Epstein can build his own Evil Empire

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Epstein can build his own Evil Empire

Larry Lucchino had to say something when reached by the worlds most influential newspaper. When asked about Jose Contreras, Bostons chief executive officer lit a match and threw it onto the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

The Evil Empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America, Lucchino told The New York Times.

This was around Christmas 2002, not long after Theo Epstein had become the youngest general manager in baseball history. The Red Sox had just lost out on Contreras, the Cuban defector who instead signed a four-year, 32 million contract with the Yankees.

To become a free agent, Contreras established residency in Nicaragua, where the negotiations took place at Hotel Campo Real. Dan Shaughnessy, the longtime columnist for The Boston Globe, detailed the back-and-forth in Reversing the Curse, his book on the 2004 Red Sox championship team.

Epstein told Shaughnessy that he never trashed his hotel room after Contreras spurned the Red Sox, and suggested that Yankee officials fed that nonstory to the New York newspapers.

The definitive account of this negotiation is still to be written. The moments of frustration inside the executive offices can be leaked later to the media. Lucchino and Cubs team president Crane Kenney will no doubt have something interesting to say.

But everyone already agrees on the ending: Epstein coming to Clark and Addison as the next head of baseball operations.

By late Tuesday, a source indicated that the Cubs and Red Sox still hadnt found the midpoint as they try to settle on the compensation that will allow Epstein to escape from the final year of his contract. Theyre still in standby mode.

The Cubs may have to ask commissioner Bud Selig to lift Major League Baseballs news blackout and receive permission to hold an Epstein press conference during the next several days. Meanwhile their biggest rival will be playing for their 11th World Series title.

Cubs-Cardinals is not Yankees-Red Sox. But once this is official, Epstein can go about building his own Evil Empire.

The Cubs dont have the winning tradition and they care about public perception. Tom Ricketts is a rational man who doesnt like to make impulsive decisions. The chairman doesnt have George Steinbrenners DNA, the need to create headlines.

But Epstein will be empowered to build an organization in his image. The front office will be expanded, in part because the Cubs have historically had one of the smallest staffs in baseball. Ricketts has identified bringing in more manpower as a priority.

Its unclear exactly how the staff will take shape, though it could have a distinct Boston influence.

SI.com reported Tuesday that the Cubs could make a run at Padres general manager Jed Hoyer, who is signed through 2013 with a club option for 2014. Cubs people are hearing the same rumors about Josh Byrnes, another Padres executive who also used to work for the Red Sox.

The Cubs will be pooling their intellectual capital at a time when theyll be building new facilities in Arizona and the Dominican Republic, which will only help the scouting and player development machine Epstein once built for the Red Sox.

You wont believe it until you see it, but Cubs executives insist that Wrigley Field will be renovated within the next few years.

That project should improve what one player called the worst facilities in the game, and generate more revenue to pour into baseball operations. Maybe all this will sharpen their negotiating skills against Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Team officials also hold out hopes for their own television network sometime in the future, which would only widen the resource gap between the Cubs and the rest of the National League Central.

Epstein wont exactly be on the side of the American League East divide that left the Red Sox so frustrated with the Yankees years ago. But he should be able to leverage a significant financial advantage over his rivals.

According to the USA Today salary database, the Yankees allocated almost 203 million to major-league payroll this year, while the Red Sox were around 161 million. In the National League, only the Phillies spent more than the Cubs.

The Cubs had a payroll that was roughly 20 million more than the Cardinals, 40 million more than the Brewers and 50 million more than the Reds.

Money doesnt guarantee happiness. The Cardinals will host the Rangers another team just outside a top-10 payroll for Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night in St. Louis.

But if the Cubs ever develop their own Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, their fans will never have to worry about their favorite players leaving because they want to get rich in St. Louis or Milwaukee. It would more likely be Epsteins computers saying its not a good bet on their future performance.

During the Contreras stakeout, Epstein worked alongside Red Sox international scouting director Louis Eljaua, whos now a Cubs special assistant in charge of overseeing the construction of the new academy in the Dominican Republic. The kids there want to be the next Starlin Castro.

The opportunity here is to build an international brand, if not an Evil Empire. If the Cubs have to give up two prospects to secure their next president of baseball operations, remember that they can always find dozens and dozens more around the globe.

Soon enough, Epstein will stand at the podium and tell everyone how he plans to conquer the world.

Joe Maddon explains his ‘defensive foot fetish’ and what Cubs need to see from Ian Happ in center field

Joe Maddon explains his ‘defensive foot fetish’ and what Cubs need to see from Ian Happ in center field

Joe Maddon went Full Larry David while trying to explain what the Cubs need to see from Ian Happ in center field.

“I’m into feet, man,” Maddon said. “I just like good feet. I don’t have a foot fetish, other than defense. I have a defensive foot fetish. I admit to it.” 

And with that, Maddon got up from his chair and walked out of the Wrigley Field interview room after Tuesday night’s 4-1 win over the San Francisco Giants, saying: “You can’t top that.” The only thing missing for the Cubs manager in that moment was the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” theme music.

Maddon gave credit to bench coach Dave Martinez and the team’s scouting reports for Happ’s sliding catch, which took a leadoff hit away from Brandon Belt in the seventh inning of Jon Lester’s complete-game masterpiece.     

“The guy’s really confident,” Maddon said. “Now I’ve seen some things we need to work on fundamentally out there. And I’ve already talked to Davey about it. And I know Happer’s going to work on that to make it even better. But he was positioned well, I thought, by our guys. He was in the right spots.”

If Happ needs work on reading swings and running routes, remember that the Cubs drafted and developed him as an infielder/outfielder with Maddon’s versatility ideals in mind. Actually, the Cubs went offense first with the ninth overall pick in 2015, fast-tracking a switch-hitter who needed only 26 games with Triple-A Iowa.       

While Happ didn’t exactly appreciate or fully understand where the knocks on his defensive game came from out of the University of Cincinnati, he will be in the lineup when he puts up a .323 average and a 1.126 OPS through his first nine games with the Cubs.    

“Just saw a couple little things I would like to see him address and get better with,” Maddon said. “Again, I’m being nitpicky right now, because I want him to be really good at this. His arm’s fabulous. He throws really well. Yeah, I mean, he could be really good out there.”   

David Ross takes home second place on Dancing with the Stars

David Ross takes home second place on Dancing with the Stars

The Grandpa has had a sensational year.

Capping off his 15-year major league career with a World Series win, the former Cubs catcher nearly came away on top in another event.

In the series finale of Dancing with the Stars on Tuesday, it was announced that the duo of Ross and Lindsay Arnold took home second place, losing out to Rashad Jennings and Emma Slater.

According to the judges, Lady and the Gramp saved their best performance for last by receiving their first perfect score in their final "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" dance on Tuesday. 

Prior to the result, Ross had this to say to his fans who have supported him throughout the show:

He will forever be a champion in Chicago.