By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cubs got their man for the second time in five years today.
Chairman Tom Ricketts and president Theo Epstein hammered out a new deal that will keep Epstein in charge of the Cubs’ baseball operations for five more years. Epstein’s contract had been set to expire at season’s end.
The deal surpasses the $8 million annually that Dodgers baseball czar Andrew Friedman garnered in fall 2014 to become their president of baseball operations, sources said. Friedman’s deal had been an industry standard.
The Cubs have won 97 or more games in consecutive seasons for the first time in more than 100 years under the guidance of Epstein, 42, and general manager Jed Hoyer. The organization is set up with young, contract-controllable players for the next five or so seasons to sustain their recent success, and the Cubs will open this postseason as the favorites to win the World Series. They’re 101-56 with five games left in the regular season, reaching the 100-win plateau for the first time since 1935.
“In the five years under Theo’s leadership, he has brought in a strong executive team and acquired and developed some of the best players in the game,” Ricketts said in a statement. “Now, the results are on the field. My family and I have no doubt that we have moved closer to our goal of delivering Cubs fans the World Series championship they deserve.”
Ricketts added the contract “ensures the baseball operations team assembled by Epstein will continue its remarkable tenure of building a consistent championship contender.”
Taking over the Cubs baseball operations department in October 2011, the hard-working Epstein was given a mandate by ownership to strip the organization down and build a dynasty that could be sustainable for a decade or more. He’s done just that, masterminding trades that brought young talent in to be developed in the farm system. Epstein did this in part by moving the veteran group of players he inherited from the previous regime.
The brain trust headed by Epstein, Hoyer and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod also have hit on their top draft choices, striking gold with Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora and adding Jorge Soler in international free agency. The Cubs have made a point of finding young, contract-controllable assets and, when possible, signing what they believe are future star players to team-friendly long-term deals early in their careers. That’s the path the Cubs took in signing first baseman Anthony Rizzo and middle infielder Starlin Castro, who’s since been traded to the Yankees.
Early on, Epstein took the payroll down to under $80 million amid a plan to direct more financial resources toward enhancing the minor league system and building new facilities in Arizona, the Dominican Republic and at Wrigley Field in conjunction with ownership.
Epstein put the last piece of the puzzle in place by hiring manager Joe Maddon in November 2014 to run the the team. The Cubs did so after making the decision to fire manager Rick Renteria, after they’d learned that Maddon had exercised an opt-out clause in his deal with the Rays. Maddon changed the attitude and vibe surrounding the organization and its expectations.
Epstein and his group have turned a 101-loss team in 2012 into what’s now the best team in baseball.
“Both on the baseball and business sides, I believe we have the best leadership in the league and we are well positioned for sustained success,” Ricketts said.
A Boston native, Epstein was the Red Sox general manager from 2003-’11 and led the organization to World Series titles in 2004 — its first championship since 1918 — and 2007.
The Cubs inked Epstein to a five-year, $18.5-million deal on Oct. 25, 2011. He was the highest-paid non-owner in baseball after signing that deal. An extension for Hoyer is expected to be announced soon.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.