I don't believe the headline to this post is hyperbole, either.
Everything we as Cubs fans would have wanted from our ideal general manager choice, I believe we have now working for the team in Theo Epstein, the new President of Baseball Operations for the Cubs. In front of what was described to me as possibly the largest news conference gathering in the history of Wrigley Field -- well over 100 people -- Epstein was introduced by Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts.
The most important thing he said was that he had learned to be "inconspicuous at Starbucks."
No, obviously that's not the most important thing, but it generated warm laughter in the room and -- since I always say I'll admit it when I'm wrong, clearly I was wrong about Starbucks-gate; Theo was at the Starbucks which happens to be only a few blocks from my house, just a couple of weekends ago.
The real most important things that Epstein said, I believe, were that he intends to build an organization dedicated to fundamentals at all levels, that there will be a "Cubs Way" of doing things, written down in a manual for all players in the organization; further, that he believes in using both an "objective and subjective" lens to analyze players, noting that "the best organizations" use both scouting and data in choosing the best players for their teams.
Really, none of us could have wanted this to have come out any better than it has; the Cubs got the best possible man to head up baseball operations, a man who has a precise idea of what to do and how to get there, and a track record of success.
After the jump, more on what was said and what Epstein's first orders of business should be.
Epstein said that he has spoken to Mike Quade on the phone and would meet with him in person soon. I don't think anyone here -- myself included -- thinks that meeting will result in anything other than Quade (and his coaching staff) being replaced. Quade seems like a decent guy, but he was way over his head as a major league manager. I've made my preference clear -- I think Ryne Sandberg should be hired -- some of you may differ. Sandberg is well qualified; so are others. But I think all of us agree that soon, Epstein -- or, possibly Jed Hoyer if, as rumored, he is hired as second-in-command -- will announce a new manager and coaching staff. I suppose it's possible that Rudy Jaramillo, who has a year left on his deal, might be retained; Jaramillo hasn't had very good results, but it's possible that under new leadership, maybe he could have better luck.
He also needs to decide what to do with the contract elephants in the room, those of Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano. It's not likely the Cubs will get more than token salary relief from them, but they need to, and move on. Epstein said that he didn't think it was impossible to turn things around and contend right away even while building a strong organization from the bottom up, citing the fact that other teams (he didn't name any specific ones) have done so. I would expect him to approach this offseason with that approach.
He didn't say anything specific about the compensation issue in front of him -- how odd, to have to negotiate compensation for himself -- but hinted it would get done soon, either between him and Ben Cherington, or possibly even with mediation from the commissioner's office.
He also made some interesting comments about why it was time for him to leave Boston; he quoted former NFL coach Bill Walsh on saying that about 10 years in a job like that was enough both for the individual and the organization, that both had to move on after that much time. For Epstein and the Red Sox, then, it was right -- and also, for the Cubs after nine years under Jim Hendry. The timing has been perfect.
But the most important thing I heard from Theo Epstein this morning was this: he has an absolutely clear understanding of everything he needs to know to tackle this job. He said that in addition to growing up a Red Sox fan in Boston, he used to watch Cubs games on WGN after school -- just as many of us did. So he understands that tradition. He understands what an historic ballpark means -- and also said he knows what renovations can do in terms of getting the revenue needed to put the organization together the way it needs to be to win. He's been through the World Series drought as a Red Sox fan and executive, so he clearly understands how Cubs fans feel about that -- and also what it meant to the fans of the Red Sox when they finally did win.
Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella came to Chicago wanting to be "the guy" to bring the Cubs a World Series title. That's not the same job, of course, but by the time both men left the Cubs, beaten down, they both admitted they didn't know what they were getting into when they came to Chicago. I believe Theo Epstein does know exactly what he's getting into, and further, he has a specific plan and idea for how to bring the World Series title that we have all dreamed of here to the North Side of Chicago.
Go get 'em, Theo. And don't forget to stop at Starbucks on your way to work. I can even show you around the neighborhood. Welcome to Chicago.