There’s no doubt that the bold move of luring Theo Epstein away from the Boston Red Sox to become the Chicago Cubs’ president of baseball operations changed the culture of baseball on the north side of Chicago. Instantly, there was a change in organizational philosophy and for the first time in seemingly forever, the Cubs were preparing to undergo a rebuild.
Gone were the days when noncompetitive Cubs teams tried to rebuild through signing free agents to overpriced multi-year deals. Looking back over the first two-plus years of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s how the Cubs got to this point.
October 13, 2011: The Cubs hire Theo Epstein as their president of baseball operations.
In order to make this deal possible, Epstein had to resign as the GM of the Boston Red Sox because he had a year left on his deal in Boston. With the hire, the Cubs made it clear that they wanted to head in a completely new direction. One could say that Epstein has a record of reversing curses, and the Cubs were clearly hopeful that he could continue that trend. As part of the deal, the league also announced that the Cubs would have to provide the Red Sox with compensation.
October 26, 2011: The Cubs hire Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod from the San Diego Padres organization.
They name Hoyer as the team’s general manager and McLeod as the director of scouting and player development. These two helped Epstein build a championship team in Boston in 2004. With these hires, the top of the Cubs’ new front office was effectively set.
November 2, 2011: The Cubs fire manager Mike Quade.
As can usually be expected when there’s a regime change in the front office, there’s a regime change in the dugout, as well. While Quade didn’t have much to work with, the team still evidently felt that going in a new direction at manager as well was the right move for the team going forward.
November 17, 2011: The Cubs hire manager Dale Sveum.
The former Brewers hitting coach is tabbed as the next manager of the Cubs after the team interviewed several candidates, including Mike Maddux (who later withdrew his name from consideration) and Sandy Alomar Jr.
January 6, 2012: The Cubs trade pitcher Andrew Cashner to the Padres for pitcher Zach Cates and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
After missing out on Prince Fielder in free agency, making a move like this gave the Cubs what they believed to be their first baseman of the future in Anthony Rizzo. Whether he turns out the way that management envisioned remains to be seen, but this move majorly changed the direction of the club long-term.
January 11, 2012: The Cubs sign pitcher Paul Maholm to a one-year deal.
This signing of former division rival Maholm normally wouldn’t seem like a big deal in terms of the organization’s future, but what he got them at the trade deadline made his signing an important one. A signing like this was also a indication of things to come in the Epstein/Hoyer regime; signing mid-level players to one-year deals and hoping to trade them at the deadline for prospects has become a successful trend for the Cubs’ front office.
February 21, 2012: The Cubs send pitcher Chris Carpenter to the Red Sox as compensation for Theo Epstein coming to the Cubs before his deal with Boston expired.
No, this wasn’t the Cardinals’ former ace Chris Carpenter, but this was significant because Carpenter was one of the Cubs’ better pitching prospects. One of the biggest problems facing the Cubs right now is their lack of pitching depth in the minor leagues, so this move could prove significant even though Carpenter hasn’t panned out on the big league level as of yet.
June 12, 2012: The Cubs fire hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.
Once thought of as the savior for the Cubs lineup after coming over from Texas, the lack of offensive production forced the Cubs’ front office to move in a new direction. With this move, most remaining top front office members and coaching staff were selected by Epstein and Hoyer .
June 26, 2012: The Cubs recall 1B Anthony Rizzo from Triple-A Iowa.
After trading for him in January, the Cubs decide that it was time for Rizzo to play first base in a Chicago Cubs uniform. He didn’t disappoint in his first prolonged big league action, hitting 15 home runs and driving in 48 while batting .285 in 87 games. His season was highlighted by a walk-off two-run homer against the rival Cardinals on July 29th.
June 30, 2012: The Cubs and OF Jorge Soler agree to a nine-year deal.
Cuban defector Soler boasts more raw power than many youngsters in baseball. This signing is the first major move of the Epstein and Hoyer regime that shifted focus to the future, when the team should be competing in the playoffs.
July 11, 2012: The Cubs sign OF Albert Almora to a minor league contract after drafting him sixth overall in the June draft.
Following this pick, the Cubs believed that they had found their leadoff man of the future. Coming out of high school, Almora still had to grow quite a bit, and again the forward-thinking front office knew that when his time came, it would also likely be the Cubs’ time to compete.
July 30, 2012: The Cubs trade pitcher Paul Maholm and OF Reed Johnson to the Braves for pitchers Jaye Chapman and Arodys Vizcaino .
Since they signed Maholm to a one-year deal in the offseason, the Cubs basically scooped up Chapman and Vizcaino for the price of Maholm ‘s contract from April through July. Vizcaino was coming off of Tommy John surgery at the time of the deal and he suffered a setback in 2013, but he seems ready to make an impact from the bullpen in the 2014 season.
August 15, 2012: Cubs fire vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita .
This came as somewhat of a surprise after Fleita signed a four-year extension the previous offseason, but again Epstein and Hoyer evidently felt that putting their own guys in place at the top was the right way to go. Fleita had been with the organization in various capacities since 1995.
August 28, 2012: The Cubs and SS Starlin Castro agree to a seven-year contract extension.
In an interesting deal, both sides were taking a risk. By signing the budding star to a seven-year, $60 million contract, the Cubs are saying that they believe he will be a force to be reckoned with in the future. If he turns out to be a superstar, then it’s a good deal for the Cubs and a bad deal for Castro. Should he completely flop, then it’s the other way around. Just a year-and-a-half into the extension, it’s unclear who the winner of this contract is right now.
August 29, 2012: The Cubs hire Brandon Hyde as director of player development.
This move meant that Hyde would now be in charge of running the Cubs’ farm system and making sure that players at all levels were progressing the way they were supposed to be. Effectively, Hyde was the replacement for Fleita after he was fired two weeks before. Recently, Hyde was moved to the dugout to be the Cubs’ bench coach for the 2014 season.
November 27, 2012: The Cubs and pitcher Scott Feldman agree to terms on a one-year deal.
Like the Maholm signing, this didn’t seem like big news at the time, but the group of players that he brought in return made this signing a big deal. It also established a trend that the front office would like to continue: signing players in the same fashion that they signed Maholm the year before.
December 7, 2012: The Cubs and pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa agree to terms on a two-year deal.
At the time, it seemed like Fujikawa would be the setup man to closer Carlos Marmol . However, injuries made him ineffective and eventually ended his season extremely prematurely. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in June, he is expected back at some point toward the middle of the 2014 season. As of right now, this move isn’t significant, but he could be a wild card in the bullpen if he stays healthy and can be effective in 2014.
December 21, 2012: The Cubs and OF Nate Schierholtz agree to terms on a one-year deal.
This move was reminiscent of the sort that Epstein and Hoyer have liked making in the past. Take a player that was marginally productive as a role player and throw him into the everyday starting lineup and see how he does.
This strategy worked out really well for the Cubs and Schierholtz , as the lefty ended up hitting 21 home runs in 2013, which was more than double his previous career high. Moving forward, Schierholtz could be a very interesting trade piece in 2014 if the Cubs decide to go that route since they have so many young outfielders waiting in the minor leagues.
January 3, 2013: The Cubs and Edwin Jackson agree to terms on a four-year deal.
Giving $48 million ($52 million including a signing bonus) to a player that has never seemed to stick in one city seemed risky at the time. For a guy who can eat up innings and be a workhorse, the deal didn’t seem atrocious, but 2013 proved to be a major down year for Jackson. He lost 18 games and had an ERA just below 5.00.
He showed a glimpse of why he got the contract he did when he went 3-1 with a 1.84 ERA in July. Since he gets behind in counts often, Jackson will never have a low ERA, but if he can consistently work late into games and keep the Cubs in it, he can be a solid contributor as a third starter.
April 3, 2013: The Cubs and Ryan Sweeney agree to terms on a minor league contract.
This was a low-risk proposition for the Cubs, who snatched up Sweeney on the chance that he could eventually be productive at the major league level again. The signing proved to be a smart one as Sweeney ended up totaling six home runs and 19 RBI in limited action.
He was injured often in 2013, but after receiving another contract from the Cubs in the 2013 offseason, he projects as a starter until some of the club’s young talent starts making its way to Wrigley Field.
May 13, 2013: The Cubs and 1B Anthony Rizzo agree to terms on a seven-year contract extension.
Following suit from the extension they gave Castro, the Cubs again gave Rizzo more money than he was worth up front in hopes that he would eventually be worth far more in the future. For a left-handed hitter with the power to hit more than 30 home runs a year, it seemed like a relatively safe risk for the organization.
July 2, 2013: The Cubs trade C Steve Clevenger and pitcher Scott Feldman to the Orioles for starting pitcher Jake Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop.
When it’s all said and done, this may be one of the biggest steals that the Cubs have pulled off in a while. While Clevenger was showing promise, he was never going to be the Cubs’ everyday catcher. Feldman was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason with the goal of getting a return for him exactly like this.
What the Cubs received in return was two promising pitchers whose teams essentially gave up on them. Arrieta was a former top prospect, and after performing well down the stretch for the Cubs, he projects into the No. 4 or 5 slot in the Cubs’ 2014 starting rotation.
Strop pitched extremely well for the Orioles in 2012, going 5-2 with a 2.44 ERA in the setup role. However, things seemed to fall apart early in the 2013 season for Strop, and the Orioles lost trust in him. There was a period of two weeks between May and June that Strop wasn’t used once in Baltimore. Once he came to the Cubs, though, management informed him that he was tipping his slider, and once he corrected that, it was smooth sailing for the righty .
After arriving in Chicago, Strop posted a 2.83 ERA while going 2-2. Without the signing of Jose Veras in the 2013 offseason, Strop would have had a great chance at being the team’s 2014 closer. That being said, he still looks like the setup man or closer of the future.
July 12, 2013: The Cubs and 3B Kris Bryant agree to terms on a minor league contract.
After drafting him second overall in the June draft, the Cubs were able to sign the player that was far and away the best hitter in the draft. In college at San Diego, Bryant clubbed 31 home runs, which was 10 more than the next closest player.
He continued his dominance in the minor leagues and is now on the fast track to Chicago.
July 19, 2013: The Cubs recall OF Junior Lake from Tripla -A Iowa.
Originally a shortstop and third base prospect, Lake is plugged into the Cubs outfield because the organization evidently projects him getting more playing time there. For a player who wasn’t necessarily a top-flight prospect, Lake performed extremely well.
The fleet-footed Lake hit six homers to go along with 16 RBI and batted .284 in 236 at-bats. That performance, as well as his room to grow, have him on track to be a starting outfielder for the Cubs in 2014 and possibly beyond depending on his sustained performance.
July 23, 2013: The Cubs trade pitcher Matt Garza to the Rangers for 3B Mike Olt and pitchers C.J. Edwards and Justin Grimm.
While the Feldman trade may have been the Cubs’ biggest trade steal, this was the Cubs’ biggest trade yield. The Cubs received Mike Olt , who was a top prospect in the Rangers organization, and after battling through vision issues a year ago he is primed to make a run at the starting third base job this spring training.
C.J. Edwards is an undersized, yet extremely impressive young pitcher. He needs to fill out his 6’2″, 155-pound frame, but the production people have seen from Edwards in the lower levels of the minor leagues is already enough to call him one of two top pitching prospects in the Cubs organization.
Grimm is not as highly touted a prospect as Edwards, but he produced at the major league level a season ago and will be battling for one of the final projected bullpen spots this spring training.
July 26, 2013: The Cubs trade OF Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees for pitcher Corey Black.
Ridding themselves of the last bad contract from the Jim Hendry era, the Cubs were actually able to get a decent return. Black isn’t nearly major league-ready, but the fact that the Cubs got a player who can project into their rotation at some point in the future was solid given Soriano’s remaining contract.
While he didn’t perform poorly, Soriano never lived up to the giant contract that he signed with the Cubs. This move was symbolic of a franchise shifting directions and looking toward the future as it developed an entirely new brand of Cubs baseball.
September 30, 2013: The Cubs fire manager Dale Sveum.
It seemed obvious from the moment they hired him that Sveum wasn’t going to be the Cubs’ manager when they were competing for championships, but his departure came a season or two earlier than most likely expected.
Like Quade , he wasn’t given much to work with, but his smug demeanor didn’t play out well with the team losing as many games as it did. He did help groom some players like Castro and Rizzo, but his tenure was a forgettable one from the Cubs’ perspective.
November 7, 2013: The Cubs hire Rick Renteria as manager.
After missing out on coming to an agreement with former Cubs catcher Joe Girardi, the club decided to hire Padres bench coach Rick Renteria. The club made it a point to add more Spanish-speaking managerial staff due to its plethora of Spanish-speaking talent in the minor leagues, and Renteria fit the bill in that respect and others.
Renteria is seemingly in a gray area as manager of this team. When Sveum took the job two years before, it seemed apparent that he wouldn’t be coaching the team when it was contending. Now, though, Renteria will be coaching a team that is still at least a year, and maybe two, away from competing. How he performs as manager may directly affect if he’s around when the club’s competing or not.
December 12, 2013: The Cubs trade OF Brian Bogusevic to the Marlins for OF Justin Ruggiano .
Acquiring Ruggiano gives the Cubs more versatility on their bench. He figures to be a fourth outfielder and an often-utilized pinch hitter. He hit 18 home runs last season while not playing every day, so the move provides the Cubs with more depth on their bench.
December 16, 2013: The Cubs and reliever Wesley Wright agree to a one-year deal.
What this deal did more than anything is give the team more flexibility in the bullpen. Now Wright joins James Russell as the two lefties in the Cubs’ ‘pen. Being able to use multiple lefties is invaluable to a team whose bullpen underachieved a season ago.
December 27, 2013: The Cubs and reliever Jose Veras agree to terms on a one-year deal.
This signing adds even more depth to a drastically improved Cubs bullpen. It allows the Cubs to have a proven closer at the ready while pitchers like Pedro Strop and Arodys Vizcaino develop into the possible closers of the future.
January 13, 2014: The Cubs announce that “Clark” will be the first mascot in team history.
In possibly the worst-timed mascot announcement of all time, the Cubs managed to discourage a fanbase even further.
The first two years of the rebuild have been a roller-coaster ride, as expected. What will be more indicative of the progress of the rebuild will be how the next two years go. How they go could determine the future of a franchise rooted in futility. Fortunately, Epstein and Hoyer are hoping that they can make lightning strike twice.
For a full list of Cubs transactions over the past two-plus seasons, click here.