Cubs make Theo Epstein the star attraction

Cubs make Theo Epstein the star attraction
January 15, 2012, 6:45 am
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They had to turn away people at the doors because everyone wanted to listen to Theo Epstein.

The fans had jammed into a Hilton Chicago ballroom on Saturday morning to see the rock star executive who once followed Pearl Jam on tour and planned to leave for his charity event that night at a Boston night club.

Sure, fans ripped Alfonso Soriano for not hustling, and told team executives how annoying they found some of the D-listers singing the seventh-inning stretch. But, for the moment, the anger and frustration was gone.

The narrative at the Cubs Convention wasnt about who should be fired. It became hyping the new president of baseball operations.

It will die down, Epstein said. The players are the show. Thats why were all in this profession. (As) a kid, when I got involved in baseball, it wasnt to see Lou Gorman, the general manager of the Red Sox. It was to watch Jim Rice and Dwight Evans.

So times have changed a little bit with the information age now. People pay more attention to what GMs do. (Thats) great, but if that ever becomes the show, you probably dont have a very good product to begin with.

We are going to be a player-centric, player-driven organization. Theyre the ones with the real skill (and) world-class ability. Theyre the ones that are going to get us where we want to go.

Epstein became the star attraction on a team hes filled with buy-low players coming off down years (David DeJesus, Ian Stewart, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad) and a manager who told the crowd what they wanted to hear.

When the guys arent hustling, you make them accountable for it, Sveum said. Its simple. I dont really care how much money theyre making or how many years they have in the big leagues. Theyre still embarrassing the team.

Prince Fielder plays with an edge and gives maximum effort, but Sveum once again confirmed that his friend from Milwaukee wont be getting a megadeal here.

Thats just not going to happen, Sveum said. We have our first baseman in Bryan LaHair and (Anthony) Rizzo waiting in the wings as well, so were doing OK with big, power left-handed hitters right now.

Forget what it would take to sign Fielder. Epsteins front office held out and a franchise icon waited until the middle of January to agree to a one-year, 3 million deal with a club option.

About 24 hours after Kerry Wood signed, even chairman Tom Ricketts acknowledged: We probably could have had that conversation a month ago(and) done it a little sooner.

Ricketts again indicated that Epstein would have the authority to eat money on a bad contract for a player who didnt fit anymore. (The implication in a reporters question was Soriano.)

Starlin Castro could still be absolutely essential to the teams plans people close to the 21-year-old All-Star shortstop think his legal situation will sort itself out but an alleged sexual assault has been the bad publicity hanging over the convention.

From our standpoint, Starlin and his advisors put out a statement, Ricketts said. Its really not appropriate for us really to talk much beyond that. We just all hope it gets resolved as quickly as possible and everybody moves forward.

Epstein was not talking specifically about Castro. But he acknowledged that the Cubs will have to be able to find and develop players who can deal with all the temptations in this city.

Its been a factor in ruining some careers, Epstein said. Im sure its been (an) impediment to the Cubs of winning. Especially (given) what were trying to do develop a young core of players (the) approach that were going to have (is) the opposite of laissez-faire.

Were not just going to say, Oh, thats the way it is in Chicago, boys will be boys, Im sure theyll get enough sleep and be able to show up the next day ready to play. Thats failure on the organizations part.

That opportunity to build something and think more broadly about an organization matched Epstein up with Ricketts.

Last October, Ricketts told Cubs executive Crane Kenney to ask Red Sox president Larry Lucchino for permission to speak with Epstein. Ricketts got a call back from John W. Henry, the principal owner of the Red Sox, and a few days later Epstein was spotted at a Starbucks in Lincoln Park.

We were so secretive, Ricketts said, and then he hops out of the car to get an iced coffee and someone spots him. Why not just fly you in on United and put up a billboard for Gods sake?

That wouldnt be shocking anymore, because at the moment Epstein is the face of the franchise.