New Era in Cubdom: Five Ideas for Theo Epstein

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After weeks of speculation and several years of futility, a new era finally began in Chicago baseball on Tuesday as the Chicago Cubs named Theo Epstein their new President of Baseball Operations. He brings with him the obvious pedigree of winning two championships as GM of the Boston Red Sox, but perhaps more importantly, he has shown an ability to make moves that may not seem genius at face value but sell them to a rabid fanbase and end up making them work out in the end. This is a trait that he will need to bring with him to Chicago as he takes on the challenge of what will probably go down in history as the longest championship drought in American sports, but from what we’ve seen early on in his tenure, he seems to be up to the task. Besides not allowing the talk of curses and unrealistic expectations get to him, what exactly should Theo Epstein’s thought process be as he moves forward in his new role with the Cubs? Here are five things that he should keep in mind, including some moves that he should seriously consider for the club.

Hold a Firm Line on Aramis Ramirez

According to various sources, the Cubs’ soon-to-be free agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez has expressed interest in potentially returning to the North Side, especially after the hiring of Epstein by the club. Ramirez has opted not to exercise his option for next season, however, and is looking to test the free agent waters, looking for a longer term deal of three years or longer.

Ramirez has been a great offensive weapon in his time in Chicago, but his time should probably be coming to an end. Some team is going to pay him a boat load of money as one of the top available free agents not named Pujols or Fielder this off-season, and the Cubs simply should not be investing in a guy who is already 33 years old and has said that he does not want to be part of a rebuilding project.

Now, if for whatever reason the team can convince Ramirez to take a 1-year deal similar to the one that Carlos Pena signed last year, then by all means they should keep him. With a couple of youngsters like Josh Vitters that they could probably try out at the third base position, however, the Cubs should probably just hold the line and let Ramirez walk.

Deal Carlos Zambrano, but Keep Alfonso Soriano Much of the talk surrounding Theo’s first round of moves has centered on what to do with the contracts of Zambrano and Soriano. Rumors have had Zambrano going everywhere from Ozzie Guillen’s Miami Marlins to being left curbside by the Cubs for someone to pick up, but Epstein has said that he wants to meet with Zambrano before making any type of decision.

To make it perfectly clear, Zambrano should not be a Cub in 2012. He has demonstrated on numerous occasions that he cannot be a team leader, a necessary component for someone making the boatload of money that he is, and that kind of lack of team spirit is an absolute clubhouse killer, and it has to go.

As for Soriano, it may be nice to think of a team taking him from the Cubs since his back-loaded contract is becoming an increasing burden as he ages. With three years left on the deal, trading Soriano is going to be a next-to-impossible feat, and the Cubs would be better off in trying to hold onto him for a little while longer and see if he can produce in an acceptable way.

Obviously if he can’t Epstein will have to try to get rid of him to get some other kids into the equation, but the fact of the matter is that Soriano is one guy that the team is probably stuck with, and they shouldn’t cut off their nose to spite their face in trying to get rid of him.

Don’t Try to Cure the Team’s Ills Via Free Agency After the team’s abysmal 2006 campaign, in which they won 66 games, the Cubs cleaned house, hiring Lou Piniella and bringing in some of the biggest free agents on the market, including Soriano, Jason Marquis, and Ted Lilly. All total, they spent about $300 million in new contracts, a spending spree that brought them consecutive playoff appearances, but also has resulted in the current funk that the team is in.

Epstein was known to spend a lot of money while in Beantown, but he can’t think that way and succeed in Chicago. As has been said a billion times already, he has to build a team that isn’t reliant on a boom-and-bust cycle that would make Wall Street cringe. That means building the team from within, and only filling select hole with the right free agent talent.

Don’t Think About a Manager for 2012: Think About One for the Long Haul One of the biggest stories this off-season will be whether or not the Cubs end up deciding to keep manager Mike Quade, who had a successful end to the 2010 season but struggled to get his team to 71 wins this year. He is a likable enough guy both on the field and off, but with one year left on his contract, the Cubs would be better served to let him go. There are editorials circulating that the Cubs should keep Quade for one year and go after a big fish like Rays manager Joe Maddon next year, but that would be a huge disservice to the rebuilding effort about to take place.

The Cubs need to get a guy in place that can help Epstein and new GM Jed Hoyer execute their vision for this club on the field. There’s no telling who that is, but it’s a virtual certainty that it isn’t Quade.

Don’t Let Old Thinking Hinder Your Vision, Theo The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since Theodore Roosevelt was president, but that hasn’t stopped them from continously falling back on old thinking when it comes to constructing their team. Their minor league system is virtually non-existent, they have relied on free agents and als0-rans for too many years in order to succeed, but now is the time for all of that to change. Epstein needs to stick to his guns, even with front office holdovers like Oneri Fleita and Randy Bush still calling shots in their unique ways.

The new President of Baseball Operations needs to make sure that everyone buys into his vision, and if they are unable to do that, then he needs to be able to go to Cubs CEO Tom Ricketts to get guys into the system that do. If he kow-tows to their demands, then he will be doing himself, and the team, a disservice.

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