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Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on October 18, 2011
Last week, the Chicago Cubs agreed in principle to a five-year, $15-18.5 million deal with former Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.
While the final details of this transaction are expected to be finalized later this week, Epstein's nine-year tenure in Boston -- including the team's first two World Series titles in 86 years -- will come to an end.
Assuming there are no major kinks in the supposed deal, the Cubs will benefit from having a new face around, but is five years enough time for Epstein to turn around the struggling franchise? Well, he will certainly try.
Epstein is one of the many "Moneyball" guys in the game today. Many of these baseball personnel were never great at baseball -- Epstein actually never even played in high school -- but they rely on complex statistical analysis to judge talent.
Epstein is a Yale graduate who became the youngest general manager in history at age 28 back in 2002. He has an impressive resume, and now it will be time for him to employ his skills to turn around America's other curse-ridden franchise.
Though Epstein should be excited for this new opportunity, he'll likely be the first to say that he's inheriting a mess. The Cubs are coming off a 71-91 season that did not have too many bright spots.
However, Epstein will have the chance to make an immediate splash, and that would come in the form of one of the superstar first basemen on the market: Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder.
The Cubs are said to be heavy players for both sluggers, since they will have the money to spend and will be in need of a first baseman since Carlos Pena will become a free agent. The big money teams -- the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies -- are all set a first base for a while, so the Cubs become a favorite to land one of the two.
Both players would benefit from staying in the NL Central, but they would be viewed as traitors since the Cardinals, Brewers and Cubs are all division rivals. However, in today's game, money talks more than loyalty.
If Epstein can lure one of these first basemen to Chicago early on in the offseason, he'll give the Cubs instant credibility once again, which may result in other high-profile free agents signing in the "Windy City."
Speaking of free agents, Aramis Ramirez will hit the open market this winter. He has already expressed a desire to want out of the mess in Chicago, but that was before the team brought in Epstein. Maybe the new general manager can convince Ramirez, who hit .306 with 26 home runs this season, to stay, especially if he's batting behind Pujols or Fielder.
All of a sudden, the Cubs would have the makings of a competitive team. The middle infield of Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney will only get better, and full healthy seasons from Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano will be key to the team's success.
The pieces are there, even on the pitching side. Epstein cannot control his players' performances on the field, but he will hope for more consistent seasons from Matt Garza, Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Marmol and Ryan Dempster, if his option is exercised.
With the Brewers and Cardinals still both likely to be the class on the NL Central next season, the Cubs have a ways to go. But the right moves from the new general manager can lay the foundation for the next several years.
While Epstein may bring in a few Major League ready players this offseason, his most valuable role within the organization will be his ability to draft players that will shoot through the minor leagues and contribute to the big club.
He drafted Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard and Jacoby Ellsbury during his tenure in Boston. This track record bodes well for the Cubs.
So before too long, let the Epstein era in Chicago begin. At least for the Cubs, odds are it will be better than the past few seasons.