Theo Epstein is apparently headed to Chicago to become the new General Manager of the Chicago Cubs after agreeing to a 5-year, $15 million deal with the club. The Red Sox will receive compensation in either cash or Minor Leaguers since Epstein still had one year remaining on his contract with the Red Sox. Epstein spend nine seasons as the helm for Boston, helping create a legacy that brought the Red Sox two World Championships, 2004 and 2007, after fans and the city had waited 86 years from the time the “Curse of the Bambino” began and ended.
Now, Epstein is in charge of building a contender behind the “Curse of the Billy Goat,” as the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. He worked his magic in Boston with healthy payrolls, going 839-619 (.575) by signing David Ortiz, trading for Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling, and drafting Jacoby Ellsbury. He also missed on John Lackey and Carl Crawford, but it didn’t hurt the team all that bad since they had strong players at nearly every position, including a mop-up bullpen star. What can Epstein do with the Cubs and their impressive payroll? He doesn’t have $161.4 million to work with like he did in Boston, but the $125.5 million that the Cubs spent in 2011 certainly isn’t as difficult as what Jed Hoyer was working with in San Diego or what Dayton Moore was working with in Kansas City.
He has some interesting decisions to make. Alfonso Soriano is making $18 million, Carlos Zambrano is set to make $18 million (though he may be on his way out due to his issues over the years with temper and his teammates), he’ll have to decide whether to pay Aramis Ramirez a $2 million buyout or pick up his 2012 option of $16 million, and Epstein needs to sit back and wait on whether Ryan Dempster is going to play for $14 million in Chicago or test Free Agency. Chicago has Matt Garza, Geovany Soto, Jeff Baker, Koyie Hill, Randy Wells, and Blake DeWitt as arbitration eligible heading into the offseason, so Epstein may want to lock up Garza and Soto before they get too expensive, and he may want to get a team-friendly long-term deal done with Starlin Castro, even though he isn’t arbitration eligible until 2013.
If the Cubs new ownership, the Rickett’s family, opens up their wallets, which are said to have 22% of all stock within TD Ameritrade, they could easily replace Carlos Pena with Albert Pujols, opening the Theo Epstein-era with a splash in Free Agency. Epstein has been there before. He signed Carl Crawford last offseason and changed the potential landscape of the American League East, only to see Crawford crash and burn in his first season in Boston. If Pujols signs with Chicago and Prince Fielder leaves Milwaukee, Epstein could also change the potential landscape of the National League Central and the National League, in general. Within three seasons, the Cubs will have Zambrano and Soriano off of their books and can really get involved in Free Agency.
The ability to trade, draft, and sign Free Agents is the ultimate luxury for a General Manager in Major League Baseball. While Andrew Friedman got 91 wins out of a $41.9 million 2011 payroll in Tampa, some guys just have all the luck and move on to more money and freedom. Epstein had a lot of success in Boston and brought their fans championships and successes that they prayed for and waited to see for a couple of generations. Cubs fans are in the same boat as Red Sox fans were in 2003 when Theo Epstein was hired. They can only hope that their prayers and patience are answered like those of Red Sox Nation. Can he break Chicago’s “Curse of the Billy Goat?”