October 12, 2011
Few if any in Major League Baseball can resist the mythical allure of the Chicago Cubs.
There's the idyllic, old-fashioned and lucrative setting of Wrigley Field, with its bricks and ivy, convenient daytime hours and frequently packed seats. The antique beckons like a seductress.
Then there's the challenge: The baseball team hasn't won a World Series in forever; its fans are emotionally starving and desperate for a fix. To the kingmakers of baseball, the Cubs are the New York City of the majors. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
[Related: Red Sox finger-pointing officially begins]
It's what motivated Lou Piniella to take the Cubs job. The same went for Dusty Baker. The difference with those guys: They're field managers, with a naturally limited scope of influence. For them, it was a trap. General managers, with the proper commitment from ownership, are what make dynasties. Simply by hiring Theo Epstein, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is indicating a willingness to make a meaningful commitment.
That's what makes it so significant, that Theo Epstein is reportedly answering the siren's call and taking the ultimate challenge in his profession. He actually would be in a position to make the Cubs win.
Multiple reports — John Dennis of WEEI radio in Boston was first — say Epstein and the Cubs have agreed to a five-year contract. ESPN's Buster Olney reports that it is worth nearly $20 million.
As if that weren't exciting enough for Cubs fans, ESPN's Gordon Edes reported on Twitter that Ryne Sandberg would be a leading candidate for the manager's job (even though Mike Quade remains under contract).
But that's still speculation. Epstein, conversely, appears headed to Chicago for certain.
For someone who assembled two World Series in 2004 and 2007 for the Boston Red Sox — a team with a similar, yet more advantageous place in the baseball universe — what else is there for Epstein, professionally, in New England? Even if the Red Sox situation hadn't become toxic, winning more World Series in Boston only would yield diminishing returns. Everyone there, pretty much, has become spoiled.
[Rewind: Red Sox cut ties with Terry Francona]
Not that Epstein has been perfect. While you can't brush aside bad attitudes in the clubhouse and say they're insignificant to the Red Sox collapse, Epstein also is the guy who signed Carl Crawford(notes) for $142 million, who handed John Lackey(notes) $82.5 million, who gave Bobby Jenks(notes) $12 million, and everything in between. Epstein may have been influenced by his bosses on some or all of those deals, but the Cubs know all about big, bad money and what it can't buy.
In Chicago, it will be Epstein's ability to build a strong minor-league system that dictates the Cubs' future fortunes. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs ranked Boston as the No. 2 organization in the league as recently as 2010. Epstein might need some time, but what's a few more years when you've gone 103 years without a winner?
He can do this. He probably will.
Chicago awaits his official signature.