If we have this quite straight on the Anthony Rizzo journey:
Theo Epstein drafted him once, traded him once and traded for him once.
Jed Hoyer drafted him once, and traded for him twice.
Josh Byrnes watched him hit .141 and traded for Yonder Alonso.
This, of course, all goes back to the Boston Red Sox, where Byrnes and Hoyer worked under Epstein, the general manager, and where the Red Sox drafted Rizzo, the very talented slugging first baseman, out of high school in the sixth round of the 2007 draft.
Byrnes was GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks by then, but knew the culture, knew Epstein, and presumably knew how Epstein (and Hoyer, whom he later worked under with the San Diego Padres) felt about Rizzo.
So, as Byrnes replaced Hoyer and set out to recast the foundation of the last-place Padres, he had this very marketable piece in the left handed-hitting Rizzo, especially so in Chicago, where Epstein and Hoyer had reunited.
On Friday, they completed a deal that sent Rizzo and minor league right-hander Zach Cates to the Cubs for right-hander Andrew Cashner and minor league outfielder Kyung-Min Na.
And while the task ahead of Epstein and Hoyer gets the big play, it's Byrnes who has the bigger job. He'll presumably work with a payroll about one-third that of the Cubs, in a division in which he'll be vastly outspent by the San Francisco Giants and (eventually) Los Angeles Dodgers.
Since his promotion on Dec. 3, Byrnes has traded for a closer (Huston Street), added Alonso, starter Edinson Volquez and two high-end prospects for Mat Latos, traded for old pal Carlos Quentin, signed Jeremy Hermida and Friday risked Rizzo for Cashner, who, at 25, must prove he can be effective and durable at the big-league level.
Petco Park should help on that count. Byrnes said Friday that Cashner would pitch out of the bullpen in 2012 and likely become a starter in the future. (Hoyer said the Cubs will have Rizzo begin the season in Triple-A and start Bryan LaHair at first base. Presumably, this takes the Cubs out of the Prince Fielder proceedings, assuming they were ever in.)
[ Related: Trade signals Cubs won't pursue Prince Fielder ]
In the aftermath of settling, as he said, "the quarterback controversy of Alonso and Rizzo," Byrnes downplayed the Theo/Jed effect.
"They like him," he said, "but they're not alone."
The flash analyses had the Cubs fleecing the Padres on the trade, assuming Rizzo's first 153 major league plate appearances weren't the least indicative of what's to come. He arrived in June at 21 years old, had three hits, including a home run, in his first two starts, and then really struggled. Hoyer on Friday granted he probably rushed Rizzo to the big leagues, but that's what happens in San Diego, where the desperation for offense can lead to poor decisions.
Rizzo, by all accounts, will be a good major league hitter, at least. His minor league numbers suggest power and a reasonable familiarity with the strike zone. Baseball America ranked him their 75th-best prospect overall in 2011. And he'll no longer spend half his days at Petco, swapping out that hitter's wasteland for Wrigley.
And while Byrnes recognized the need for offense – no secret there – he'd also set about changing the culture in San Diego. He spoke of a replacing Mike Adams and Heath Bell, too, along with a "personality adjustment" that led to the acquisitions of Mark Kotsay and Quentin. He called Kotsay "revered" in every clubhouse he'd ever played in and Quentin "an incredibly hard-nosed player."
There's no telling how these things play out. But, if Cashner's September – healthy shoulder, six appearances, one earned run – and Arizona Fall League appearances are to be believed, he can be very good in San Diego.
That means he'd be part of the solution for the Padres and Byrnes, who might not have the cache of his pals in Chicago, but has every bit the job ahead.
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- Theo Epstein
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