On Theo Epstein’s Value and Why the Cubs Should Just Hand Him a Blank Check

Ask someone who the Cubs’ most valuable player was in 2015 and you’ll hear Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, or Jake Arrieta. Countless column inches have been devoted to Joe Maddon’s influence on this young team. But for all the value all of those men provide, their contributions pale in comparison to the efforts of the one-time wunderkind pulling the strings in the front office.

Theo Epstein, who became of the highest-paid execs in baseball when he came to Chicago on a five-year, $18.5 deal, will be a free agent after this season. It was Epstein, along with the rest of his baseball brain trust, who traded for Rizzo and Arrieta, drafted Bryant, and got Maddon drunk enough on cheap wine from Publix to agree to park Cousin Eddie along Lake Michigan.

We’ve talked a lot about what various players are worth (Mike just wrote about it in The Rundown and I looked at how dropping $276 million on free agents could be a bargain), but rarely do we do the same for team personnel. Isn’t it a little crazy that we don’t even bat an eye at an elite player earning $25 million per season, but giving a GM or president $5 million is unheard of? Given their impact and responsibility, front office execs, particularly those like Epstein and Jed Hoyer who have proven their efficacy repeatedly, are grossly underpaid.

Ken Rosenthal said as much back in 2010 and Rob Neyer reiterated the sentiment last year. Okay, so that’s all well and good, but how much is Theo Epstein worth? $5 million? $10 million? And what about his lieutenants like Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, and on down the line? After all, it’s not as though this is a one-man show.

The simple answer, at least in Epstein’s case, is: whatever he wants. Seriously. Given the insane amount of money that can and will be generated from a consistently competitive Cubs team, I’d be fine with pretty much any figure Epstein asks for. If I’m Tom Ricketts, I’m having some of those oversized novelty checks printed up and I’m handing my baseball ops guys giant Sharpies and letting them fill in the amounts they desire.

In all seriousness though, I think 5 years and $25 million is a jumping off point for Epstein and I could see that going to $30-35 million without having to stretch my imagination. But with the obvious caveat that I don’t pretend to know the man and what he really wants, I think he’s driven at least as much by the challenge of building a winner as he is the money he’ll be paid to do so. That’s not to say Epstein would do the job for free, just that I can’t see him holding the Cubs’ feet to the fire when it comes to negotiations on a new contract.

And why would he have to? Of all the new construction in and around Wrigley Field, the most important building has taken place within the makeup of the various rosters throughout the Cubs organization. Given that the work is far from finished, it’s probably a good idea to keep the architect and engineer happy. Whatever the final figure Epstein and the Cubs arrive at, it’ll be money well spent.

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