Last season the Chicago Cubs made it to the National League Championship Series before losing to the New York Mets. In 2016 the Chicago Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians in extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series. It is the first World Series victory for the Cubs since 1908. 23 of the 25 players on the World Series roster were acquired by Cubs President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein.
The World Series victory is not only the end of 108 years of futility but also the culmination of five years of rebuilding under Epstein. When Epstein was hired in 2011 he pledged to change the culture, build the best baseball operation possible, and create the foundation for long-term success. Epstein knew that it was not necessarily the best baseball team who wins the World Series, so in order to win you must make sure you get as many chances as possible. It’s not the team that makes the playoffs once on the back of a great run that will win the World Series (at least not usually), it is the team that consistently makes the playoffs and gets multiple shots at the title. Then the Cubs won the World Series on their first try in 108 years. Because they were the best team, in the regular season and the playoffs.
Now everyone is forced to believe in what Theo Epstein has built, but that was not always the case. Many, many people doubted Theo.
It’s easy in hindsight to say basically every move Theo Epstein has made since coming to the Cubs has worked out. Because it has. And it’s easy to criticize moves that look insignificant or unpopular when they happen. Especially when Theo Epstein trades established MLB players for prospects or highly-rated prospects for unproven players. When the Cubs hired Theo Epstein the thought was the Cubs were finally going to win. Theo Epstein finally brought a World Series championship to Boston, surely he can do the same for the Chicago Cubs. Why hire him if you’re not trying to win?
But that’s the key. Theo Epstein and the rest of the Cubs front office spelled it out from day one
and never lied about it and never strayed from that plan. Those first few years the Cubs weren’t trying to win. They were trying to be bad. They wanted high draft picks so they could stockpile talent. They wanted to get rid of mediocre-to-average MLB players who wouldn’t make any difference on a World Series-caliber team and turn them into young players who would be better and would be on a championship team. And because they were trying to be bad and build for the future they weren’t going to throw bad money at free agents who could maybe lift the Cubs from bad to mediocre. The Cubs didn’t want to pay players now for a team trying to be good later and the Cubs didn’t want to be mediocre. They wanted to be bad. Until it was time for them to be good.
In 2015 it was time for the Cubs to be good. They won 97 games and made it to the NLCS. When nobody expected it. Including the Cubs. The team paid for the manager, paid for the pitching and many of their top prospects made it to the major leagues, but it was just too soon. Except the young players hit and the pitchers the Cubs signed in free agency were tremendous. Until they were outpitched in the NLCS by the Mets. The Mets were the better team in that series, so the Cubs lost. But then most everyone knew the Cubs not only were good but were going to be good for years. They were the favorites for 2016.
They were the favorites for the entirety of the 2016 season. The Cubs were the best team in MLB for the entirety of the 2016 season. They won 103 games. They were the favorites entering the playoffs. They were the favorites entering the World Series. Until they were down 3-1. Then they won 2 games. 3-3. They were up in the 8th inning of Game 7 in Cleveland, until the Indians tied the game. Tied heading into extra innings. Tied following a 17 minute rain delay. Up 8-6 after the top of the 10th. Up 8-7 with two outs in the bottom of the 10th and a man on 1st. World Series champions after a groundout to third, a perfect throw from Kris Bryant to Anthony Rizzo to record the final out.
It’s easy to criticize Theo Epstein when you aren’t paying attention. Everyone is paying attention now.