Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cubs: The wonks are running the asylum

Posted By on 11.02.11 at 09:00 AM

800px-Theo_Epstein_in_2007.jpg

Not to belabor the obvious, but when Theo Epstein finally got the band back together—introducing Jed Hoyer as the Cubs' new general manager at Wrigley Field yesterday and Jason McLeod as head of scouting and player development—it was impossible not to be impressed with just how young they all are. Epstein and Hoyer are 37, McLeod 39. Epstein and McLeod have been in Major League Baseball since their teens and have worked 13 years together; Hoyer was a relative late arrival after pitching in college, but also worked eight years with Epstein in Boston with the Red Sox before taking McLeod with him when he became GM of the San Diego Padres two years ago. They all project confidence and certainty about what they do and how they go about it, but they aren't polished media pros. They're wonks, and in an era dominated by Sabermetrics and baseball statistical analysts they were among the first to prove it worked, winning the World Series with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007. For Cubs fans of a certain age, it is positively mind-blowing to think they've inherited (or, more accurately, seized) the seat of power previously occupied by the likes of Bob Kennedy and John Holland.

While the challenge of bringing the Cubs their first championship in more than a century offers more than enough potential prestige for three men, it's also clear that their own unique camaraderie brought them to the club. "This job became a lot more attractive once it became clear I had a chance to land both these guys," Epstein said.

McLeod spoke of how the Padres were his hometown team. "There's no other reason I would have left San Diego than to work with Theo again," he said.

Epstein said his dynamic with Hoyer will largely remain the same as in Boston, with the two spurring each other on, only with Epstein moving up a rung to president of baseball operations and Hoyer having "traditional general-manager duties" to "run the major-league club day to day."

Yet it's telling that Epstein stepped in to poach a couple media questions intended for Hoyer: He said the team would undertake "a thorough process to determine what's best for the Cubs" where Carlos Zambrano is concerned (perhaps to elevate his trade value, as no player is harder to move than one a team has said it will definitely move), and largely waved good-bye to free agent Aramis Ramirez, while leaving open the possibility he could yet sign a multiyear deal to return. Epstein also damned manager Mike Quade with faint praise, saying, "Mike is certainly a good baseball guy."

These three project the attitude that being "a good baseball guy," of a sort the Cubs have traditionally relied on, is no longer good enough.

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