By Adam Hoge-
CHICAGO (CBS) When the Red Sox endured their epic collapse in September, there was immediate speculation that Boston’s loss could be the Cubs’ gain.
It turns out, that’s exactly what happened.
The Cubs formally introduced Theo Epstein as the team’s new President of Baseball Operations Tuesday and while the former Red Sox GM said the collapse didn’t directly drive him out of Boston, he admitted the events that occurred after the collapse eventually led to his exit.
The most notable of those events was Terry Francona stepping down as manager of the Red Sox. Epstein said bluntly that he would probably still be in Boston if Francona was still the manager.
“I think the biggest factor of that timing was when all the sudden we looked up and had to hire a new manager,” Epstein said. “I remember what it was like for me as a young GM to run the interview process and bond with Terry Francona during that time. You develop a bond when you hire somebody and you develop trust that serves you well for years and years to come.”
Epstein revealed Tuesday that he had already been thinking about leaving the Red Sox after the 2012 season, so when Francona left, he thought it was in the team’s best interest for someone else to hire the new manager.
“I didn’t think it was right for me — as someone who was likely to make a transition in the next year or so — to be the person to run the search process and hire a manager,” he said. “It would have been awkward at best and perhaps disastrous at worst.”
Of course that thinking came along with the new opportunity with the Cubs. Epstein said he was intrigued by the opportunity as soon as the Cubs called and asked the Red Sox for permission to speak with him. He said that happened “pretty soon after the season.”
GM Hiring Next?
It has been long reported that San Diego Padres general manager Jed Hoyer will join the Cubs in the same position under Epstein once the World Series is over. Epstein actually left the door open Tuesday to not hiring a GM, but then said, “I think eventually we will.”
“If we ultimately hire a GM it would be only because it was the right person for the job and that person will evolve into helping to run the major league team day-to-day,” Epstein said. “I’ll still ultimately run the baseball operations department but it will free me up to get involved more with the big picture, it will free me up to get in the trenches with doing the work in scouting and player development to build that foundation for sustained success we talked about. It will only help.
“I think it was important to develop a structure that allowed for the hiring for the GM if we got the right person.”
Epstein didn’t confirm or deny that manager Mike Quade will be back with the Cubs next season, which in essence means the job is open, although Quade might be a candidate.
Epstein said he has talked to Quade on the phone and the two have a meeting scheduled in the next week to talk about their long-term vision for the organization.
Any managerial movement would likely come after the hiring of Hoyer as general manger.
While Epstein preached “sustained success” by building a foundation and “working in the trenches” in the minor leagues, he still believes it is possible to have immediate success at the major league level.
“Our fans deserve both,” he said. “They deserve the long-term building project of the foundation and they also deserve taking every opportunity to win as a sacred opportunity and working hard on that front.”
For that to happen though, Epstein will have to figure out how to make changes while being handcuffed by the large contracts still on payroll. He pointed out that in his first year in Boston he “took payroll down $10-12 million or so” and had success.
Still, Epstein has a realistic vision for the 2012 Cubs, acknowledging that he will have to take “a creative look at the big league team.”
For more coverage from Tuesday’s Theo Epstein press conference, follow Adam on Twitter (@AdamHogeCBS).