bit when VMart went down and (b) did what somebody upthread said the Cubs couldn't -- they decided to spend "foolish" money to contend. Look what it got those losers!

There is simply insufficient advantage in losing 100 games. That's always been true.

And, offense meant, you can take this hindsight crap and shove it up your ass. This is what McCoy and I were saying last offseason. If you want to criticize McCoy's crowing, you need to point out that he's relying on just one year's production from those guys and maybe we need to wait a few years before he can claim foresight.

And as the guy who predicted 65 wins, warned repeatedly that 100 losses was quite possible, that the hopefully good result of this rebuild was 5+ years away and those years are gonna be painful ... I ain't seeing a whole lot that I got wrong (Maholm was good) and it sure looks to me like Theo and a lot of you in this thread are saying the same thing now. If any of you were the folks last year saying the Cubs could be good again in 2014, I hope you're not coming on like you knew this was the plan all along.
   109. McCoy Posted: October 05, 2012 at 06:24 AM (#4254851)
Sure, but the Cubs don't need to win 75 or 80 games for next season to be successful... unless you think they have a shot at the playoffs. Which I do not. In the slightest.

Well, yeah, at this point now that Theo has chosen this path he has no real shot at anything close to approaching a winning record for the Cubs next year.
   110. McCoy Posted: October 05, 2012 at 06:29 AM (#4254853)
Re 108. Don't forget that the WGN contract is expiring soon as well. The Cubs by 2014 or so are going to be rolling in so much money that a 150 million dollar payroll should mean nothing to them.

   111. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: October 05, 2012 at 07:56 AM (#4254866)
"We stunk in 2012, we're going to stink in 2013, but hey, at least we won't be overpaying our first baseman in 2015!!!"(*)

Bill. Of. Goods.

(*) "Which likely would have been covered by the money we didn't make in 2012 and 2013 because we stunk so bad." That money is somehow never accounted for in the apologias. The shitty 2012 Cub team cost the organization millions, likely tens of millions, of dollars.

   112. They paved Misirlou, put up a parking lot Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:02 AM (#4254890)
Wait, you told us WAR was useless and we couldn't trust any of the components of it.


Yeah. Sugar mentioning Barney's WAR as some sort of positive is really hilarious.
   113. McCoy Posted: October 05, 2012 at 10:05 AM (#4254973)
By their own accounts, the Cubs expected to spend more than $20 million on over-slot talent deep in the draft — as Epstein and Hoyer had in Boston and San Diego before.

I want to know who said this because whoever said was straight up lying when they said that. The Cubs and pretty no team in the majors has ever had any intentions of spending 30 million dollars on a draft. This whole, we were going to splurge on the draft but then the draconinan rules came down the pipe, is a giant red herring to cover up the fact that the Cubs are slashing payroll, sucking for awhile, and charging really high ticket prices to see a crappy team.
   114. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 05, 2012 at 10:19 AM (#4254986)
Where would the Yankees be without Granderson?

Ummmm, much better off?

Austin Jackson is 25, makes the min, and is already a better player than Granderson. And Kennedy is 27, and has just put up 430 IP of 118 ERA+ the last 2 seasons.
   115. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: October 05, 2012 at 10:42 AM (#4255015)
Yeah. Sugar mentioning Barney's WAR as some sort of positive is really hilarious

OK, use Barney's FRAA of +10 runs (1 WAR). That's still 7.2 WAR from unsurprising internal growth.

This whole, we were going to splurge on the draft but then the draconinan rules came down the pipe, is a giant red herring to cover up the fact that the Cubs are slashing payroll, sucking for awhile, and charging really high ticket prices to see a crappy team.

Indeed, and I'll just repeat what I wrote shortly after he was hired last winter -- there's no real evidence that Epstein can take a crappy team and make it perennially good. He didn't do that in Boston, where his legacy is both positive and mixed. He inherited a very good team (100 pythag wins), deep-pocketed ownership, won the division once, went through the crapshoot twice, and left the organization in much worse shape than he found it. While it makes good copy, he didn't end or lift a "curse" in Boston; the law of averages eventually won out and the Red Sox won some playoff series. It was bound to happen someday and the Sox didn't win those series because they'd been built for "sustained success" (TM) or the "right way." They won them because they won them.
   116. McCoy Posted: October 05, 2012 at 02:18 PM (#4255252)
Also, the Cubs promoted Shiraz Rehman, 34, to assistant general manager. A one-time Red Sox intern, he and Randy Bush both now have the title and report to GM Jed Hoyer. Before joining the Cubs after the 2011 season, Rehman was the Diamondbacks director of player personnel.



Epstein said the team would concentrate on starting pitching in free agency and wouldn't be averse to going more than two years on a contract. The only starter the Cubs acquired last winter was Paul Maholm, who had one year and an option.

"There's no blanket rule," he said.

Few star pitchers will go anywhere for less than three or four years.

"Things will have to break a certain way for us for that to happen," Epstein said, adding, "If it's the right contract and even of a significant length, if we believe in that player and we believe in that investment, we won't shy away from it."

   117. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: October 05, 2012 at 03:57 PM (#4255376)
I haven't been participating in this thread, but having just read the whole thing it seems pretty clear to me that Sugar just had his ass handed to him on a plate and he would probably do best to shut up and quit digging the hole deeper.
   118. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: October 05, 2012 at 04:04 PM (#4255382)
Austin Jackson is 25, makes the min, and is already a better player than Granderson.

I think by "is already a better player" you mean "this season has been better".

Also, should we be surprised that a 25-year-old is "already" better than a 31-year-old? It's not like he's 21.
   119. philly Posted: October 05, 2012 at 04:32 PM (#4255409)
Walt:

But if you're telling me he doesn't have that magic, that the Cubs will only be good if Theo hits it big on the same picks that anybody who reads BA can make, then we're in serious trouble and definitely followed the wrong strategy last offseason.


I've looked pretty closely at the Epstein Sox drafts (although not too recently). I looked at the players the Sox picked in comparison to both the draft slot and/or bonus size and the BA pre-draft rankings. The Sox had a ton of success with players - almost every good player you mentioned -with players basically picked from #20 to #60 (or out to #100 if you want to count Papelbon) and all of them were ranked by BA pretty much where the Sox picked them.

While the Sox never had access to elite amatuer talent (except Craig Hansen!), one of the keys to their success is that they nailed the second tier of consensus very good prospects. Deeper in the draft or when the Sox payed significantly more than the BA rankings, the Sox didn't do a whole heck of a lot under Epstein.

One exception to that is, ironically, Anthony Rizzo. Sox picked him in the 6th which is more or less where BA had him, but they paid him 325K which is a few rounds better than that.

Josh Reddick, who looked didn't look like much last winter when I did this, is the other notable exception after his nice year.
   120. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: October 05, 2012 at 05:45 PM (#4255528)
And, offense meant, you can take this hindsight crap and shove it up your ass.

My point was that you can't just take 2012 salaries and say that the Cubs could have spent that money. You need to account for the fact that in order to get Pujols for that salary, you have to commit to the next 9 years.

And I did say that Aramis would have been a good signing, not using hindsight for his year. Although, again, taking a chance on Stewart also seemed reasonable.
   121. McCoy Posted: October 05, 2012 at 05:53 PM (#4255547)
Reasonable in what regard? If you were trying to compete and contend are you suggesting that signing Stewart would be a reasonable move?


As for the othe FA signings you also have to factor in that the Cubs by 2014 will see their media revenue jumping by at least 50 million dollars a year. You also have to factor in that future costs are not sunk costs. Jose Reyes signed with the Marlins and I can almost guarantee you that within the next two seasons or so he is going to be traded. Willingham got, I believe, a 3 year contract. CJ Wilson got a 6 year contract. Outside of Pujols the FA this offseason didn't get long killer contracts. The Cubs being a large market team with a ton of money coming off the books this year, next year, and the year after that while also getting a ton of extra revenue in a couple of years are perfectly positioned to add a good deal of payroll. They chose not to.
   122. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: October 05, 2012 at 06:19 PM (#4255586)
Stewart was a reasonable move because if he remembered how to hit, he's a guy who you wouldn't have to worry about replacing. He was a high prospect when he came up. But, I don't know how long he would be under team control, so it might be the same as signing Ramirez anyway.

I don't agree with the idea of signing a guy like Reyes to a long contract and then trading him. I'd be that the team trading Reyes will have to eat salary.

When it looked like Fielder was going to have to settle for a 4-5 year contract, I was in favor of the Cubs getting him for that time frame. But not at what he signed for.

The incoming TV money is a good point.
   123. McCoy Posted: October 05, 2012 at 06:59 PM (#4255679)
Stewart was a reasonable move because if he remembered how to hit, he's a guy who you wouldn't have to worry about replacing.

But why would a team trying to contend take on a contract with that big of an if and for such mediocre results? Signing Ian Stewart only makes sense if you're not going to compete, have no real options in the pipeline anytime soon, and don't wish to spend any real kind of money.
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