The Boston Globe is reporting today that the Chicago Cubs have asked for permission to speak to Theo Epstein to fill their vacant GM position. There’s no word yet on if the Red Sox will grant permission (the Globe is saying they might seek compensation in the form of players just to speak with Epstein) and they’ll certainly be looking for real compensation if the Cubs hire him, but let’s not mince words here: the Cubs having Epstein (or any smart GM that understands how to spend money) would be a flat-out disaster for the Pirates and the entire National League Central.
Here are the 2011 NL Central payrolls (numbers via Cot’s), with their highest payrolls ever in parenthesis:
- Chicago Cubs, $134 million ($144.4 million, 2010)
- St. Louis Cardinals, $109 million ($109 million)
- Milwaukee Brewers, $83.6 million ($90.4 million, 2010)
- Cincinnati Reds, $80.8 million ($80.8 million)
- Houston Astros, $77 million ($103 million, 2009)
- Pittsburgh Pirates, $42 million ($57.8 million, 2001)
The Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers are all right around their spending caps. If the Cardinals sign Albert Pujols to a long extension, they’re going to risk painting themselves into a corner for a very long time between his contract and Holliday’s. The Astros can spend more money, but probably won’t for a year or two depending on their ownership situation. The Pirates have the smallest ballpark in the division, which means that there’s almost no way their theoretical spending cap is higher than the range the Reds and Brewers are in right now.
If the Cubs can hire a GM that will spend that $130-$140 million wisely instead of on players like Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano, they are absolutely going to become a wrecking ball in the NL Central. For Epstein, the Cubs would essentially be the Red Sox without the phenomenal pressure created by the Yankees, which is what leads to things like the disastrous John Lackey contract.
I don’t know how smart the Cubs’ new ownership is. I don’t know if they’re targeting Epstein because they like his approach and recognize that he’s one of the smarter GMs in baseball, or if they simply want a guy that’s succeeded in a big market and can “break a curse.” Since they’re also reportedly targeting Andrew Friedman, I’m going to lean towards them knowing what they’re doing, or, at the very least, knowing what they want.
Mark my words: if the Cubs hire a smart GM, it’ll be the worst thing that happens to the Pirates this winter.