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What signing Theo Epstein means for the Cubs

Tuesday evening, the rumors were swirling. The Red Sox were going to let Epstein leave Beantown. Once the youngest general manager in the game, Epstein led the Red Sox to two World Series championships and reversed the infamous ‘Curse of the Bambino’ that ravaged Red Sox Nation for over 90 years. Wednesday morning, Epstein agreed to a 5-year deal with the Cubs, giving him what many consider the toughest assignment in baseball. He’s known as a curse-breaker. Is this the man the Bleacher Bums have been looking for?
There are numerous difficulties facing Epstein within the team he is inheriting. Many of the players on the roster are overage, overpaid, and overrated. Epstein, simply put, had much more talent on the Red Sox roster in 2002 than he does in this case. There are some key moves that must be made in order for Chicago to reverse their 71-91 finish in 2011.
Many say that Mike Quade should be fired following the team’s performance this year. Quade often left pitchers in one batter too long (for example, pitching to Albert Pujols on back-to-back days in extra innings, resulting in two walkoff home runs) and not demanding the respect of the clubhouse. While this is true, I argue that Quade deserves the opportunity to come back, and work with the team that Epstein puts together for him. If, by May, the Cubs are stuttering, then a change in leadership is a must for any type of run to the playoffs.
2012 should be a rebuilding year for the team. In the long run, it would benefit the club endlessly. Finding ways to unload the payroll of the heavy contracts of Soriano and Zambrano are a must, and players like Soto and Byrd need to be kept on a short leash. The two combined to hit a minute .252 on the season, and both were expected to be contributors in the offense. Ideally, the Cubs pick up two new corner infielders. Pujols and Fielder are the notable free agents this year, but the Cubs need to resist those temptations. Everyone sees how well that worked out with Soriano when he left Washington for Chicago. Last season, he actually cost the Cubs more runs with his defense than he contributed offensively- and he still has a few years to go on that 8-year $136 million deal, too.
How can the Cubs compete for an NL Central title? They can’t. The team needs to shoot for the NL Wild Card. Pending Theo working some magic, and shaking up the roster, the Cardinals will continue to be the favorite for the division crown. There are three desperate needs the club must address looking forward. First, and foremost, the Cubs need at least one, preferably two starting pitchers. The meshed up rotation that featured Rodrigo Lopez, Casey Coleman, and Andrew Cashner in 2011 cannot lead the team to a title.
Second, and most importantly, the team must lock up Starlin Castro long-term. The baby-faced shortstop led the National League in hits, and was the youngest Cub ever to amass over 200 hits in a season. With Castro and Barney up the middle of the infield, the team has a potential long-term double play combo that should only get better.
Lastly, a big deal must be made. There are too many good hitters on the market, and the Cubs have a ton of money coming off the books over the next few years. Pick up two 20 home run, .280 average hitters, and give the offense the ’pop’ it lacked last season. Without Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs lack a real three or four hitter in their lineup.
The Theo Era is underway and the Cubs present him with his biggest challenge yet. If he throws money at the problems facing the team, the recent trend of overage, overpaid players will continue. By investing smartly in underrated players, Epstein can challenge Beane for GM supremacy in the game, and bring his own version of “moneyball” to the North Side.

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