DALLAS Theo Epstein has the luxury of a five-year contract, a mandate from ownership to build from within, all without having to worry about getting headlines or selling tickets.
Epstein has moments of anxiety after he signs a free agent. Almost by definition, he knows he overpaid, because those deals usually close with the highest bid. Thats the backdrop as the Cubs remain quiet so far at the winter meetings.
Theres a winners curse associated with that sometimes, Epstein said Wednesday. That moment when youre at the press conference and youre holding up the jersey, youre sitting there thinking this could be a great moment in franchise history.
And then theres a big voice in the back of your head saying: I might be regretting this for the next six years.
You cant get away from it. And that voice is louder than the one that says: This could be a great thing for the team going forward. Because just look at the history of long-term free agent contracts. They tend not to work out.
Not long after general manager Jed Hoyer told MLB.TV that the coverage of the Cubs interest in Prince Fielder was overblown, Epstein said that were not close to anything big.
While Albert Pujols apparently leans toward returning to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs are focused on small, incremental moves.
Epstein met with the agency that represents Kerry Wood and again said that bringing back the franchise ambassador is a priority: Our bullpen looks a lot better with him in it, so does our clubhouse.
As expected, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena declined arbitration, meaning the Cubs will pick up one or two draft picks as compensation. Ramirez has drawn some interest from the Los Angeles Angels and Milwaukee Brewers and will not return to the North Side.
The Cubs continue to have a dialogue with Penas camp. But as a left-handed power hitter who plays Gold Glove defense and is a good clubhouse influence, Epstein thinks Pena could get a bigger multiyear deal that doesnt fit in their plans.
The Cubs are going to be linked with Fielder, because thats how this game works. Scott Boras, the industrys most powerful agent, emerged late Wednesday night to hold court with the media for the first time this week at the Hilton Anatole.
This is a negotiation that is really one of its own because hes 27 years old, Boras said. He has a different place in the market and the demands for his services are broader because you have teams that are not as playoff-ready that are interested. You have clubs that are very veteran that are interested. So you have a whole variety of teams that are involved.
He asked me to take an open view and collect all the information here from each club. I didnt meet with too many teams that said that they were three years away. Thats not something you hear too often.
The Cubs are not a team built to win now, which is why Pujols doesnt make sense. Fielder doesnt fit neatly into their box either. Big moves or small, Epstein says no one really knows for sure until five or 10 years later.
Epstein pointed to his first winter as general manager of the Boston Red Sox, 2002 into 2003.
We signed a released player for a million bucks, who turned out to be David Ortiz, Epstein said. We signed a previously injured third baseman who couldnt hit for power in Bill Mueller, who ended up winning the batting title. (We) claimed a guy off waivers who was headed to Japan that no one wanted in the States (named Kevin Millar).
Those are the types of moves, to be honest, that were focused on. Thats what fits where we are right now and fits the picture with our resources and our roster to try to get incrementally better.
Ozzie Guillen wishes Epstein the best with this patient plan. But the new Miami Marlins manager had one warning.
Chicago people, they forget pretty quick, Guillen said. Its a very tough town. I live (there) and Im a Chicago fan (and) they need some great stuff out of there. I think this man has great, great, great ideas and theyre going to do fine. But remember that one: I hope they love him in two years the way they love him right now.