Theo Epstein Rumors
In an interview with Chicago's The McNeil and Spiegel Show earlier this week (hat tip to Bleacher Nation), Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein addressed several pertinent topics. In particular, Epstein sought to answer the question of why the Cubs seem unable to contend while they rebuild.
Epstein's long answer was interesting, even as he largely kept on message about the need to drive new revenue through a renovation of Wrigley Field, new television deals, and the like. He said that, until, the club can generate new revenue, it is placed in an "untenable position": the Cubs are "fighting upstream" against division competitors that get competitive balance draft picks, but are simultaneously unable to increase payroll to keep pace with the top of the division.
On the question of payroll level, Epstein was seemingly quite revealing. His quote is lengthy, but worth repeating in full (transcription courtesy of Bleacher Nation):
“It’s not a choice. We are not making a fundamental choice to only focus on the future. We’re not withholding dollars from this year’s team. We are spending every dollar that we have on this baseball team. We maxed out our payroll last year and we maxed out our payroll this year. It’s not a choice. It’s not like we’re making a conscious decision to say, ‘Hey, let’s withhold $15-20 million from the 2012 or 2013 payroll because we don’t think we’re quite good enough or it’s not worth it to spend it there. Let’s save it for a rainy day. Or let’s save it so we can get that free agent in 2016.’ The baseball department is spending every dollar that is allocated to baseball operations. Yeah, we’re spending it in the draft and we’re spending it in the minor leagues. There’s only so much you can spend there. We’re also spending every dollar we have available on the Major League payroll."
Of course, read carefully, Epstein's statements only go to the question of whether the Cubs are spending up to the payroll limits the club set. He did not address the core concern that some have raised: i.e., whether management has set a sufficient payroll in the first place. Epstein has previously indicated that revenue would drive payroll growth. But observers like the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer have suggested that more aggressive payroll expansion should be economically feasible now, or at least in the immediate future.
Putting that question aside, Epstein seems right in insisting that the Cubs have stuck to a budget -- whether or not that budget is justified -- over these last two offseasons. The club's 2012 opening day payroll shows $109.3MM. The 2013 opening day payroll, in turn, stood at $106.8MM, after the club extended Starlin Castro, signed international free agent Jorge Soler, and inked Edwin Jackson. Of course, as MLBTR's Tim Dierkes noted in his review of the Cubs' offseason, the team also agreed to several short-term deals with free agents who provided some performance upside. Those deals held out at least some hope that the team could remain in contention and also provided the possibility of turning into trade chips. In sum, while bearing in mind the limits on the amounts that can be spent on draft or international prospects, the team seems to have spent up to its budget on a mix of players that would deliver some reasonable level of present performance while also paying future dividends.
The signing of Jackson, in particular, is telling. While there were plenty of good reasons for the Cubs to sign him, those reasons seem to apply just as well (or better) the year prior. Before 2012, Jackson reportedly turned down a three-year offer for around $30MM from the Pirates to sign with the Nationals on a one-year deal. (Twitter links.) He had reportedly been seeking in the neighborhood of five years at $12MM a year. Meanwhile, the Cubs were, in Dierkes's estimation, modest players in the free agent market. While there were whispers of the team going after big-ticket players like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, that did not materialize. And the Cubs were never apparently in on Jackson.
Fast forward to this past offseason. The Cubs not only seriously pursued Anibal Sanchez, but ultimately signed Jackson to a four-year, $52MM deal. What changed? The Cubs were coming off of an abysmal season, and looked no closer to immediate contention despite some nice development from young stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Jackson was now coming off of yet another very Jackson-esque season, with consistently solid, if unspectacular, results. If anything, Jackson's relatively uninspring year with Washington, along with increased age and potentially worrisome velocity decline, should have made him less attractive.
Most likely, it seems, the thing that changed was simply the fact that the Cubs could fit Jackson under the team's self-imposed salary budget. With Ryan Dempster off of the books, in particular, there was room for the $14MM promised Jackson for 2013 (and beyond). Of course, while Jackson brought both present and future value to the club when he signed this year, it is reasonable to wonder whether he might have provided more value at a cheaper price had the club pursued him before 2012. Jackson's then-agent Scott Boras did say that he "felt it was best for him to do a one-year contract rather than a three-year deal" at that time. But a four-year offer from the Cubs might have allowed the team to control Jackson over a more favorable age band (28-31 rather than 29-32), possibly even at a lower price.
The Jackson question is relevant looking forward because of what it means for the Cubs' future spending plans. Whether or not the team is spending at the levels that it can or should, it appears that Epstein should be taken at his word when he says that "it comes down to revenue." Importantly, he did not say that the club is holding back because it does not believe it is at the right point on the rebuilding curve to make a substantial investment in free agent talent. Instead, he said that the club would do so, "once we generate enough revenue to be able to afford" such a player. "Revenue has to come first," Epstein says, and at the moment the Cubs maintain that they simply "don't have the flexibility to do something like that."
Jurickson Profar tops Baseball America's newly-released list of the top 100 prospects in the game. The Cardinals, Marlins and Twins each placed six prospects amongst the top 100, and BA's John Manuel and J.J. Cooper discussed the list in a reader chat. If there was any doubt that Profar was the cream of the minor league crop, the Rangers shortstop also ranked first on the top 100 prospect lists recently released by MLB.com and ESPN's Keith Law.
Here's the latest from around the majors...
- The 133 players who filed for arbitration last month received an average salary increase of 119%, according to a report by The Associated Press. Buster Posey had the biggest raise, going from $615K in 2012 to $8MM in 2013. The AP also examines why no arb cases went to hearings this winter, the first time this has ever happened. You can check out the results of every arbitration case on MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker.
- The Denver Post's Patrick Saunders looks at a number of Rockies-related topics in a reader mailbag, including how the Rockies largely stood pat with their pitching staff over the winter, instead hoping that improved health from incumbent starters upgrades the rotation. Saunders also doesn't see Kyle Lohse as a fit with Colorado, as Lohse likely has no interest in pitching at Coors Field and the Rockies aren't keen to spend big money on a free agent starter.
- Theo Epstein talks to CSN Chicago's David Kaplan about his first 16 months as Cubs president, the progress that the franchise has made and what still has to be done to make the team successful.
- Right-hander Seth McClung has been throwing for teams, CBS Sports' Danny Knobler reports (Twitter link). McClung, 32, last pitched in the Majors in 2009 as a reliever and spot starter for the Brewers and has since pitched in the minors for the Brewers, Rangers and Cubs.
- Freddy Sanchez is looking to keep playing and has turned down minor league offers in hopes of finding a Major League job as a utility infielder, Sanchez's agent Paul Cobbe tells Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area. Sanchez, 35, hasn't played in a game since June 2011 due to shoulder and back injuries but around 20 teams reportedly asked to see his medical records this offseason. Cobbe says Sanchez would love to re-sign with the Giants but they don't want to sign him to a guaranteed contract.
It has been six weeks since the Red Sox and Mike Napoli agreed to terms on a three-year, $39MM contract. The holdup in finalizing the deal is concern with one of Napoli's hips and the team's desire to write protective language into the contract. Recently, we learned the Red Sox are continuing negotiations with Napoli, but would like to shorten the deal to just one year and have been in contact with the Nationals about Mike Morse. A major league source told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe this about Napoli's hip, "It’s one of those things where it could go anytime or five years from now. Nobody really knows, which is why the Red Sox want strong language after putting $40 million on the table for him.” Cafardo believes it's starting to make sense for the Red Sox to trade for Justin Morneau or to make Daniel Nava a first baseman/left fielder. More from Cafardo:
- That Kyle Lohse is still available at this late date is somewhat of a stunner to Cafardo. Lohse's market has been stunted with him being tied to draft pick compensation and that no one seems willing to go beyond two years, although several teams needs starting pitching and his stuff translates to both leagues.
- Draft pick compensation has also shrunk the market for Michael Bourn. Another factor, according to a NL GM, has been the Twins trading both Denard Span and Ben Revere and the Braves signing B.J. Upton.
- Cafardo thought it was strange for Justin Upton to reject his trade to Seattle since it's one of the nicest cities in the country and the fences at Safeco Field have been moved in.
- Cubs President Theo Epstein has come to realize Alfonso Soriano is an excellent clubhouse presence because of his willingness to help younger players. With that and his excellent 2012 season, Epstein wants a player of note in any deal where the Cubs eat a majority of the $36MM left on Soriano's contract.
- Discussions to include Garrett Jones in the Joel Hanrahan trade never progressed very far because "the Pirates really valued Jones highly," a major league source told Cafardo.
- One NL GM told Cafardo Roy Oswalt may still want to pitch, but on his terms and perhaps for only a half a season. Many teams have given up trying to persuade the 35-year-old to pitch, feeling the vibe is that he just doesn’t want it bad enough. Cafardo also notes Oswalt suffered a forearm strain at the end of his time with the Rangers last season.
- Bobby Valentine has turned down some opportunities to serve as an advisor for teams. Valentine has instead decided to focus on expanding his restaurant business, growing his film company, and working for NBC Sports since being fired as manager of the Red Sox.
It was on this day in 1996 that Cal Ripken Jr. became professional baseball's all-time iron man. Though Ripken eclipsed Lou Gehrig's Major League record for consecutive games played in 1995, it took a while longer to surpass Japan's Sachio Kinugasa, who played in 2215 NPL straight games between 1970 and 1987.
Here's some news from both Ripken's Orioles and elsewhere around the AL East...
- Theo Epstein spoke to media (including WEEI.com's Alex Speier) about his days as the Red Sox general manager, noting that he felt some of the club's free agent signings deviated from the franchise's long-term plan and were made due to the pressure of staying competitive. It's a must-read piece for Red Sox fans, not to mention Cubs fans who could see what Epstein hopes to avoid during his tenure in Chicago.
- “We’re going to go see hundreds of players over the next few weeks,” Red Sox GM Ben Cherington tells Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald. “We may end up just acquiring one of those or none of them. In this particular year, we do believe we’re going to get impact players just by getting healthy. Still, we have to come together. I think this team still will be very good.”
- The Blue Jays could look to move Edwin Encarnacion, Kelly Johnson or "any bullpen piece" at the trade deadline if the team isn't in serious contention, opines FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi in a radio interview with the Brady & Lang show on Sportsnet 590 The Fan (Sportsnet.ca's Jeff Simmons has a partial transcript).
- Encarnacion's breakout season could put him in line for a big free agent contract this winter but Morosi says "a lot of GMs are wary" about Encarnacion's ability to play first base on a regular basis. "If you're viewed as a DH, that will affect his valuation going forward," Morosi said. "So we'll see how often he plays in the field and not having [Vladimir Guerrero] coming will certainly change how often he'll play first base."
- The Orioles and Blue Jays have both been scouting the Cubs, reports Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago. Levine specified that Baltimore was looking at the Cubs' starting pitchers and Alfonso Soriano.
- For more AL East news, check out this batch of Yankees notes and the latest on the Kevin Youkilis trade rumors.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has denied that his team is exploring deals for Starlin Castro, report Doug Padilla and Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago. "Starlin Castro is the type of player we're looking to build around," Epstein said. "There has been no trade consideration with him whatsoever."
USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported earlier today that the Cubs were open to dealing anyone but Jeff Samardzija from the roster, including Castro, who was reportedly available for the price of "two impact prospects." Castro, 22, is under team control through 2016 and is arbitration-eligible for the first of four years this winter due to his Super Two status.
Padilla and Levine cite an Epstein quote from earlier in the week, where the executive said that while no player was entirely untouchable, some players "are core pieces that it's almost impossible to foresee moving. You would have to be completely blown away to even contemplate it." Clearly it would take such a knockout trade offer for the Cubs to swap Castro, who would be the most sought-after trade chip in baseball if Chicago actually put him on the market. It wouldn't be out of the question for the Cubs to ask for not just two major prospects in exchange, but also for a team to take Alfonso Soriano's big contract (roughly $48MM remaining through 2014) off the Cubs' hands.
Here's the latest from Wrigleyville....
- "We need more talent. We lack impact talent,” Theo Epstein told reporters (including MLB.com's Carrie Muskat) in regards to his team's minor league system. "We have a number of interesting guys, especially at the lower levels. Every organization has interesting guys at the lower levels....We need some more impact talent and we need some guys who have the ability to break through. It'd be nice to get a breakthrough player or two this year and have someone move from that interesting prospect category to that potential impact category."
- If the Cubs trade one of their current outfielders, there is no guarantee prospect Brett Jackson will be automatically called up to fill the spot, writes ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine as part of an online chat with fans. The Cubs want to make sure Jackson is "completely ready" to play in the majors, and Levine says the Cubs may also be thinking about service clock considerations.
- The Cubs have spent the last few weeks looking to acquire a left-handed reliever, writes Levine.
- Also from Levine, he predicts Matt Garza is looking for a five-year, $65MM contract extension akin to John Danks' new deal with the White Sox. The Cubs said they wanted to discuss a multiyear deal with Garza during Spring Training, though there has been little news about the status of these negotiations.
On this date 20 years ago, the Cubs released 29-year-old left-hander Jamie Moyer. The southpaw didn't pitch in the Major Leagues again that year, but he returned in 1993 and has since pitched 3,300 innings and won 233 games. His career isn't over yet, as the Rockies may add him to their rotation. Here are today's links...
- The Red Sox had complete access to Chris Carpenter's medical records before acquiring him from the Cubs, Nick Cafardo and Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe report. The reliever also passed two physicals earlier this year, so the Red Sox aren't likely to obtain a different player from the Cubs as compensation for Theo Epstein even though Carpenter underwent elbow surgery yesterday.
- ESPN.com’s Buster Olney wonders if the Indians could pursue free agent Johnny Damon instead of trading for Bobby Abreu (Twitter link). Dave Cameron of FanGraphs explores the Damon-Indians possibility and says it's hard to argue he’s a worse option than Abreu.
- The Brewers have exchanged figures with closer John Axford regarding a possible extension, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. "I'm not going to jump at anything," Axford said.
After a months-long wait, the Cubs and Red Sox have finalized the compensation for Theo Epstein. The Red Sox sent 19-year-old prospect Jair Bogaerts to the Cubs to complete the deal, MLB.com's Carrie Muskat reports.
The Cubs sent relievers Chris Carpenter and Aaron Kurcz to Boston as compensation for Epstein earlier in the offseason. Carpenter will undergo elbow surgery, but the Cubs say the operation wasn't caused by a pre-existing condition. “It’s certainly something we had no knowledge of,” GM Jed Hoyer said, according to Muskat. “I don’t think he had any elbow issues for the last two years. It’s unexpected and unfortunate."
Bogaerts completed his second pro season in 2011. The first baseman posted a .288/.387/.404 line in 186 plate appearances in the Dominican Summer League. He is the brother of top Red Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts.
The Blue Jays have J.P. Arencibia catching at the Major League level and top prospect Travis d'Arnaud could be MLB-ready within the year. It seems like a good problem to have for Toronto, but other teams view the Blue Jays’ depth as a possible opportunity, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reports...
- Teams have asked about Arencibia and d’Arnaud in trade talks, Olney writes. However, it’s very possible that the Blue Jays will keep both unless they’re completely overwhelmed by an offer. D’Arnaud is slated for more minor league seasoning while Jeff Mathis backs Arencibia up, so the Blue Jays don’t have to make a decision any time soon.
- Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has a bonus in his contract that resembles the conclusion bonus he had with the Red Sox, Olney writes. Epstein also has standard bonuses for team success.
- Steve Cohen made an impressive presentation in his bid for the Dodgers, Olney hears.
- The Padres love what they see in outfield prospect Rymer Liriano.
The Red Sox ownership group spoke to the media at the team's Spring Training complex this morning, with chairman Tom Werner saying this season "is going to be a new chapter." Here's a recap of their media session, with all source links going to Twitter...
- When asked if he and his partners would consider selling the Red Sox, ownerJohn Henry said, "It's a valid question ... people involved in RedSox partnership, we've made enough money," tweets Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com.
- Henry didn't sound thrilled about the compensation his team received from the Cubs for Theo Epstein, says Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Henry did say that's how tough negotiations go, calling it a "basic misunderstanding" according to Tim Britton of The Providence Journal.
- Team president Larry Lucchino said the Marco Scutaro trade was "a little bit of both," meaning a baseball move and a financial move. They believe they can get similar production from other players. (Heyman)
- Henry said the luxury tax will be a "bigger issue every year moving forward" and the team has to be "more careful" spending money, according to Heyman and Britton. He noted that other clubs are catching up economically.
- Lucchino said payroll would be upwards of $190MM according to WEEI.com's Alex Speier, adding that the team will have money to make moves within the season.
- "So far, he's done everything we could have hoped," said Werner when asked about new manager Bobby Valentine, according to Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com.
- Henry backed off his comments about not wanting Carl Crawford from earlier this offseason according to McAdam, saying: "I should have never made those comments."