Cubs

David Kaplan's book "The Plan" goes behind the scenes on how Tom Ricketts hired Theo Epstein to turn Cubs around

David Kaplan's book "The Plan" goes behind the scenes on how Tom Ricketts hired Theo Epstein to turn Cubs around

In David Kaplan's book "The Plan," the CSN Chicago and ESPN 1000 personality chronicles the Cubs' journey from Lovable Losers to World Series Champs thanks to the blueprint of Theo Epstein's front office and Joe Maddon's coaching staff.

The book includes a forward by Anthony Rizzo, the face of the franchise since coming over in Epstein's first major trade with the Cubs in January 2012.

This excerpt is from Chapter 5 entitled "Getting Theo" and explains Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts' thought process as he went out and hired Epstein to be the president of baseball operations on Chicago's North Side:

It was late in the 2010 season and the Chicago Cubs were struggling on the field. Manager Lou Piniella had resigned to spend time with his family and his ailing mother. With the Cubs business plan starting to take shape, it was time for Tom Ricketts to take a much closer look at the state of his entire baseball operations department.

At the major league level he saw a team headed in the wrong direction with an aging roster and very few long-term assets that could be part of a championship-caliber team. He also found a crumbling foundation throughout his minor league system. There were very few impact-caliber prospects and the Cubs most recent drafts had produced very little in the way of future stars.

In fact, the Cubs’ first round draft picks dating back to 1998 would all struggle to be major contributors at the big league level for various reasons. From injuries to potential stars Mark Prior and Corey Patterson to picks that were complete busts, the Cubs’ minor league system was one of the game’s worst. This despite the fact that the team had picked in the top six of the draft an astounding five times in 11 draft classes.

Tom Ricketts commissioned a study of every franchise’s minor league system and their draft records to find out who in Major League Baseball was making the most of acquiring young, controllable talent. He found several teams that had done a very good job but one team stood out above the rest in his evaluations.

The Boston Red Sox had built a perennial contender through multiple avenues of player acquisition including the draft, international free agency, trades, and major league free agency. In the same period where the Cubs had struggled, the Red Sox had hit pay dirt throughout the draft, which is as big a hit or miss proposition as there is in the sport.

To evaluate a player aged 18–21 (depending on if they were a high school prospect or a college player) and to project his level of success against the very best players in the world is at best an inexact science. However, the Red Sox had landed All-Stars at that time like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, and future all stars like Anthony Rizzo, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and several others who were making a major impact throughout baseball.

A productive farm system is the key to building a successful franchise because not only does it provide a pipeline of young talent but it is talent that is extremely inexpensive. MLB players are not allowed to test free agency until they have completed six full seasons in the big leagues. This system keeps them relatively cost-controlled, which allows franchises to spend bigger money on veterans who are free agents.

However, free agency is fraught with risks because teams are paying top dollar for a player who is almost always near or older than 30 or 31, which is when most players start to see a decline in their productivity. Players older than 30 are a big risk to sign to deals that are longer than three or four years because of the cost to acquire them and the chance that the back end of the deals will not see the productivity of the player to justify the large salary that they are almost always receiving.

Taking all of this into account, Tom Ricketts knew that he needed to hire a general manager who could rebuild the Cubs’ substandard farm system. For far too long the Cubs had swung and missed in the upper rounds of the draft despite picking in the top ten on several occasions. Missing on a high pick can set a franchise back for years. Missing on multiple high picks can keep a team near the bottom of the standings for an extended period, which is just where the Cubs found themselves on multiple occasions including the 2010–14 seasons, after a poor draft record from 2000 to 2010.

“I knew what I was looking for after I made the decision to part ways with Jim Hendry. We needed to rebuild our farm system and start producing young talent that could make an impact at the major league level. I commissioned two of our front office guys to study every team in Major League Baseball and to see who was doing the best job in the draft and in each of the various ways that a team goes about acquiring talent.

“Every study that we did kept coming back to Theo and to the Red Sox. They did the best job at drafting and developing players who were making a big impact at the major league level. But until we made the decision to change our baseball operations hierarchy I had no idea who we were going to hire. In fact, until Jim’s departure was announced in August I had not made one call or conducted one interview,” Ricketts said.

However, all of that was about to change. There were rumblings in the industry that Epstein was unhappy in Boston and that his differences with Boston’s ownership group could pave the way for his departure from the franchise possibly as soon as that fall.

Ricketts quietly went about his business talking with different baseball people who all gave him advice on what he should do with his suddenly vacant baseball operations post. He spoke with Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, former Dodgers GM Dan Evans, and White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn, among other qualified baseball men in the industry.

However, according to Ricketts, the only man that he ever formally interviewed for the post as the head of the Cubs baseball operations department was Theo Epstein. And the first person to recommend Theo Epstein to Tom Ricketts? That was none other than baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who knew that Epstein was looking for a fresh start and that the Red Sox were okay with him departing Boston.

“I knew the Cubs were making a change and I knew that Theo wanted out of Boston. That relationship had run its course and as the season was winding [down] I talked with Tom about what he was looking for in a new GM and I knew that Theo would be a perfect fit in Chicago. The Cubs got permission from the Red Sox to talk with Theo once the regular season ended and I knew that once they met it would be a perfect fit,” Selig told me.

This excerpt from The Plan: Epstein, Maddon, and the Audacious Blueprint for a Cubs Dynasty by David Kaplan is printed with the permission of Triumph Books.  For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/ThePlan.

Cubs reportedly interested in Troy Tulowitzki

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly interested in Troy Tulowitzki

According to MLB Insider Jon Heyman, the Cubs are one of the teams interested in free agent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. The 5-time All-Star will be holding a workout soon, with Chicago being one of the six teams reported to have a scout present at his workout.

Heyman did mention that while the Cubs aren’t necessarily the favorites right now, we will know how good of a chance they will have soon. Tulowitzki and his team are reported to be narrowing down their list to (at least) 6 teams.

Last season Tulowitzki played 66 games for the Blue Jays, batting .249 with 7 home runs and 26 RBI. For his career he is a .290 hitter and is looking for a bounce-back season after dealing with complications from bone spur injuries in both heels over the years.

Toronto has to pay the $38 million left on Tulowitzki's contract, freeing up other teams to sign the veteran to a more reasonable deal. Since the Blue Jays went the route of cutting him, teams can offer Tulowitzki a league minimum salary.

For the Cubs, he represents-however small-a chance to extract great value from a veteran player, which would be a big bonus considering how the Yu Darvish signing backfired in year one.

Tulowitzki is likely to be searching for playing time on a legit title contender, so if he can provide any solid offensive production going forward, he and the Cubs could be a solid match.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Winter Meetings recap

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Winter Meetings recap

When nothing happens in Vegas, it stays in Vegas. Luke, Kap and Tony talk about the Cubs lack of moves during the Winter Meetings.

In this episode of the Cubs Talk Podcast with Luke Stuckmeyer, David Kaplan and Tony Andracki:

00:10 - What happen in Vegas stays in Vegas and this year that means nothing. Luke, Kap & Tony talk Cubs lack of moves at Winter Meetings.

00:50 - Where the heck is all the money? This was supposed to be a wide-open window - we step on the accelerator.

01:25 - Cubs keep throwing money at the problem (Chatwood, Darvish) and it has become a cautionary tale.

02:50 - Are the Cubs playing at the shallow end of the kiddie pool?

03:50 - Tony talks about the volatility of the relief market.

05:15 - Where is the bullpen market? Brewers are making moves, but it's still "crickets" for the Cubs.

06:20 - Tony: Other than bullpen - Cubs have to address backup middle infielder most of all.

06:57 - Daniel Descalso rumors. Kap describes him as a grinder who fits the leadership mold.

07:47 - Luke is a little worried about Steve Cishek. He threw a career-high 70 innings last season.

09:34 - The guys talk about the possibility of a "second deadline" for the Winter Meetings to force clubs to make more moves.

11:06 - Luke: "I wanted to see Machado and Harper walking down the strip and making it rain!"

12:45 - Cubs still have so much to address. Some Cubs fans are starting to get a little itchy. Teams in the division are making moves. What about us?

14:45 - Question: Is Anthony Rizzo the third-best 1st baseman in the Central Division?

15:50 - Prediction time: What's biggest move the Cubs will make before opening day? Kap believes that Ian Happ will not be a Cub before the regular season starts.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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