In this division, next Cubs GM will have a chance

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In this division, next Cubs GM will have a chance

Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011Posted: 8:45 p.m.

By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow@CSNMooney
CINCINNATI - The Cubs don't have to compete with the Red Sox or Yankees, and that might make this job appealing to the next general manager.

The Cubs only have to be as good as the National League Central demands. That meant 83 wins for the 2006 Cardinals, enough to sneak into the playoffs and ultimately win a World Series title.

That also happens to be the last time an NL Central team won a postseason series. Since then, the last four division winners have been swept out of the playoffs in three games. (The 2008 Brewers, a wild-card team, managed to win one first-round game.)

Assuming the Brewers are spraying champagne sometime during the next several days, that means four different teams will have won the division in the past four years. There are no dynasties here.

The window closed hard and fast on the Cubs after that summer of 2008. They are paying the price for those big-money contracts, years of ownership instability and the perfect storm of injuries this season.

During the interviews, this will not be the time to highlight your background in statistical analysis. But if you take this job, you will believe that you will be the one to defy more than a century worth of history.

Fans are right to be skeptical. The Ricketts family hasn't built up much equity yet, and none of these projects are really beyond the planning phase.

But if you have enough imagination - or are willing to suspend disbelief - then you see new player-development facilities in Arizona and the Dominican Republic, a renovated Wrigley Field and a Cubs television network in the future.

Theo Epstein or not, this organization is obsessed with the Red Sox business model and could be positioned to be the next economic superpower. They should have more resources than anyone else in the Midwest.

Cubs pitcher Randy Wells glanced at the American League East standings. The Blue Jays are having a pretty good year, building toward something. They still woke up on Tuesday at 74-73 - in fourth place, 15.5 games out in a brutal division.

"You never know what kind of moves are going to impact you and which way (they're going to go)," Wells said. "It's kind of a crapshoot. Whoever the new GM is (will) be determined to put together the best team possible.

"(But) the Giants proved last year (that) no matter what you got on paper, it's just the right team (that) gets hot at the right time. (When) guys pull together, I think any team can win it. ... I don't see why we can't be one of those teams."

When Wells talks about adding a few pieces and getting guys on the same page, he echoes what the clubhouse thinks, the plan Jim Hendry probably would have followed this winter.

"(It's) the right state of mind, the right mentality we want to play (with)," Matt Garza said. "It's getting there. (It's) gonna turn. It might not turn this year, but if we can finish strong and finish on a high note, it's always a great step toward spring, especially for the young guys."

Garza, who will be a huge building block on the North Side, was part of the Tampa Bay team that went to the 2008 World Series a year after losing 96 games. If you needed a reminder of how quickly things change, you could look around Tuesday night at all the empty seats at Great American Ball Park.

The Reds were last year's feel-good story. Now the defending division champs are just another sub-.500 team playing out the string.

Mike Quade got a lot of bad publicity for his "I'm not a lunatic" declaration this summer that the Cubs were still in the race. Even some in the organization snickered. But the manager still believes this will be a winnable division in 2012.

"Yeah, absolutely it is," Quade said. "(The Reds) still got good young talent. ... St. Louis is still hanging around and people better not put them away yet. But I think right now if everything stays intact, (it's) the Milwaukee club, because they've added the pitching, (which) has made a huge impression. And where were they a year or two ago?

"So there's always reason to believe (that) if you put the right things together, improve in the areas you need to, (then) you can compete."

With Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder poised to become free agents, and the Cubs hoping to land some hotshot executive, the Central landscape could change dramatically.

But if Tom Ricketts gets this hire wrong, then the scouting and player-development infrastructure Hendry built could crumble. This organization could be set back for years to come, and starting all over again later this decade.

It's a risk the chairman's willing to take. The rest of the division will be rooting against the Cubs.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Cubs visit White House as World Series champions

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Cubs visit White House as World Series champions

On the latest edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Kaplan is joined by David Haugh (Chicago Tribune) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) to discuss the Cubs' visit to the White House.

The guys reflect on the historic day and Theo Epstein's speech. Then, the panel breaks down the Packers' impressive run and question whether it's okay for Bears fans to appreciate Aarond Rodgers and company.

Finally, are the Wild the Blackhawks' biggest threat come playoff time?

Listen to the SportsTalk Live podcast below.

 

Does Cubs president Theo Epstein have a future in politics?

Does Cubs president Theo Epstein have a future in politics?

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has a job for Theo Epstein whenever the Cubs executive gets bored or starts to feel restless and wants to think about life beyond baseball.  

After building up the Boston Red Sox and turning around the Cubs, how about Epstein using his leadership skills, analytical personality, sense of conviction and Ivy League education to save the Democratic Party?    

"His job is to quench droughts – 86 years in Boston, 108 in Chicago," Obama said during Monday's White House ceremony honoring the World Series champs. "He takes the reins of an organization that's wandering in the wilderness and delivers them to the promised land. I talked to him about being DNC chair."

Epstein stood behind the president doing a cut-it gesture and that became one of many laugh lines during an entertaining Obama speech that lasted more than 20 minutes and took place against the backdrop of Donald Trump's looming administration. Epstein – who headlined a Lincoln Park fundraiser during the 2012 reelection campaign and attended the president's farewell address last week at McCormick Place – doesn't see his future in politics.

At least "not as a candidate or an elected official," Epstein said during a media scrum afterward. "But I think there are a lot of ways that we can all impact our communities without necessarily running for office."

Epstein – a private person who would never want to subject his young family to that kind of scrutiny – looked like official Washington in a navy blue suit and a striped silver-and-blue tie. He delivered his own speech in the East Room, beginning it by saying "what a tough act to follow."

"We know you may have certain allegiances to another team on the other side of town," Epstein said to the world's most famous White Sox fan. "But we know you're a very proud Chicagoan. And we know your better, wiser half – the first lady – has been a lifelong and very loyal Cub fan, which we appreciate very much.

"Of course, we have great faith in your intelligence, your common sense, your pragmatism, your ability to recognize a good thing when you see one.

"So Mr. President, with only a few days remaining in your tremendous presidency, we have taken the liberty here today of offering you a midnight pardon.

"And so we welcome you with open arms."

This formal ceremony sounded personal for Epstein, who led the presentation giving Obama white and gray No. 44 jerseys, a 44 Wrigley Field scoreboard panel, a lifetime pass to the iconic stadium and an autographed W flag to someday fly at his presidential library on the South Side.  

"Everyone – no matter where you fall politically – can appreciate the dignity with which he served the country," Epstein said. "He did an unbelievable job handling the office and raising his family while here. I think, across the board, folks would agree that he's very dignified and brought a lot of integrity to the office. It was our pleasure to thank him for that today."

[RELATED: 'Among Sox fans, I'm the Cubs' No. 1 fan']

The DNC – or whatever Epstein does for his next act – will have to wait. Before that epic playoff run began, the Cubs locked up Epstein with a five-year deal believed to be worth in the neighborhood of $50 million, putting the future Hall of Fame executive in position to make another trip to the White House with a championship team.          

"Good thing I signed a contract with (chairman) Tom Ricketts," Epstein said. "He was kicking me, saying I can’t leave. It was a kind offer, though."