Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Who wins World Series first, Cubs or Red Sox?

The Cubs introduced their savior, Theo Epstein, today.

10 years ago, Epstein was the wonderkid being given the keys to the shiny luxury car. Today, he's the grizzled veteran being brought in to turn around another franchise starving for a championship.

Epstein relinquishes his post as General Manager of the Red Sox to become President of Baseball Operations for the North Siders. He will report directly to Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, who was sitting alongside Epstein at the press conference today. Jed Hoyer, the GM of the San Diego Padres in 2011, will take over the vacant Cubs GM position.

The Cubs are a team in desperate need of an overhaul. After winning the NL Central in 2007 and 2008, they have finished 5th in the division the last two seasons. Previous management has burdened the team with unmovable contracts, such as Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano. Zambrano, the volatile starting pitcher, will make $18 million in 2012 and Soriano, a defensive liability in left field, is set to make $18 million each of the next three seasons.

Epstein and Hoyer will have some major holes to fill. The Cubs will be looking for a first baseman and it is expected that they will make competitive offers to superstar free agents Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder with the hope of making one the cornerstone player for the next seven or eight years. Right field and starting pitching are also priorities.

On the other hand, the team Epstein leaves behind, the Red Sox, are an organization in turmoil. They were the big offseason winners prior to the 2011 season, signing top free agent Carl Crawford and trading for MVP candidate Adrian Gonzalez. But the Red Sox blew a 9-game lead in the AL Wild Card race in September, the greatest collapse in history.

Since that walk-off loss to the Orioles to end the season, the Red Sox have parted ways with manager Terry Francona, allowed Epstein to leave and had to defuse a story that starting pitchers Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester were in the clubhouse during games drinking beer during the pennant race.

Once again, the two teams are linked. Prior to 2004, they were the two teams rich in history but lacking in recent World Series titles. Now they are linked through Epstein, the Red Sox savior now trying to revive the Cubs.

It will be interesting to see which team will experience success faster.

The Red Sox have the on-field talent (MVP candidates Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia as well as All-Stars Crawford and Kevin Youkilis) but are trying to stabilize the front office. Do they have players that need to be traded for the sake of clubhouse chemistry? Who will manage the team? Will all the turnover in the dugout and front office hurt the team? Will it be a distraction?

The Cubs now have a solid brain-trust in position but need to overhaul the talent on the field. Superstar-in-waiting Starlin Castro is the cornerstone player Epstein and Hoyer can build around. A decision will have to be made about third baseman Aramis Ramirez and his $16 million team option. It's believed he wants to stay with the Cubs, but will the team want to pay that much money to a guy that hasn't hit 30 home runs since 2006 and hasn't driven in 100 runs since 2008. How much are they willing to offer to Pujols or Fielder?

Both teams have a lot of questions to answer and a lot to prove on the field over the next few seasons. We'll have to wait and see which one of Epstein's projects will produce first: his abandoned project or his reclamation project.

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