The last two months of uninspired baseball by the Cubs have left a lot of fans trying to point out reasons why. Some blame the players, some blame Joe Maddon, and others mention the front office. While I agree that both the players and Joe Maddon need to shoulder some responsibility, blaming Theo Epstein, President of Baseball Operations, and Jed Hoyer, General Manager, is ludicrous.
While the argument that Theo and Jed have made some mistakes in recent years has some truth to it, it pales in comparison to the number of successful transactions they have completed during their tenure with the Cubs. They have been the catalyst to the sustained success the organization has experienced since 2015. Both Theo and Jed were hired in the offseason after the 2011 campaign. In the eight years of them running the show (including the rest of this season), the Cubs have been contending for five of them. They have made the postseason four straight years. Can you name the last time in Cubs history the team made the postseason four straight seasons? You can’t. It’s NEVER happened in 143 seasons of the organization’s existence, which solidifies Theo and Jed in the Hall of Fame of the Cubs’ history books.
Right when Theo and Jed arrived in the 2011 offseason, they started tearing the roster down. Three seasons later, the Cubs make the NLCS. In the following year, they win the World Series. Seeing a tear-down translate to a World Series that quickly almost never happens in MLB. There are obviously other factors, such as Joe Maddon and Tom Ricketts, who deserve credit. However, Theo and Jed deserve most of the recognition, as they are achieving sustained success in a manner the Cubs have never experienced before.
If you take a look at some trades they have made over the years, it’s laughable at how one-sided some of them are. An extensive list is shown below:
If you take a look at how the players on the receiving end panned out, it’s obvious how one-sided these trades are in the aggregate. Anthony Rizzo is a three-time All-Star and the proverbial captain of this team since 2014. Kyle Hendricks is arguably the ace of the starting rotation for the last few seasons. Jake Arrieta was the 2015 NL Cy Young and an integral piece in 2016 and 2017 as well. Pedro Strop has been an exceptional arm in the bullpen as a Cub and is the current set-up man. While Samardzija was good for the Cubs, they were in a better position to trade him for prospects rather than pay him big money in free agency. More importantly, Samardzija has not been as good since he left the Cubs. Yes, Russell has not been the same player the past two seasons, but he was fundamental to their success from 2015-2017. He is still only 25 years old and could easily get back to the player he once was. Dexter Fowler was the leadoff man the team needed to win that coveted World Series ring in 2016.
Although Gleyber Torres is a stud on the Yankees right now, anyone who argues the Yankees won that trade doesn’t understand the concept of buying/selling at the trade deadline. The Cubs needed to bolster their bullpen in order to win a World Series and were in no position to accumulate high valued prospects. They do not come close to winning the World Series in 2016 without Chapman. Trading Jorge Soler for Wade Davis, the closer in 2017, was a major factor in the Cubs’ ability to make the NLCS that year. Adding Cole Hamels last season at the deadline has been crucial for the rotation. He has a 2.98 ERA and has been the most dominant pitcher this year. Although last year ended with a disappointment, they acquired Daniel Murphy, a much-needed upgrade to the lineup, for practically nothing. All of these transactions were fundamental to the success the Cubs have enjoyed the last four seasons, yet somehow get swept under the rug when talking about the front office this year.
A trade that a lot of fans blame the front office for is the Dylan Cease and Eloy Jimenez for Jose Quintana deal in 2017 with the White Sox. While fans are quick to exclaim the Cubs lost that trade, there are other factors that come into play when evaluating it. First of all, the Cubs were trading for Quintana’s cheap, controllable contract just as much as his ability on the field. That contract has stabilized the rotation the last few years and has allowed the Cubs to spend more freely for pitching elsewhere. People don’t realize that if the Cubs don’t make that trade, they go out in free agency the following offseason and sign someone else to take that fourth starter role in the rotation. The Cubs would have had to spend a lot more money to sign a pitcher of Quintana’s caliber in free agency for a long-term deal. If the front office takes that route, they do not have the leeway money wise to trade for Hamels at the deadline last year or pick up his $20 million option this year. Without Hamels, I am not sure where the Cubs would be this year. He’s been that good. Although Quintana is having one of his worst seasons this year, he’s been a good third/fourth starter in the rotation the past couple seasons. It’s too early to say who won that trade, but the idea that the Sox fleeced the Cubs is not true. Out of all the trades mentioned so far, it’s the only one that could even be argued that the Cubs lost, which speaks to how consistently successful the front office has been.
Not only has the front office had success with trades, but they have also had success through free agency. They signed Jon Lester in 2014, which is arguably the best contract in Cubs history. He was supposed to decline a season ago but continues to put up exceptional numbers in the back half of the contract. Theo and Jed also signed Ben Zobrist in 2015, who has been extremely valuable for the Cubs. He has been able to play all over the diamond and hit consistently well. It’s sad to see how the last year as a Cub has gone for him, but Theo still contends that he will be back later this year.
Also, the front office has been exceptional at scouting young talent. Jason McLeod, head of scouting, deserves a lot of praise in this regard. They drafted Kris Bryant in 2013, who’s arguably been the best player on the roster since 2015. Although his clutch numbers aren’t that great, he receives far too much scrutiny for that. He is eighth in baseball in WAR and has the exact same offensive stats as his 2016 NL MVP season (Source: baseball-reference.com). They also drafted David Bote in the 18th round of the 2012 draft, which has proven to be a steal. Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez, and Jorge Soler are all guys they scouted and either drafted or signed at a young age. While they’re not on the MLB roster anymore, all of them provided value through the trade market. Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, and Ian Happ are also all players Jed, Theo, and Jason drafted. While they all have experienced major ups and downs so far in their careers, not one of those guys is over the age of 26. It is far too early to consider them busts or say they cannot develop their games further.
It wouldn’t be an objective look at the front office without mentioning where they went wrong. In 2011, they traded DJ Lemahieu, current All-Star on the New York Yankees, for Ian Stewart. That turned out poorly. While Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood have not lived up to expectations, there is still time for them to turn it around. Yu Darvish has the fifth-lowest hard hit percentage of all starting pitchers in baseball at 30% (Source: FanGraphs). Given how bad he’s been this season, that’s absurd. It means that if he figures out how to command his pitches more accurately, there is a lot to work with there. He still has some of the nastiest stuff in baseball. Having said this, right now those two decisions look like mistakes. This past offseason, the Cubs traded Tommy La Stella for nobody and signed Daniel Descalso to replace him. This is probably the worst decision they’ve made, as La Stella is an All-Star and Descalso is a major disappointment. While Jason Heyward is a name I would have brought up a year ago, he’s finally turned it around and is worth his contract this year. He was beyond horrible in 2016, but fans over exaggerate his struggles in 2017 and 2018. He wasn’t worth his contract those years, but he was not that bad.
As you can see, there are only three or so bad decisions the front office has made in their time running the Cubs. This does not even come close to the laundry list of transactions that have been absolute successes. They have been the main factor behind four straight 90+ wins seasons, three straight NLCS appearances from 2015-2017, and one World Series. While Joe Maddon absolutely deserves credit, the idea that he has been more instrumental to the recent success than the front office is woefully incorrect. While I have been critical of the Cubs underachieving so far this season, I firmly believe that is more on the players and Joe Maddon than it is the front office, given their exceptional track record. They deserve some blame, but much more recognition for their successes. The front office put this organization in the best position possible to be competitive for the long haul. Even with all this success the past four seasons, the Cubs still have three more seasons within their World Series window to contend, all thanks to the front office. Fans need to start remembering all the good they’ve done instead of pointing out the few mistakes they’ve made. Both Theo’s and Jed’s contracts expire after the 2021 season. Cubs fans better hope they want to sign an extension, because both of them are significantly more valuable than any single player on the roster.
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