My favorite part about Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago has been deciphering his GM-speak. Well, okay, watching him more or less intentionally plunge the Cubs into a franchise-worst nosedive before pulling back on the stick and climbing to (potentially) unseen heights has been my favorite part. But I’ve really enjoyed listening to what he’s had to say about the process the whole way through.
What’s really great is that some among us have completely misinterpreted Epstein’s words, at times calling their veracity into question. Fans and media alike have gone so far as to call him a liar, or at least walked right up to that accusatory line and gotten very Nick Wallenda with it. And those who understood what he was saying and who agreed with it were labeled “Theobots” or referred to backup singers in his boy band.
Those different camps were set up largely because of disagreement over the efficacy and necessity of The Plan, but some of it came from varying interpretations of Epstein’s explanations. That was bound to happen because, as I’ve long been fond of saying, the Cubs baseball boss always means what he says, he just doesn’t always say what he means. Now that his team is firmly established as a contender, however, he’s become a bit more transparent.
After swinging a trade for lefty reliever Mike Montgomery, Epstein addressed the Cubs’ strategy for the remainder of the non-waiver trade period.
“I like making this kind of a move early. We hope we’ve added something to our big-league ‘pen without taking away from our major-league roster.
“We also haven’t touched certain parts of our prospect inventory. That will keep us really viable for every opportunity that’s still out there between now and August 1.
“Sometimes you can be in an uncomfortable spot if you haven’t done anything and you’re sitting there July 31, August 1 this year, waiting for a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ It’s hard not to throw that last player in just to get a deal done if you haven’t done anything.
“It’s something to fall back on. It gives you the ability to say ‘no’ or draw a line if you need to. But it also keeps all our opportunities open. The prospects we moved weren’t in any other deals that we were talking about. We haven’t touched the prospects that we were potentially going to move in some bigger deals that didn’t come to pass and may be resurrected in the future.”
I said it back when the Cubs picked up Brian Matusz and Joe Nathan, but the move for Montgomery really added leverage when it comes to trade negotiations. The Cubs will not be dealing from a position of need moving forward and that is a tremendous advantage when determining what they’re willing to give up in order to get a player who can help shore up weaknesses.
Look again at that last line again. There is no way to misinterpret Epstein’s statement that they would have/still may move some of their prospects in addition to Dan Vogelbach. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following this team closely and who’s been really listening to what’s been professed for the last several seasons.
While those using the term in the pejorative never really understood it, The Plan was never about creating a lineup populated by nothing but homegrown talent. Rather, it was about trimming the fat at the highest levels of the organization while simultaneously creating a farm system that could sustain a consistent flow of talent. Viewed myopically, those things might look like one in the same.
The real goal, though, was to accumulate a wealth of talent and to then determine how to best utilize said talent in the construction of the big league team. That might be as a member of the 25-man roster, as was the case with Kris Bryant or (for the time being, anyway) Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber. That might be as a trade chip, as we just saw with Dan Vogelbach. And then there’s the spinning off of perceived cornerstones like Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija for actual cornerstones like Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell.
People are always going to hear what they want to hear or read what they want to read, but there’s not much to interpret at this point. Not with the statements above anyway. It’s kinda cool to have that clarity moving forward. At the same time, I’m going to miss busting out the decoder ring and piecing together exactly what Epstein is saying when he addresses the media. He’ll still throw out a cookie or two from time to time, though.
After all, he did once once tell me it was our (the media) job to spin the narrative. And I’m sure someone named Rick will still find a way to spin this the wrong way.