While some hipsters may argue for Andrew Friedman and his Dodgers think tank, Theo Epstein is still by far the most talented executive working in baseball today. The former Red Sox general manager didn’t necessarily build this current Boston team, but he certainly laid the foundations with astute draft picks and legendary signings. Meanwhile, in Chicago, he’s constructed a juggernaut that looks set to dominate for many years to come, affirming his reputation.
Epstein’s achievements in Boston are meticulously documented, to the point where people tend to forget the magnificence of his everyday maneuvering. The overarching narrative is intoxicating. Theo’s expertise in statistics and scouting delivered the first Red Sox championship in eighty-six years. As if that wasn’t enough, the wonder kid then plotted a further title run in 2007. The Red Sox were transformed from streaky contenders to serial winners.
Of course, things didn’t end particularly well between the Red Sox and Theo Epstein. Epstein felt pressure from ownership to make extravagant free agent signings that helped television ratings but hindered his vision for a sustainable baseball machine. Nevertheless, despite receiving some unfair criticism in recent years, Epstein left a strong legacy that we still see on the field every single day at Fenway Park.
The Legacy of Theo Epstein
Dustin Pedroia, the heart of this team, was drafted by Theo. So was Clay Buchholz, but hey, you can’t have them all. Theo also signed David Ortiz and Junichi Tazawa, two key pieces on the 2016 Red Sox. However, what many people don’t acknowledge is that Theo also drafted Betts, Bradley Jr., Swihart, Vazquez, Owens and Shaw. As for Xander Bogaerts, that guy playing shortstop and leading the league in hitting? Well, Epstein signed him, too.
Obviously, a lot has happened since Theo left Boston for Chicago, and Ben Cherington and Dave Dombrowski have made worthy tweaks to this team. But facts must be respected, and one such fact is that the fingerprints of Theo Epstein are all over this Red Sox team. Though it may pain some bitter fans, he deserves greater recognition for that.
How the Cubs Were Built
While Boston is a fine offensive ball club, the Cubs are in a different universe right now. Chicago is 44-19, and has a legitimate shot at beating the all-time record of 116 regular season wins. As a team, the Cubs get on base at a .347 clip, second only to the Red Sox, but every starter has an ERA below 3.00 and the bullpen has been solid. Oh, and the Cubs also lead the league in several defensive stats, as if they weren’t dynamic enough.
Perhaps most impressively, this team was built from scratch by Theo and Jed Hoyer, his trusty lieutenant. They inherited a mess at Wrigley Field, and decided that the best way to get better was first to get worse. Short term pain for long term game was the mantra. Epstein was given the space, time and revenue to execute his Utopian plan for the ultimate baseball team.
First, a young core was established, mostly in the minor leagues, courtesy of trades and brilliant draft choices. Then, once it had matured, external free agents that made sense were signed to compliment the homegrown nucleus. That’s how the Cubs wound up with such a formidable team, with elite players such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber primed to lead the North Side resurgence for perhaps a decade to come.
Theo’s Visions for Boston Carried Out in Chicago: What will the Future Hold?
Right now, we’re seeing at Wrigley Field what Theo Epstein once envisaged for Fenway Park and the Red Sox. Many people are quick to say that this fan base wouldn’t tolerate such an aggressive rebuild. Surely it was more purposeful than the general cellar-dwelling of recent times. Yes, the Red Sox won a World Series in 2013 while the Cubs tanked, but Chicago now has a window to win multiple rings while Boston’s future is very bright but far more uncertain.
Ultimately, Theo Epstein was the architect responsible for the two most potent offenses currently dominating Major League Baseball. While he certainly made mistakes in Boston, and developing pitching has always been an issue for his front offices, Red Sox fans must appreciate his continued influence on the team’s fortunes.
Perhaps the Sox and Cubs will meet in the World Series this year. After all, both teams are in strong positions. However, when the last generation of Theo players leaves the Red Sox, the true test will present itself. Can Dave Dombrowski match his forebear in creating a sustainable, organic winner? Only time will tell.