Theo Epstein promised that the buzz surrounding his hire would fade.
An executive cant be the face of the franchise for long. The attention would have to swing back toward the players. No one buys tickets to watch the president of baseball operations watch the game from a luxury suite.
There have been plenty of sea-change moments around the Cubs the past nine months. Aramis Ramirez, their best third baseman since Ron Santo, walked as a free agent. Carlos Zambrano made his pitch to Epstein at Goose Island Wrigleyville and was shipped to the Miami Marlins. Kerry Wood hugged his son by the dugout and retired in a perfect made-for-TV moment.
But it sharply came into focus this week during the final 18 hours or so before the trade deadline. Ryan Dempster will now be throwing to Geovany Soto with the Texas Rangers. Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm, two low-key professionals, will blend into the Atlanta Braves clubhouse.
Alfonso Soriano is now the only player left from the 2007 Opening Day roster, which was managed by Lou Piniella and put together during the wild win one for the Tribune spending spree.
Soriano, Carlos Marmol and Jeff Samardzija are the only remaining players from the 2008 team that won 97 games. On Friday night, the Cubs return to Dodger Stadium, where that year they were swept out of the playoffs, beginning a downward spiral.
Its weird, said Darwin Barney, the 26-year-old second baseman. Someone was saying, Man, youre a salty veteran now on this team. I look around and its pretty crazy what direction were going in. I think a lot of us are excited about it. But at the same time, were sad that big pieces had to go.
We know that we played ourselves into this position. Were still at that stage where we got to get better. We got to get better top to bottom.
That wont happen simply through corporate efficiency and turning short-term assets into long-term assets.
Dempster, Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have all done their media blitzes, reconstructing their versions of the Braves deal and the Dodgers negotiations.
By the end, it was hard to tell who was the hammer and who was the nail. This was millionaire vs. millionaire and neither one probably got what he really wanted deep down.
This isnt about winning the hearts and minds of Cubs fans. Its simply to point out that WAR and VORP and the advanced stats dont tell the entire story, and remind you how difficult this chemistry experiment will be in the years to come.
Earlier this summer, Randy Wells sat in the dugout at U.S. Cellular Field and reflected on the many ups and downs and how much Dempster meant to his career.
If you dont have the confidence or the swagger or the belief that you can go out there and get it done, then thats the hardest thing to find, Wells said. You cant find that in a weight room or a video room. You got to find that yourself. Thats something Ryan brings to the table, because hes been doing it for a long time. If theres anybody that can get people through that, its a guy like him.
This describes Ryan to a T: He is not going to quit until he thinks that he has outworked everybody else. I remember a speech he gave to the minor-league guys one time (several years ago). He said: You might be better than me. You might have a better arm. But youre not going to outwork me.
Dempster can be single-minded and insanely competitive. The screaming during those dugout tantrums at PNC Park was probably nothing compared to what happened behind closed doors.
Those personality traits pushed a pitching staff, and almost certainly colored how he viewed his no-trade rights, the front office and the Dodgers.
Johnson had the ideal temperament for playing off the bench and in this market and became one of the most popular and respected players in the clubhouse.
Johnson could do a great Piniella impression. He dressed up as Hoyer in a wig, blue polo shirt and khaki pants while Jeff Baker went as Epstein for the teams recent Superheroes trip from St. Louis to Pittsburgh.
Soto never lived up to the potential everyone saw during that Rookie of the Year campaign in 2008, but he was a bilingual bridge in the clubhouse and for the pitching staff. Remember The Zambrano Whisperer?
Someone is going to have to fill the leadership vacuum as manager Dale Sveum tries to hold it all together during the final two months of the season.
Cubs executives have said how rookie first baseman Anthony Rizzo is mature beyond his years. Starlin Castro knows the shortstop is supposed to be the field general.
Barney brings intangibles after winning two College World Series titles at Oregon State University. Soriano is a leader in his own way, just because he is always so upbeat: Yeah, babe!
(Steve) Clevenger and (Welington) Castillo have to step up in the catchers role, Sveum said, because theyre a big part of our future and theyre gonna be here for awhile. Rizzo already has those qualities in him, but you dont put those things on anybody.
Samardzija (is) the type of guy that can take Dempsters role and run with that. But you dont just designate somebody. Thats not the way that works. Its usually a little bit of time and (being comfortable) in the big leagues.
It would be wrong to say that Epstein ignores the human element and views the game one-dimensionally. Especially when you hear about how much research goes into a players makeup before the draft, or how Boston Red Sox prospects like Rizzo were taken care of when they went through health scares.
As Baker said, they wouldnt have dressed up as Epstein and Hoyer if they didnt like the guys. But theres no denying that there are now huge holes on the roster and in the clubhouse.
Demp is gone, along with Big Z and Kid K, and the makeover is nowhere near complete. A new identity is going to emerge.
No one in baseball is going to feel sorry for us, Baker said. I still believe in the guys in the room. Its an opportunity for some guys to prove themselves, show they can play, show they can be part of the plans here going forward.