Theo Epstein

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.

Looking Ahead to Next Year’s Hall of Fame Ballot

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 15:  Chipper Jones #10 of the Atlanta Braves stands in the on-deck circle prior to batting against the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field on May 15, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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We’re only a night’s sleep removed from the 2017 Hall of Fame class being announced but, hey, why not look ahead to next year’s ballot?

After yesterday’s vote there are two guys clearly banging on the door: Trevor Hoffman at 74% and Vladimir Guerrero at  71.7%. It’d be shocking if they didn’t get in.

Also back, of course, and already polling over 50%, which tends to ensure eventual election, are Edgar Martinez (58.6); Roger Clemens (54.1); Barry Bonds (53.8); and Mike Mussina (51.8). All of them are worthy and each of them should have some segment of the baseball commentariat pushing their cases.

But the new class of eligibles is formidable too. Let’s take a preliminary look at everyone we’ll be arguing about next December:

  • Chipper Jones: You have to figure he’s a first ballot guy;
  • Jim Thome: 612 homers will say a lot and, I suspect, most people believe he’s a first ballot guy too. Still, his handling will be curious. Yes, was a better hitter than Sammy Sosa. But was he so much better that it justifies Thome getting 75% in his first year while Sosa is scraping by in single digits? According to Baseball-Reference.com, Thome and Sosa are each other’s most similar comp in history. This is less a Thome point than a Sosa one, of course. I think they both belong.
  • Omar Vizquel: Every few years a defensive specialist hits the ballot and the writers go crazy. When a defensive specialist who got along really, really well with the press comes along, Katie bar the door. Vizquel is gonna cause a lot of arguments about the measurement and value of defense. He’s also going to cause a lot of people to say things like “you had to watch him play” and “it’s not the Hall of Stats!” He’s going to cause a lot of stathead types to counter with “but Scott Rolen was just as good on defense as Vizquel, but you don’t like him!” It’s gonna get ugly. It’ll be glorious.
  • Johnny Damon and Andruw Jones: Will probably be one-and-done, but way better than you remember. If we wanna talk defense, I’ll offer that I have never seen a better defensive center field in my lifetime than Jones. It’s a shame that his falling off a cliff in his 30s will taint that as his legacy.
  • Chris Carpenter and Livan Hernandez: Hall of pretty darn good pitchers who will be fun to talk about;
  • Hideki Matsui: Also one and done, but everyone loves him so I bet he gets some “good guy” votes;
  • Jamie Moyer: A first-time eligible at age 55. Sandy Koufax had been in the Hall of Fame for 18 years when he was the age Moyer will be when he hits the ballot.
  • Scott Rolen: Way better than people believe now and way better than people said at the time. As suggested above, his defense was nowhere near as raved about during his career as it would be if he played today. If his 72.7 career bWAR was heavier on offense as opposed to distributed 52.1/20.6 on offense and defense, people would’ve probably talked him up more. Career WAR for Jim Thome: 72.9. Career WAR for Derek Jeter: 71.8.
  • Johan Santana: The Hall of What Could’ve Been if Shoulders Weren’t So Dumb.
  • Kerry Wood: The Hall of What Could’ve Been if Elbows Weren’t So Dumb. Still, if Jack Morris can stick on the ballot for 15 years based on one dang game, I don’t see why Wood can’t get some support based on a better one.

There are a couple of other fun “oh my God, how has he been retired that long?” names that will appear on next year’s ballot. Check out the whole list here.

Jorge Posada highlights 16 one-and-done players on Hall of Fame ballot

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 24:  Jorge Posada addresses the media during a press conference to announces his retirement from the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on January 24, 2012 in the Bronx borough of  New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada received only 17 total votes (3.8 percent) on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot. Unfortunately, he is one of 16 players who fell short of the five percent vote threshold and is no longer eligible on the ballot. The other players are Magglio Ordonez (three votes, 0.7 percent), Edgar Renteria (two, 0.5 percent), Jason Varitek (two, 0.5 percent), Tim Wakefield (one, 0.2 percent), Casey Blake (zero), Pat Burrell (zero), Orlando Cabrera (zero), Mike Cameron (zero), J.D. Drew (zero), Carlos Guillen (zero), Derrek Lee (zero), Melvin Mora (zero), Arthur Rhodes (zero), Freddy Sanchez (zero), and Matt Stairs (zero).

Posada, 45, helped the Yankees win four World Series championships from 1998-2000 as well as 2009. He made the American League All-Star team five times, won five Silver Sluggers, and had a top-three AL MVP Award finish. Posada also hit 20 or more homers in eight seasons, finished with a career adjusted OPS (a.k.a. OPS+) of 121, and accrued 42.7 Wins Above Replacement in his 17-year career according to Baseball Reference.

While Posada’s OPS+ and WAR are lacking compared to other Hall of Famers — he was 18th of 34 eligible players in JAWS, Jay Jaffe’s WAR-based Hall of Fame metric — catchers simply have not put up the same kind of numbers that players at other positions have. That’s likely because catching is such a physically demanding position and often results in injuries and shortened careers. It is, perhaps, not an adjustment voters have thought to make when considering Posada’s eligibility.

Furthermore, Posada’s quick ouster is somewhat due to the crowded ballot. Most voters had a hard time figuring out which 10 players to vote for. Had Posada been on the ballot in a different era, writers likely would have found it easier to justify voting for him.

Posada joins Kenny Lofton in the “unjustly one-and-done” group.