Theo Epstein in Chicago: Can he break a second curse?

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The first thing most people thought when the rumors of Theo Epstein possibly joining the Chicago Cubs began to circulate was “can he do it again?”  Can the man credited with ending baseball’s most famous world championship drought end baseball’s longest?  Now that Epstein and the Cubs have a deal, it’s worth taking a look at the challenge facing him in Chicago and asking ourselves if Theo Epstein can make lightning strike twice.

There are no guarantees in life, but there is reason to be optimistic about Epstein’s chances to turn the Cubs into a winner. Why? Because many of the same challenges he faced when he took over the Red Sox exist with the Cubs.

Epstein is very familiar with the overall milieu in which the Cubs currently find themselves. When he took over in Boston he inherited a franchise with a dispirited and fatalistic fan base and a team which called a near-dilapidated ballpark home.  He changed the mood soon after he arrived and helped change the narrative as ownership embarked on substantial ballpark renovations.  No, you can’t credit Theo Epstein with all of that — it was John Henry’s dollars which transformed Fenway Park from a place which had seen better years into a perpetually-sold out gem — but Epstein knows what faces the Cubs in this regard.

More substantively, at the top of the Cubs’ list of baseball-needs is fixing a farm system that, while recently spitting out a gem in Starlin Castro, seems to be much better at coming up with role players instead of future stars.  WEEI’s Alex Speier writes today about how back in 2003 Epstein made it his first mission to build a “scouting and player development machine.” While many of Epstein’s big-ticket free agent signings have been busts recently, he and his able assistants — many of whom went on to become general managers themselves — revamped the Red Sox’ player development apparatus.

Indeed, in his first three drafts, Epstein chose Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury. It may be hard to see player development as a strength of Epstein’s today given that he’s become more notable for high dollar free agent signings — and given that the young talent that he has acquired in recent years has been dealt to land players such as Adrian Gonzalez — but a steady stream of talent has been developed under Epstein’s watch and such an approach should be Epstein’s first task when he starts work this fall.

Finally there’s the matter of all of that expensive aging talent on the Cubs’ roster.  Yes, we are fixated on the Red Sox’ big bad contracts right now (e.g. John Lackey and Carl Crawford), but it doesn’t take too much effort to look back at what Epstein did in his early years in Boston to see that he’s the right man to fix the Cubs’ case of Chronic Bad and Expensive Syndrome.

Epstein cast off popular but aging and expensive stars like Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra. He got rid of Manny Ramirez despite his still-elite production when his antics became too much to bear. He made what we forget now were bargain moves like snagging David Ortiz and locking up young stars like Pedroia, Jon Lester and Kevin Youkilis to long-term contracts before they got expensive in arbitration.  He stuck with the then-young and rising Lester and declined to include him in a package for what was thought to be a sure-fire ace in Johan Santana.

Now transfer those examples to the Cubs.  Is there any doubt with that track record that Epstein will be able to figure out that the next winning Cubs team will not have guys like Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano playing critical roles? Is there any doubt that he’ll be able to ensure that Starlin Castro gets locked up and becomes the centerpiece of the club going forward? That he won’t make shortsighted moves to trade for veterans who, while well-known, aren’t suited for where the team currently finds itself on the success cycle?

Like I said above: there are no guarantees.  If the last month of baseball has shown us, predicting baseball is a sucker’s game.  Epstein may flop in Chicago and the title drought may go to 200 years before it ends.  But as one looks around the game, one would be hard-pressed to find a person more familiar with the challenges facing the Chicago Cubs and with a more successful track record at addressing those exact challenges than Theo Epstein.

It’s a great hire. And one that should give Cubs fans real hope for the first time in a long time.

Derek Jeter and Jeb Bush still don’t have the money to buy the Marlins

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Despite all of the excitement yesterday about Derek Jeter and Jeb Bush “winning” the bidding for the Miami Marlins, there remains one minor detail: they don’t have the money.

At least not yet. That’s according to the Wall Street Journal which reports that, as recently as Monday afternoon, Jeter and Bush were calling bankers and other potential financiers to put up the $1.3-1.6 billion needed to buy the team. Jeter and Bush may be rich men, but they’re not that rich, and the WSJ reports that they’d merely be the front men with the real cash coming from silent partners.

Oftentimes men come along who want to buy a major league baseball team who have gobs of cash but do not pass muster with MLB on a personal level. At the moment, anyway, the Bush-Jeter group has the opposite problem. If they get the dough, MLB will no doubt welcome them into the ownership club with open arms. They just need to get the dough.

A detail, I presume, which will eventually be remedied. But not a minor detail.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Astros 4, Indians 2: Dallas Keuchel does it again. This time he tosses a complete game, allowing only two solo homers. He’s 4-0 on the season with a 1.22 ERA, keeping everything low and forcing opposing hitters to beat the ball into the ground for the most part. It’s like 2015 all over again. Scary moment, though, when Jose Altuve and Teoscar Hernandez collided while chasing a pop fly. Each left the game, but Altuve could theoretically play today. Hernandez is likely to miss some time with a leg contusion.

Cubs 1, Pirates 0: Kyle Hendricks shut out the Pirates for six innings on four hits and three relievers finished the job, allowing only one hit more. Gerrit Cole shut down the Cubs for seven innings and allowed only two hits, but a throwing error by second baseman Alen Hanson allowed the game’s lone run to score. Tough break for Cole. The Pirates have allowed more unearned runs (15) and have committed more errors (20) than any team in baseball this year.

Rays 2, Orioles 0: Erasmo Ramirez was supposed to start for the Rays, but because of the cold, rainy conditions that seemed like would lead to rain delays, manager Kevin Cash instead made it a bullpen game, running five relievers out there. Austin Pruitt started and went three innings and Chase Whitley chipped in three later in the game and was adjudged the winner by the official scorer. The results: great for Tampa Bay, as the five men combined on a two-hit shutout. This is the kind of game I fear will set a bad precedent, however. Might we one day have a dreadful future when this dynamic, combined with some new roster rules, leads to a couple of games a week when clubs consist of, essentially, 14-man pitching staffs and bullpen games become common occurrences? (shudder)

Tigers 19, Mariners 9: Or maybe I shouldn’t fear bullpen games that much? Here Felix Hernandez was chased after two innings in which he allowed four runs on six hits — the team would later say he’s suffering from dead arm — turning this into a defacto bullpen game. The bullpen . . . was lacking. Detroit beat the tar out of ’em, piling up 24 hits, despite Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Jose Iglesias‘s absences. The Tigers bullpen wasn’t great, even with a commanding lead, yielding four runs in three innings of work. In all the teams combined for 40 hits and 14 walks in a nine inning game that went three hours and forty-three minutes. Ugly.

Brewers 9, Reds 1: Eric Thames homered again — his 11th of the year, eight of which have come against the Reds — but the game was well out of hand by then. Zach Davies tossed five shutout innings. Hernan Perez hit two RBI triples and a homer while Jonathan Villar hit two two-run singles.

Twins 8, Rangers 1: A seven run fifth inning made this one a laugher. Ervin Santana, Major League Baseball’s current ERA leader, allowed one run, four hits and one walk while striking out six in seven innings. Miguel Sano hit a 424-foot homer in the fifth and, later that same inning, singled in another run.

White Sox 10, Royals 5: The Chisox post double digits on the Royals for the second straight night. Todd Frazier had two doubles and drove in three. Leury Garcia and Omar Narvaez each knocked in a couple. Kansas City has dropped six straight and are off to their worst start since 2012. I guess the Royals Renaissance is no more.

Blue Jays 6, Cardinals 5: We talked about this at length already, but boy howdy, do we need to see it again:

That’s the sort of thing a guy writing a baseball movie would put in the script only to have it cut out later by the director because it’s too unrealistic.

Just as impressive, even if it wasn’t as visually spectacular, was Marcus Stroman, who wasn’t even supposed to be working yesterday, pinch-hitting in the 11th inning, knocking a double for his first big league hit, and coming around to score the go-ahead and, ultimately, winning run.

Nationals 15, Rockies 12: Trea Turner hit for the cycle, knocking a single in the first, a two-run double in the second, a two-run homer in the sixth and a bases-loaded triple in the seventh, driving in seven runs in all. But it wasn’t just him, as Coors Field featured Pitchers Need Not Apply Night. These two combined for 27 runs on 29 hits and eight walks, given up by a combined 11 pitchers. All on a cold night, too.

Diamondbacks 9, Padres 3: Paul Goldschmidt had four hits, a dinger included, and drove in three. He’s driven in at least two runs in four straight games. Chris Owings drove in three and Daniel Descalso hit a solo homer. The Dbacks are 14-8, with a 10-2 record at Chase Field.

Angels 2, Athletics 1: Traffic can be rough in Orange County, but you could’ve showed up over two hours late for this one and not missed any scoring, as it was tied at zero for nine innings. Josh Phegley hit a pinch-hit homer for Oakland in the top of the 10th, Mike Trout countered with a solo shot of his own in the bottom half and then Kole Calhoun walked ’em off with an RBI single in the bottom of the 11th off of Ryan Madson. Lost in all of this were excellent performances from the A’s Jesse Hahn, who allowed only one hit over eight shutout innings, and the Angels JC Ramirez, who allowed only two hits over seven. So, no, you maybe didn’t want to miss the first couple hours of this one. Pitching rules.

Dodgers 2, Giants 1: Clayton Kershaw certainly rules. The ace of aces allowed one run while scattering six hits over seven innings while striking out seven. All this on a night when he didn’t have his best stuff and had a wrapped up leg after being hit by a pitch early in the game. The Dodgers snapped a six-game losing streak in AT&T Park.

Marlins vs. Phillies; Yankees vs. Red Sox; Braves vs. Mets — POSTPONED:

Last time I was here, it was rainin’
It ain’t raining anymore
The streets were drowned, and the water’s waning
All the runes washed to shore
Now I’m here lookin’ through the rubble
Tryin’ to find out who we were
Last time I was here, it was rainin’
Ain’t rainin’ anymore