Don’t Expect Miracles From Theo Epstein

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

The Cubs paid a lot of money and are going to send undetermined compensation—a prospect or prospects—for the right to hire Theo Epstein while he still had a year remaining on his contract with the Red Sox—Boston.com Story.

Only hindsight will tell whether or not this is a wise move.

In similar fashion, the Red Sox were set to hire Billy Beane from the Oakland A’s after the 2002 season and send a young infielder named Kevin Youkilis to the A’s for the right to do so.

Beane backed out on the deal that was worth over $12 million and had some insane perks such as letting Beane spend a chunk of his time on the West Coast and run the Red Sox from there.

Retrospectively, it’s hard to see Beane having replicated the success enjoyed by Epstein and his staff with the Red Sox. Two championships; an annual contender with homegrown talent; and daily sellouts speak for themselves.

Now Epstein’s the man with the reputation.

But 5-years at $18.5 million? For a team president?

I’m dubious.

What’s Epstein going to do with the Cubs?

First he’s hiring trusted acolytes from the Padres and his days with the Red Sox including current Padres GM Jed Hoyer.

I wondered yesterday why the Padres were letting Hoyer go without compensation since he’s under contract through 2014, but they’re going to receive prospects from the Cubs as well.

I wouldn’t give up players for an executive, but this is the way business is being done today. Don’t automatically dismiss how good the prospects might be because few knew what Youkilis was before Moneyball.

If anyone’s thinking the Cubs are going to be a lean machine of inexpensive “finds” that the “genius” Epstein discovered using some arcane formula that he and only he knows, you haven’t been paying attention.

Back when Beane was set to take over the Red Sox, an important factor in his potential for success or failure is that the details of Moneyball and Beane’s strategies weren’t widely known because the book had yet to be published. He was operating from a personal strategy borne out of desperation that not all were privy to; now, everyone has the same stats and are, again, reliant on old-school scouting techniques; an intelligent manager; superior coaching; smart trades; good free agent signings; and luck.

Those who point to other clubs who’ve been successful on a budget aren’t delving into the requisite factors of a team like the Rays maintaining excellence without any money and a decrepit, uninviting ballpark—they’ve got a load of starting pitching from being so consistently terrible for years; locked up key components like Evan Longoria; and have been masterful at finding bullpen arms and putting them in a position to succeed with an altered approach and a superlative defense.

There’s a baseline of talent with the Cubs—just as there was one with the Red Sox when Epstein was placed in charge there. It’s not as deep nor as good, but they have some starting pitching with Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano (who’s a lunatic, but might be salvageable); they have Starlin Castro; and relievers Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol.

It’s not a barren wasteland and there’s no mandate to cut costs due to monetary constraints.

This whole series of events is a bit incestuous and reminiscent of the decried “old boys club” of yesteryear when former players or loyal executives were placed in the perch of GM rather than finding someone qualified to do the job with a breadth of experience in every aspect of running an organization.

Epstein, who wanted to leap from the Red Sox Hindenburg, got his out—and a lot of money and power—with the Cubs.

Hoyer is leaving a situation where he couldn’t spend big and is grabbing the Epstein ladder to be his top lieutenant and run the club on a day-to-day basis while Epstein acts presidential.

Another former Epstein assistant, Josh Byrnes, is taking over in San Diego.

This is a similar dynamic to that which was rebelled against with Moneyball—that “old boys club”. Outsiders have become insiders, except that now, it’s not a litany of former players and longtime employees, but young college graduates who cut their teeth as interns, crunched numbers and worked their way up; it’s reaching its logical conclusion with the failures of such names as Paul DePodesta, whose tenure with the Dodgers was a nightmare that cannot be conveniently laid at the feet of Frank McCourt as many set out to do in his weak defense.

Beane himself has become a punchline.

And that’s a far cry from what was essentially a blank check and contract that Red Sox owner John Henry used to lure Beane to the Red Sox.

In today’s world, a GM has to be savvy to finances, scouting, development and stats; he has to delegate; and he (or she—Kim Ng is going to interview for the Angels job) has to be able to express himself to the media, saying things without saying anything to get into trouble.

Epstein has all these attributes.

But so did Beane.

Could another GM candidate like Jerry DiPoto or Tony LaCava go to the Cubs and do essentially what Epstein’s going to do? What he did with the Red Sox? Spend money, draft well, make some trades that might or might not work out and cover up any free agent mistakes with more money?

Yes.

And could they do it at a cheaper rate than $18.5 million for Epstein; presumably another $5 million for Hoyer; and the prospects that are going to the  Padres and Red Sox?

Again, I say yes.

Time will tell if this was a smart move. Just as the Red Sox were fortunate that Beane backed out on them and they hired Epstein, the Cubs could see one of the people they had a chance to hire go elsewhere and become the man they think they’re hiring now, except another club will benefit from that unknown.

The Cubs got the man they wanted.

We’ll see if it works out or if they would’ve been better off to have had the negotiations come apart, leaving them to hire someone younger and with the same attributes that got Epstein the Red Sox job in the first place.

//

Advertisements

The Padres Generosity Of The Absurd

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

With the near end to the negotiations freeing Theo Epstein to join the Cubs as team president and the simultaneously anticipated and apparently agreed to deal for Jed Hoyer to the Padres to take over as Cubs GM, the differences in the machinations are stark.

The Red Sox are getting something for the right to poach their contracted employee and the Padres aren’t.

Epstein is under contract for one more season with the Red Sox and the club was being outrageous in its initial demands for compensation as they asked for Matt Garza; Hoyer is under contract to the Padres until 2014, but owner Jeff Moorad isn’t asking for anything in return.

It’s strange bordering on irrational.

And it’s making me wonder exactly what’s going on in San Diego.

Josh Byrnes is reportedly going to step right in and take over for Hoyer; he’s a qualified GM and was hired by Moorad when he ran the Diamondbacks.

Hoyer did a good job with the Padres considering the mandate he was under to trade Adrian Gonzalez and payroll constraints. The team made a shocking leap into contention in 2010, he acquired veterans Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Tejada (without giving up anything for them) to try and win; he got the jewels of the Red Sox farm system for Gonzalez; acquired top prospects for Mike Adams; and acquired Cameron Maybin for replaceable bullpen pieces.

Other deals, like the one for Jason Bartlett, haven’t worked out; and he should’ve traded Heath Bell before Bell’s yapping mouth and declining performance put the Padres in an unwinnable situation.

But he’s done the best he could with the hand he was dealt.

And he’s bailing.

There’s been an odd aura around the Padres for years.

From Sandy Alderson’s management style of cultivating factions; pushing Bruce Bochy out the door because Bochy rebelled against front office interference and he was making too much money for Alderson’s tastes; hoping that former GM Kevin Towers would get the Diamondbacks GM job in 2005 (that went to Byrnes), then putting Towers in a position where he was either going to get on Alderson’s train of dysfunction or get dragged behind it; to having Paul DePodesta operating what amounted to a spy agency independent of Towers; to the way things have developed under Moorad, it’s as if they like to have dysfunction over cohesion.

The tree of bizarreness for this is striking.

Clearly Moorad thinks a lot of the Red Sox because he hired both Byrnes and Hoyer from their positions as assistants to Epstein; what’s also clear is that Moorad prefers Byrnes as his GM. Why else would he simply let Hoyer go to another club in the same league and not ask for anything—anything at all—for him? Something?

What makes it worse is that Moorad made his name in sports as an agent.

One would assume that he knows the sanctity of a contract and why its terms shouldn’t be violated; or at least the team interested in an employee under said contract should provide something of value in exchange.

Perhaps he isn’t all that impressed with Hoyer to begin with and wanted Byrnes all along.

It’s bad business to have another club raiding his front office and for him to say, “okay, go” as if he doesn’t care one way or the other; Moorad being fine with it shouldn’t matter. No one wants to be perceived as the guy who can be stolen from without consequences; it’s a bad precedent to set.

//