October 12, 2013


Even when the Cubs fielded bad teams in the past, so long as players hustled and tried their best, fans were most forgiving of their "Lovable Losers."

But times have changed. Losing is not a viable option for players, management or fans.

The Epstein Era was supposed to change the losing culture that has engulfed the franchise for more than century of doom and gloom. But Epstein's two full seasons at the helm has led to a franchise record 197 losses. And the immediate future does not seem too bright.

The Cubs had 55 players in 2012 and 56 players in 2013 wear the uniform during the season. That is double the active roster for a team. The roster churn has to have some negative effect on the team. Pitchers like Jeff Samardzija are angry that 40 percent of the starting rotations were traded away. Conversely, management seems to take some pride in that accomplishment and the fact that 2.6 million tickets were sold to see the Cub product in 2013.

In a pass-fail world, how well has the Epstein major moves done for the Cubs?

1. The trade of Andrew Cashner for Anthony Rizzo.
Some people may argue that this is an "incomplete." But Cashner has come back from injury to become a middle rotation starter for the Padres. Rizzo was given a huge contract extension, then regressed badly this year. That may be a wash, but Rizzo was touted as a gold glove first baseman and nothing I have seen shows he has the instinct and positioning to become one.

2. The trade of Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers.
FAILURE. Stewart may be the biggest bust in a decade. He was always injured, did not play third especially well, and then became a malcontent. Even though Colvin struggled in Colorado, LeMahieu would have been just as good as the casting call of journeymen infielders. Weathers has been a non-factor in the minors. The ramifications that the team did not replace Aramis Ramirez's production at third meant that the team has overcompensated in trying to find a young prospect for third (Josh  Vitters, Mike Alt, Christian Villeuneva, and Kris Bryant.)

3. The trade of Sean Marshall for Travis Wood and Dave Sappelt.
PASS. Anytime you can trade a reliever for a quality starter, it is a good deal. Sappelt amounted to nothing as a 6th AAAA outfielder. Marshall helped the Reds get to the playoffs as a lefty 8th inning specialist.

4. The hiring of manager Dale Sveum.
FAILURE. The new front office put all their manager candidates through a battery of tests and interviews to find the right person for the job. They chose Sveum over several other candidates. Sveum was not fired for his win-loss record, but because Epstein's two core youngsters, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, regressed this season. You can't have a manager in charge of a young team who cannot continue their talent development. But that is the reason why Sveum was hired in the first place. He was an experienced hitting coach and major league infielder. Even if you put more blame on the front office roster construction, that would also point to a failure by Epstein to give his chosen manager the tools to win.

5. The trade of Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson for Adroys Vizcaino and Jayne Chapman.
FAILURE. Maholm has been a quality left handed starter for the Braves while Vizcaino has yet to pitch in the majors after numerous setbacks from Tommy John surgery. There is no guarantee that Vizcaino will ever pitch for the Cubs, but Epstein staked his reputation on rehabbing injured pitchers into quality assets.

6. The trade of Matt Garza for Mike Olt, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez and C.J. Edwards.
PASS. The Cubs were never going to re-sign Garza, so team was in a bind to unload him. The front end of the deal seems suspect because Olt was terrible in his major league debut, and with post-concussion issues, he was awful at Iowa. Grimm is another one of those guys who has major league experience but stumbled badly (see Jake Arrieta) who the Cubs think they can turn around. The two low minor pitchers, Ramirez and Edwards, have potential but some scouts believe they may be projected only to bullpen pieces.

7. The trade of Ryan Dempster for Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva.
PASS. Dempster was at the end of his career, and like Garza, the Cubs had no need to re-sign him. Hendricks turned out to be the Cubs minor league pitcher of the year, and will start in Iowa in 2014 as its Number One starter.

8. Construction of the 2012 and 2013 major league rosters.
FAILURE. The Cubs spent more than $232 million on major league payroll to get 127 wins or approximately $1.83 million per victory. In 2012, the Cubs had 12 position players with a 0 to negative WAR. In 2012, the team had 18 pitchers with a 0 to negative WAR. A total of 30 players were below replacement level (AAA) or more than half the total of all players that season. In 2013, the cubs had 10 position players with a 0 to negative WAR. In 2013, 14 pitchers had a 0 to negative WAR. A total of 24 players were below replacement level (AAA) or almost have the total of all players this year. Approximately 49 percent of the Cubs roster over the past two seasons was not major league talent.

Clearly, there has been more failures than successes in the Epstein era.