After the delayed firing of previous Cubs GM Jim Hendry, an overwhelming majority of Cubs fans were ecstatic, and for good reason. The man who made Grabow, Zambrano, Fukudome, Bradley and Dempster very rich men (and unfairly completely blamed for the Soriano pile of ridiculousness that is his contract) would finally be relieved of his duties. The man who hired a very, very, very nice guy but not good, above-average, average, or barely below-average manager in Mike Quade to lead the Cubs for two seasons would be told to kick rocks. Granted, Hendry did make some good moves. One series of which led to the 2003 team being 5 outs away from the World Series rather than watching the same drama unfold on TV. Others led to back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008 and a team that severely underachieved in 2009, even though it finished 5 games above .500. However, with a team seemingly going nowhere faster than anyone had previously thought, the firing was more than well-received by Cubs fans.
On October 5, 2011, it was reported that Theo Epstein would resign his position of general manager with the Boston Red Sox and sign a five-year contract worth an estimated $18.5 million to take the same position with the Chicago Cubs. Before the season, many Cubs fans opined that barring a deep playoff run, Hendry would be fired.
What spurred these opinions even more were the number of potential GM candidates that would be available at season’s end. Along with Dodgers VP/assistant GM Kim Ng, White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn, and Rays GM Andrew Friedmann, Epstein was on my and others’ wish lists should Hendry be canned. On August 19, 2011, those lists came back out.
Initially, reports were that Epstein would become the Cubs new GM. Then, I read reports that Epstein only wanted to be a GM for 10 years (9 in Boston) and that he wanted a higher position with the Cubs. ‘Sell him the damn team, Ricketts,’ I thought. Eventually, after a bit of intervention from commissioner Bud “Exhibition Counts” Selig to speed up the talks of compensation, Epstein became the Cubs new president of baseball operations. He “recruited” former San Diego Padres GM and wunderkind Jed Hoyer to take the same position with the Cubs in addition to serving as executive VP and former Padres VP and assistant GM Jason McLeod to come on as the Cubs new senior VP of scouting and player development. The “Theo Trio” was set. Now bring on those elusive titles.
Not really. While so many Cubs fans started saving for the 2012, 2013, 2014 World Series tickets, memorabilia, apparel and so on, I was and am still not so easily sold. Yes, Epstein did a wonderful job in Boston. He signed key players, drafted prospects who would eventually be significant contributors at the big-league level, and most importantly, won a World Series title. The 2002 Red Sox team was also not a shitty one like the 2010 Cubs. There was a bit more money for Theo to play with in Boston. Not Yankee-like, but more than Cubs fans are used to seeing spent. Also, Theo didn’t have to work with Crane Kenney and was fortunate enough to sign Tito Francona, and not Dusty Baker or Lou Piniella. Regardless of some Cubs fans attempt to paint Epstein as invincible, he made some flubs, just like Hendry. JD Drew, Mike Cameron, Julio Lugo, John Lackey, Edgar Renteria and a guy who made 44 starts over the last 3 seasons, Daisuke Matsuzaka, were not Epstein’s greatest hits. This is not nitpicking, but reality.
It’s great to know that the Cubs organization is trying a new approach in order to perennially be a better, more competitive team, all the way down to low-Rookie ball. No more rotating in overpaid, not quite elite players, lining their pockets and celebrating them because they’re nice guys. In with sabermetrics and ultra-thorough scouting, out with long-term deals and no-trade clauses awarded to guys who help with “clubhouse chemistry”.There will be a somewhat new, fairly innovative evaluation process when looking at players and prospects from now on. It will help lead to wins and above all else, championships. Of the world kind. Well, really, the North American kind. Still, Theo is not my savior.
Starlin “Casual” Castro is. This 21 year-old, 6’1″, 190-lb shortstop who doesn’t appear to have a care in the world
while grabbing a seat on the railing of his dugout in this picture is the Cubs future, beyond any doubt. The free-swinging, oft-erring, wide-smiling, baby-faced young phenom is the main reason I will spend my money on anything Cubs-related in the future. I will pay to watch him lead the Cubs, whether on TV or in person. I will buy his jersey and shirsey, not Theo’s. After every game, I will immediately check his stats in the box score. I won’t really care what Epstein has to say unless there’s an announcement of a trade, extension, or signing. If his Theoness misses a day of work for whatever reason, I won’t feel cheated like I would be if Starlin were to miss a game. By far the most exciting and simultaneously nauseating player on the Cubs to watch, he’s Derrick Rose on a baseball diamond, except he seems to understand that he doesn’t need to play the game at full-speed 100% of the time in order to be successful.
However, it does get him in trouble a bit too much for my liking. There are the occasional bang-bang plays at first that are a result of him waiting for the grounder to come to him instead of charging it and then patting his glove 5 times before shooting a pea across the diamond. There are also the 3-1 pitches out of the strike zone that are weakly popped up. Lest we forget, the errors on routine plays that seem to plague him once every few games.
In spite of all of this, Starlin is the one I view as the team’s and fanbase’s true savior. For my generation, he can be our Ryne Sandberg. Actually, he can be more than our Ryne Sandberg. Unlike Ryno, Starlin has been in the Cubs organization since the start of his professional career, at the ripe old age of 16. Barring a serious act of stupidity by the front office, he will man a prime position for at least the next decade. (Or, because I think he will only get bigger, will be the game’s best third baseman by 2015.)
Starlin may be a space cadet. He just might commit 25 errors and not draw 50 walks per season for the next 10 years. It’s his play and not Theo’s decisions that will lead to more wins, though. Castro will be the one I’ll look to when the Cubs need a clutch hit or play in the field. The kid will steal bases, take relay throws to cut down runners trying to advance, and score from first on a double to win a game. Theo and Co. will do their best to surround Starlin with 24 guys who will come together and win, but it is Starlin who must lead the charge, both on the field and off. If he is not the undoubted face of the franchise already, he needs to be. NOW.
I watched Starlin commit 3 errors in his home debut against the Marlins last May. Then I watched him do the same late in the season, pout and saunter after committing the third (unaware that the hitter had advanced to second base during his stroll) and then hearing a cascade of boos from the Wrigley faithful once he’d realized what happened. This August, I watched him become a repeat offender yet again against the Rockies. Stupid errors, all 9 of them; avoidable with a little more focus. My feelings did and will not waver. Clearly, Starlin has his flaws. He is far from refined. It may be a tad sadistic, but every Cubs fan will have to live with the pains of literally watching a kid grow into a bona-fide superstar.
The Theo hire was obviously a good one, and I liked it. As a matter of fact, I loved it. Being 26 and infatuated with baseball, it’s nice to see some youth and color infused into this old, cantankerous Cubs franchise. Hopefully, the hires of Hoyer and McLeod as well will breathe some much-needed life into this “dead-ass team”, as Bob Brenly so eloquently put it. Yet, Theo and his crew alone don’t send me spinning.
I don’t care that it will take a few years before I can even begin to think of Starlin lifting a World Series trophy. What should scare the rest of baseball is that Castro is not even in his prime. In fact, he’s still another 4-5 years before that part of his playing career. Damn it, Theo stans, a president of baseball operations has never struck a hitter out, driven in a run, stolen a base, or saved a game. Starlin plays the game, and well. Starlin DeJesus Castro is my savior.