Theo Epstein appears set to join the Cubs with the title of GM or something better, and like the signing of Andre Dawson, the hirings of Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella, and the trade for Nomar Garciaparra, the notion has many Cubs fans feeling like they have gone to heaven.
Let's just hope this thing with Theo is not like the others. In those cases, heaven turned out to be purgatory.
When Theo appeared to be on the outs in Boston, it made Tom Ricketts' job easy. How do you argue against two World Series titles? How do you argue against the combination of youthful energy and years of experience in one package? How do you argue against this: In eight seasons with Boston, Theo's teams never had fewer than 86 wins, and only three times had fewer than 95 wins.?
How do you argue against a miracle-working curse-breaker?
If Ricketts had not tried to hire Theo, and Theo had landed elsewhere, Ricketts would have been vilified. Theo's accomplisments are that hard to argue, so let's not argue them. Let's just look at a few reasons we should perhaps temper our optimism:
--He has handed out long-term, bloated contracts to free agents with little even short-term value. Examples: Daisuke Matsuzaka (which is Japanese for "Mark Prior"), John Lackey, J.D. Drew, Julio Lugo. Carl Crawford may end up on this list, too, if he has another off year. Jim Hendry's Alfonso Soriano contract would fit right in here. (Check out this super-helpful spreadsheet analysis at Steal of Home for more on Theo's signings, trades, and draft choices.)
--He has made bad decisions about pitching, which is the Cubs' top need. All I really need to say is that when the White Sox were done with Bobby Jenks, Theo is the one who hired him, and on a multi-year contract. But, the Daisuke fiasco, the Lackey signing, moves for past-his-prime Eric Gagne, eternally-injured Eric Bedard and elderly John Smoltz. Meanwhile, he has traded away young top talent, or let it walk as compensation for free agent signings (Example: Casey Kelly, No. 1-ranked prospect for Boston, who left as part of the Adrian Gonzalez deal).
--On the latter point, much has been made of Theo's drafting capabilities and the role of the Carmine software prorgam in helping the club evaluate talent. But, the Cubs aren't hiring Carmine, are they? Theo has the statistical analysis chops that the Cubs want, but how much of his ability to draft and nurture young talent is his own, and how much of it is Carmine's or Boston's scouts' and minor league coaches'?
--Theo was not entirely the architect of the 2004 World Series winner. He did trade for Curt Schilling, but others like Manny Ramirez, who factored heavily in both the 2004 and 2007 championships, was brought in by a previous GM. So were Boston veterans Kevin Youkilis and Jason Varitek. Credit Theo with unloading Manny before his steroids scandal, though that also makes you wonder how much Boston should thank the wonders of science for its titles.
All of this is not to say I'm not excited by this hiring. If you go by accomplishments, Theo is the best baseball executive of the last decade. I didn't think Ricketts had the guts, the brains or the decisiveness to go after him, but I was wrong. Theo should be a better GM than Hendry was the last few years in particular, and the Cubs are about to be set to work on all their other needs with the World Series not even having started yet (Your plane is waiting, Mike Quade...)
In many ways, this is a no-brainer, which of course could be taken two ways--either the brain wasn't needed to make this decision, or it wasn't properly used.
Yes, the Cubs have their man. He is ready to take credit for another miracle. Does he have another one left in him?