As Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer enter their first season as the Chicago Cubs' front office bosses, plenty of hope and optimism surrounds the club. But Epstein says he's ready for the focus to be on his players.
There was little doubt as to who the biggest rock star on the Cubs is, at least for now.
New team president Theo Epstein heard the chants of "Theo, Theo, Theo" during the Cubs' annual fan convention in Chicago. He seemed to enjoy it but says he hopes the players take over from here.
"I think it will die down," he said of the so-called Theo-mania. "The players are the show. That's why we're all in this profession. We are going to be a player-driven, player-centric organization."
Epstein was cheered at the convention's opening ceremonies and then held his own session with fans in a standing-room-only hotel ballroom. Cubs fans got a heaping helping of new philosophy from the new Cubs brass.
While the Jim Hendry regime was slow to get caught up with the statistical revolution, relying mostly on the eyes of scouts more often than not, Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer will have new computer-information system installed.
Epstein and Hoyer talked of acquiring players with high on-base percentages, something the old regime rarely talked about.
But the new guys also talked of balance.
"Rather than to call the Cubs new school or old school now, I would hope that an honest assessment would be that you could call us thorough," Epstein said. "And call us inclusive. We have to take a broad view of the baseball landscape.
"This is hard. There are 30 teams out there trying to answer the same question: 'What's this player going to do going forward?' The teams that answer that question better than the others are the teams that are going to win."
The Cubs have kept much of the old front office as they've added to the overall body count. Epstein said all input is welcome, from both the scouts and from statistical analysis.
"We would be doing a disservice to all of you if we turned our back on any relevant piece of information," Epstein said. "I've always felt, from my very earliest days in baseball, that the clearest picture of a player is not just looking through the statistical lens, because that only tells you part of the picture. And not only looking through the scouting lens, because that only tells you part of the picture.
"But put those lenses together, like you do at the eye doctor, and look through both of them, and that's when you're going to have a real sharp picture of a player."
Cubs Notes & Quotes
OF Tony Campana established himself as one of the more popular Cubs after his May call-up from Class AAA (Des Moines) Iowa. The 5-foot-8 Campana brings speed, defense and a hustling style to the Cubs. He said he put on 10 pounds of good weight to help with his strength. Campana batted .259 with one home run (an inside-the-park job) and an OBP of .303 last season. "I've been in Arizona since Nov. 1 working out," the 25-year-old Campana said. "I kind of know how to go about doing what I need to do and what I need to get better at. Seeing major league pitching for the first time was something I really needed."
2B Darwin Barney won the full-time job last year and wound up playing 143 games in his first full major league season. Barney batted .276 overall, but he tailed off in the second half, batting .238 after the All-Star break. "First of all, you learn how long the year is," Barney said. "And in knowing that and looking back, it'll maybe help you through the times that are hard. And maybe those times that aren't so hard will last a little longer."
C Geovany Soto got a raise from $3 million last year to $4.3 million for 2012 as he and the Cubs avoided salary arbitration. Soto looked to be in good physical shape at the Cubs' annual fan convention. He's had a career in which every other year has been good since his Rookie of the Year season in 2008. Last year wasn't so great, as he had a hitting line of .228/.310/.411 with 17 home runs. Still, he's the Cubs' undisputed No. 1 catcher. "I already took my big step in 2009," he said of being in good condition. "I'm just trying to come to camp in the best shape I can. This offseason was great for me. I was training with my personal trainer. It really paid off. I feel absolutely amazing."
RF David DeJesus probably will be the leadoff man come the opening of Cactus League play and also the start of the regular season. But manager Dale Sveum cautioned that it's still too early to start writing lineups in ink. "You screw around with it a little bit and see what's going on here and there, what might happen, what you might do here with this guy," Sveum said. "A lot of times, it's premature because you get to spring training, and going into that first (regular season) series against Washington, somebody might be so hot that you got you put him somewhere." DeJesus, who signed as a free agent, could push SS Starlin Castro down from first to third in the order. Speedy OF Tony Campana and 2B Darwin Barney also are leadoff candidates.
RHP Matt Garza is the only Cubs' player facing a possible salary-arbitration hearing. The Cubs and Garza are far apart. He's asking for $12.5 million after making $5.95 million last year. The Cubs have countered with an offer of $7.95 million. "It's been a business, it's always going to be a business," Garza said. Arbitration-eligible players agreeing to terms were C Geovany Soto, RHPs Randy Wells and Chris Volstad, 3B Ian Stewart and IFs Blake DeWitt and Jeff Baker.
RHP Rodrigo Lopez re-signed with the Cubs on a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training as a non-roster man. Lopez, whom the Cubs obtained last May in a minor league trade with the Braves, went 6-6 with a 4.42 ERA in 26 games, 16 starts.
By the Numbers: 125 – C Geovany Soto played in 125 games last season, his highest total since appearing in 141 in his Rookie of the Year season of 2008. Soto, who has worked on getting into better shape the last couple of years, was on the disabled list last May because a groin strain.
Quote to Note: "They're going to be held accountable. It's not going to be OK. I'm not going to say they're not going to do it again. But it's not going to be OK. They're not going to be able to walk by in the dugout without me saying something." -- Manager Dale Sveum, on the consequences for poor play.