Cubs

Zuba: Epstein’s Got His Work Cut Out

Theo Epstein is now officially the president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Theo Epstein is now officially the president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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By Sam Zuba-

(CBS) A lot has been said about the Cubs unexpected acquisition of boy-wonder, Theo Epstein.

Epstein, a 37-year-old Yale graduate, was hired as the Red Sox GM when he was just 28. The hire, which caught most of the baseball world by surprise, turned out to be a high-quality move when Epstein did what no other GM in Boston had done in 86 years – he won a World Series.

Just for good measure, he did it again in 2007. Not bad for the kid who grew up in Boston.

Now, it’s likely Epstein will move his office that brought two World Series titles to a baseball city hungry for change from one historic ball park to another.

Cubs fans, it’s OK to get excited. Good things are coming. But before those things can happen, there are a few matters Epstein needs to address, provided his agreement with the Cubs become official:

Find A Real Manager

It’s nothing against Mike Quade — he’s a great, likeable guy – but he’d be better suited as a coach on a team headed for relevancy, rather than its manager.

With that said, Quade has a year left on his modest contract. I hate to break it to you, Cubs fans, but your team isn’t winning the World Series in 2012. They’re just not. The only reason to get rid of Quade now is if Epstein feels his manager of the future is exclusively available this offseason. If not, there’s no sense in bringing someone new in, yet.

There’s something to be said for player development, but don’t fire Mike Quade just to fire Mike Quade – have a plan in place.

Epstein will likely lay low during his first year on the North Side, much as Tom Ricketts did. Quade isn’t harming anyone. Just imagine him as a cardboard cutout of a manager, a stand-in, until Epstein knows exactly who he wants to bring in to take his team to October baseball. If Epstein has a feeling that guy will be available after the 2012 season, then fine, keep Quade around.

Big Money, Big Problems

Jim Hendry may be long gone from the organization, but the tattered remains of his bloated contracts still remain – and will remain for quite some time.

Epstein will need to decide what to do with the $18 million remaining on troubled pitcher Carlos Zambrano’s contract. One thing is certain, with the Cubs apparently heading in a new direction, that direction needs to be as far away from Zambrano as possible. He’s a cancer to that clubhouse and will only cause more problems when the youth movement begins in 2012.

If Zambrano wants to follow Ozzie Guillen to Miami, then let him. Cut him a check for $18 million and count yourself lucky you don’t have to deal with him ever again.

If you thought Zambrano was a problem before, just wait until he’s irrelevant in the clubhouse.

The $54 million left on Alfonso Soriano’s 8-year, $136-million deal looks to be one of the largest financial obstacles standing in Epstein’s way. Soriano is owed $19 million in each of his next three seasons.

He’s a shell of what he used to be in the field and his bat is much slower than it once was, evidenced by his .246 batting average and .305 on-base percentage over the last three seasons.

To ship Soriano as far away from Wrigley as he needs to be will likle cost Epstein and the Cubs about as much as remains on his contract.

Veterans Moving Forward

This is a long-term hire, one that likely won’t produce results for a few years. Consequently, Epstein will need to decide what to do with the veterans currently taking up space on his roster.

Ryan Dempster has a $14 million player option for the 2012 season, which, if he exercises it, will likely be his last season with the Cubs. Marlon Byrd has one year and $6.5 million left on his deal and could be an attractive mid-season addition to a team looking for a serviceable centerfielder.

It will be interesting to see how Carlos Pena plays into Epstein’s plans. Before the 2011 season, Pena signed a one-year, $10-million deal with Cubs. He’s made it clear he wants to be back in Chicago, but his agent, Scott Boras, will likely be looking for a hefty contract for the veteran left-hander.

Pena’s presence in the clubhouse is undoubtedly an added bonus to the power he brings to the left side of the plate. He doesn’t figure to be a large part of the Cubs by the time they reach relevancy, but he could be integral in grooming the players around him on their journey.

This is Epstein’s world, now. It’s essential that Chairman Tom Ricketts – and especially Crane Kenny – stays as far away from Epstein’s office as possible.

Among a myriad of questionable decisions since Ricketts acquired the Cubs, this figures to be the one that takes his team from loveable loser to legitimate contenders.

The floor is yours, Theo.

For more information, follow Sam on Twitter (@SamZubaCBS)