Reporting Matt Spiegel
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There were a ton of excellent signs about the new Cubs regime on Wednesday, starting with this: Theo Epstein was front and center at the baseball table, with Tom Ricketts towards the back of the room.
Ownership can now be supportive, perhaps even vocal behind the scenes, but not visible. No longer does Ricketts the businessman and Cubs fan need to be the face of a baseball operation; the most appropriate guy imaginable now can handle that.
Crane Kenney wasn’t even there. When Epstein referred to Kenney on his own press conference day, it was said that Theo would be “baseball liaison” for the business side. That means it’s his job to keep Kenney away from everyone else in baseball operations. This was example #1 of how Kenney’s role and presence will be appropriately marginalized, privately and publicly.
The Cubs, as Epstein said, lead the league in press conferences, and there’s one more coming for a manager. It’ll be interesting to see who’s at the podium for that one. I’d bet on Theo, with Hoyer, in the middle, and the new guy as the 3rd. No Ricketts up front, again.
At yesterday’s table the young baseball men had notes, but often didn’t use them. Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod are guys who know what they want and what they believe in regarding team building, player development, and teamwork within that front office. They riffed comfortably, speaking from intelligence and experience. I kept thinking of Bud Selig after the World Series, struggling through his rehearsed, written copy as he congratulated the Cardinals. New guard, old guard.
Speaking of the old guard, there’s been a lot of respect and continued contact with the former regime, and some of it seems a bit excessive. I understand being respectful and keeping some of the pre-existing employees, I really do. The 7 hour meeting with Mike Quade was largely just a de-briefing for Epstoyer’s benefit. They wanted to hear about every Big Z incident from Quade’s perspective, wanted to hear what Carlos Pena’s clubhouse value may or may not actually be, etc. There’s no way Quade will be retained as manager. Now, I’m surprised they’ve decided that Jim Hendry’s main assistant GM Randy Bush should stay. But, he’s still under contract, getting paid for 1 more year, and Hoyer continued talking points about the need for a large, multi-faceted front office. Epstein kept Hoyer and Ben Cherington from the previous regime when he got to Boston, and that worked out well. Benefit of the doubt will be given, here at the start, with a skeptical, watchful eye.
The main dynamic that intrigues is between McLeod and incumbent scouting director Tim Wilken. Conversations in that draft room will, and should, get heated. Wilken has been there, and is respected in the industry, but McLeod clearly has the power. Epstein and Hoyer are behind him, he has longer contract stability, and a better track record.
Prince Fielder dreamers, cool your jets. There was Theo on his day saying you must “pay for future performance, not for past performance.” There are the recent disasters for him of John Lackey and Carl Crawford, disasters he doesn’t want or need to repeat. Then there was Hoyer yesterday, with this money quote. “Relying on external solutions to building a winning baseball team is a bad idea, and it’s something we need to get past.” This new brass has the opportunity to breed patience in a fandom not known for it. They should take advantage of this chance, and I think they will.
This batch of baseball men brought here to work together is not complete, as there still could be more coming from Boston once compensation for Epstein is finally worked out. It’s the growing collective that impresses more than anything, as baseball decisions now will be made with the benefit of healthy debate. A well functioning brain-trust will work in part because of that debate. Epstein has guys he trusts, who will disagree without fear, and try to sway him on a prospect, coach, or big league roster move.
The Cubs front office, notoriously behind the times and small in comparison to the rest of the baseball universe, is already light years ahead of its past.