We had plenty of stuff from Theo in the Friday paper, but since space is always a consideration, I’d like to run some of what he said unfiltered here on the blog today. It might spark some good discussion. I’ve already had an emailer ask about fuller context about the Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters situations and another who pretty much proclaimed the Epstein era failure after about 11 months. That didn’t take long.
First, congrats to Shiraz Rehman, who was promoted to assistant general manager, joining Randy Bush with that title. Both guys report to GM Jed Hoyer. Rehman, 34, joined the Cubs last November as assistant to the general manager after six seasons with the Diamondbacks, for whom he was director of player personnel. He also held the titles of director of baseball operations and manager of baseball operations after joining the organization as a baseball operations assistant in December 2005.
Before joining the Diamondbacks, Rehman interned for the Theo’s Boston Red Sox during the 2005 season in the baseball operations department.
On to Theo. A handful of us reporters had about a 40-minute session with Theo in the interview dungeon Thursday. Theo took all questions and was very expansive. Let’s go at length here on what I thought were some of the more interesting responses. Theo mentioned that the Cubs would likely go after a couple of free-agent pitchers. I believe we’re looking at guys in the mold of Paul Maholm.
So if you’ve got a few minutes, grab something to drink and dig into this blog.
Here is what Theo said in general about free agency: “There’s no blanket rule that says because we’re committed to a certain vision for the future that we can’t sign a contract with a certain duration. Hopefully we sign players this winter, things break our way and we sign players who become big parts of that future and become elements of our foundation. Things have to break a certain way for us for that to happen. But that’s the goal. You don’t only set out looking for stopgap. You don’t only set out looking for players you can flip for younger players down the line. You set out looking for players that can become part of that foundation, through trade primarily, but also through free agency. If there’s the right player with the right contract and even of a significant length, if we believe in that player and we believe in that investment, we won’t shy away from it.
“I’ve always believed, and I still believe, that the dollars you spend in major-league free agency provide the lowest return on investment of any dollars that we spend in baseball operations. You don’t set out to look to spend a lot of money in free agency. It’s a bit of a fool’s errand because the way the baseball salary structure works, the players don’t get to free agency these days until they’re usually on the other side of 30, and you usually end up paying, if you’re not careful, you almost can’t help but paying for past performance instead of future performance. It’s not a good way to get good return on the investment.
“So you have to recognize it’s an imperfect process, recognize you’re going to miss, recognize almost any time you sign a significant free agent, it’s for a year a year or two longer than you want. It’s for a few million dollars more a year than you want. Occasionally, that just has to be the price of doing business.
"Now, we work our tails off to find value in free agency. I think last year was a good example. Paul Maholm was available to any club, and we signed him for a year and an option. That ended up working well. We signed David DeJesus, signed him for two years and an option. So those worked well. So we passed on some other, longer bets that we didn’t think would provide good return on investment. Had that nice value been there long term for the right player, we would have done that, even maybe if it had done it eyes wide open recognizing it was probably a year longer than we wanted. But you can’t stay healthy doing that consistently. There have to be really extenuating circumstances to force you into that pool consistently. All of the work that we do to develop that young nucleus, another way to look at that work is to avoid having to go into free agency. If you feel you have to go into it, you’re in trouble.”
I had a chance to ask Theo if he felt the time Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson spent with the Cubs was disappointing or, if like Anthony Rizzo in 2011, it was a case of both players needed more time to develop.
“A little bit of both,” said Theo, who indicated both players are likely to start next year at Iowa. “Actually, I don’t think it was really surprising what happened with either player. And you can’t generalize. You have to talk about each player specifically because they’re at different points of their development, different skill sets, different personalities.
“Josh Vitters is a player who struggled initially at every level that he’s advanced to. That’s Josh’s nature. It takes him a little bit longer to get comfortable. It takes him a little bit longer to learn. It takes him a little while to manage that anxiety level. So it takes longer for his skills, which I think what he does well with experience will play at any level. It takes him longer to adjust. It’s not surprising at all that coming to the big leagues maybe a little bit before he was ready that it’s not surprising to see him struggle and struggle pretty dramatically. That’s to be expected. I think that will help him down the line. He’s got major adjustments to make, but really for him, it’s more of a process of getting comfortable. That’s the type of person he is. He needs to get comfortable. I think he will.
“Brett Jackson was promoted for specific reasons. We sat in Dale’s (manager Sveum's) office and those of us who had seen him play at Triple-A and those who know him a lot better than I do realized that right now, his swing is not ready to compete up here. He does a lot of other things very well. We don’t think he’s necessarily ready to succeed up here, but there were other reasons to get him up here. Dale wanted to see it firsthand. We wanted Dale and James (hitting coach Rowson) to have a chance to work with him, and we wanted to show Brett certain things, certain adjustments that he needed to make to ultimately have success at the big-league level. I think he’s going to have a much more productive off-season because of what he was exposed to than if he had stayed at Triple-A in what was for him somewhat of a disappointing season that he recognizes and needs to work hard to bounce back.”
Theo also was asked about the Cubs’ high ticket prices, especially in light of the fact the team lost 101 games this season and could lose a bunch more games next year. Even though ticket prices aren’t his area, he gave it a go.
“I think the experience at Wrigley is pretty great,” he said. “If we stay committed to that vision and we’re going places and we put a team on the field that plays really hard, the experience of coming to Wrigley is pretty special, it’s unique, it’s hard to replicate. I think that has something to do with the ticket prices.
“Do we want to make things easier on our fans? Do we want to give fans more value for the dollar? Do we want to make things easier for our fans’ families’ budgets going forward? Absolutely. I know the folks on the business side spend a lot of time talking about those things: How can we make things more affordable? How can we give them more value for what they are spending with us? There’s no getting around the fact that as far as the ultimate return on investment on the fans’ dollar, which is seeing a winning team, they’re going to get better value a little bit down the road than what they’re getting right now. It’s our job to make sure they get that value. The experience of watching a baseball team down the stretch into October and celebrating with that team is priceless and that’s ultimately how we can reward the fans’ support.”