The Cubs’ recent decisions indicate that Theo Epstein isn’t going to sit on his hands and wait until June or July before cleaning out the house of anyone and everyone for whom he can get value and/or salary relief.
With the sudden trade of Marlon Byrd to the Red Sox, Epstein wasn’t doing his former club any favors. He got rid of Byrd for Michael Bowden and a player to be named later with the Cubs paying Byrd’s salary. To make room for Bowden on the 40-man roster, the Cubs have designated veteran swingman Rodrigo Lopez for assignment.
This is just the beginning.
In the off-season, the Cubs made a series of low-cost signings for veteran competence. Their biggest and most expensive imports were Epstein, new GM Jed Hoyer and his assistant Jason McLeod.
The Cubs paid the Marlins to take Carlos Zambrano to get him out of their sight. This and the Byrd trade echoed a similar strategy. Presumably they could’ve gotten more salary relief had they been willing to take marginal prospects in return for Zambrano and Byrd, but they chose to pay them off and get Bowden from the Red Sox and Chris Volstad from the Marlins. That Epstein was able to get anything for Byrd at all—with or without paying him—is a testimony to the Red Sox’ desperation to do something. Byrd had managed 3 singles in 47 plate appearances for the Cubs.
Epstein’s not stupid. He knew when he took the job that the Cubs were going to require an extensive makeover. The biggest advantage he has isn’t the history of success he had with the Red Sox and the status of being the GM when the Red Sox not only broke their curse in 2004, but won another title in 2007. The biggest advantage he has is the Cubs’ fans’ blind loyalty to their team. In the past, the attendance—good team, bad team, whatever team—has been a dual-edged sword. They didn’t have to be good to attract fans. In the past 10 years, the Cubs have never finished lower than fifth in National League attendance and it made no difference whether they won 97 games or 66 games. The fans will be patient and support the uniforms regardless of the players wearing them.
They took a wait-and-see approach this past winter and signed the likes of David DeJesus to a reasonable and cheap contract; they acquired a veteran third baseman Ian Stewart; and made the aforementioned deal to get rid of Zambrano.
They’ve gotten off to a 5-12 start and got rid of Byrd.
Expect Ryan Dempster to be on the market. They’ll dangle Matt Garza at mid-season safe in the knowledge that he’s not a free agent until after 2013 and they have the multiple options of signing him long-term, trading him in July or sometime within the next year-and-a-half. They might swallow Alfonso Soriano’s contract ($18 million annually through 2014) completely and release him if he doesn’t start doing the only thing he still can do—hit a few homers. Carlos Marmol needs a change of scenery and will be available very, very soon.
The Cubs’ new regime gave them a chance to show they were a possible fringe contender.
They’ve lost 12 of their first 17 games and have looked lackluster and boring while doing it.
There’s no reason to continue the charade with players who won’t be Cubs when and if they’re ready to contend for a championship. Epstein’s got players to trade and he’s going to trade them sooner rather than later.