The lovable losers might not be losers much longer.
Theo Epstein, who helped build the Boston Red Sox into perennial pennant contenders, is about to be named the new general manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Epstein became a well-known figure in baseball because of his youth. In 2002, he became the Red Sox GM at age 29, and his youth and Ivy League education pointed towards a change in who was getting hired to make the trades and signings of organizations. After the book Moneyball was published, baseball was looking at new and interesting ways to change their player acquisitions, and even the Los Angeles Dodgers followed Boston's lead, and hired Paul DePodesta at age 31.
At this point, Epstein is no longer the young GM trying to prove himself. He has several years of experience and has made some important moves to help the Red Sox win two World Series titles. Some were blockbuster deals, like trading for Curt Schilling and signing David Ortiz, and others were minor deals like trading a little known minor-leaguer for Dodgers' starting center fielder Dave Roberts, who helped the Red Sox win their first World Series since 1918 with his speedy base-running.
But every general manager has some blunders, and Epstein certainly had his share in Boston. He gave major deals to J.D. Drew, Julio Lugo, and John Lackey, and all have failed to live up to their high-priced salaries.
He also traded Bronson Arroyo, who went on to have some strong seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, in exchange for outfielder Wily Mo Pena, who turned out to be a bust.
Epstein comes with a winning pedigree, which is what the Cubs sorely lack, so his positives far out-weigh the negatives, especially considering who Epstein is replacing. Former general manager Jim Hendry failed to make the Cubs respectable, even with among the highest payrolls in baseball. Hendry over-paid for outfielders Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley, and waived third baseman Casey McGehee, and in the process failed to land quality pitchers.
Epstein, who had a huge budget to work with as the Red Sox GM, will be called up on to work his magic with his new club. With knowledge of how to run a team with a big payroll, he steps into his job with excellent training.
He may have his work cut out for him, though. Two National League Central clubs went to the Championship Series this year, and the Cubs finished with just 71 wins, and were 25 games out of first place.
The Cubs farm system went into the 2011 season with outfielder Brett Jackson and pitcher Terry McNutt as the two top prospects. However, they may lose one or both of those prospects to Boston to get Epstein. Even if both Jackson and McNutt remain, the Cubs' still lack top talent in the minors.
If Epstein wants to be successful, and give the Cubs their first World Series title in over a century, he should take a patient approach. He should strengthen the farm system, and make calculated moves to build for a run in 2013 or 2014. The Cubs are years away from being a true title contender, and can't go back to finding players who are quick fixes.
Fortunately for Epstein, Cubs fans are patient, and have been waiting for a guy like him to finally get them over the hump.
Epstein is a step in the right direction for the Cubs.