Theo Epstein said the Chicago Cubs present the “ultimate new challenge” after nine years as general manager in Boston, where he helped the Red Sox end an 86-year World Series title drought.
Epstein was introduced as the Cubs’ president of baseball operations today at Wrigley Field and cited a theory of Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Walsh as part of his decision to come to Chicago. Walsh has said that when coaches and executives in professional sports seek a change after 10 years with the same organization, it benefits them and the teams involved.
After building two World Series-winning teams in Boston, Epstein assumes control of a franchise that last won the championship in 1908, the longest wait in Major League Baseball.
“I wouldn’t trade my time with the Red Sox, but it was time to move on. They’re in great hands,” Epstein, 37, said at a news conference. “I was ready for the next big challenge and this is certainly the ultimate challenge. I’m ready to embrace it and move forward.”
The Cubs are coming off consecutive losing seasons and haven’t won a postseason game since 2003. Even with the sixth-highest player payroll in the majors, the Cubs had a 71-91 record this season and finished fifth of six teams in the National League’s Central division.
Epstein cited the Cubs’ tradition, history and passionate fan base as reasons to come to Chicago. He promised to build a consistent winner with regular postseason appearances, and ultimately, a World Series championship.
“That doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly doesn’t happen because of one person,” Epstein said. “Over time and together we will build a solid foundation that delivers sustained success for the Cubs. That starts with a commitment to scouting and player development.”
Epstein agreed on a five-year contract as the successor to Jim Hendry, who was fired on Aug. 19. When the season ended, the Cubs sought permission to speak with Epstein, who became the youngest general manager in major-league history when he was hired by the Red Sox in 2002.
“We were looking for someone with a background in player development, a proven track record of success, a strong analytical background and an experience in creating a culture of winning,” Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said at a news conference. “It was important to me that this person would not be someone who was content with their past successes, but would build on those. I simply cannot imagine a better person for this job than Theo Epstein.”
In Boston, Epstein built teams that claimed six postseason berths and won World Series titles in 2004 and 2007.
Time for Change
The Red Sox missed the postseason this year after losing 20 of their final 27 games and then fired manager Terry Francona. With the Red Sox in transition and the Cubs inquiring about his availability, Epstein said he realized it was the right time for him to make a career change.
“Bill Walsh of the 49ers said it best, there comes a time where you have to consider change for the benefit, not only of the individual involved, but also for the organization,” Epstein said. “The Red Sox have a terrific future laid out in front of them.”
Because he had one year left on his contract, the Cubs have to give the Red Sox compensation, which the teams have yet to agree upon. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has said he’ll mediate if the Cubs and Red Sox aren’t able to reach an agreement on compensation for Epstein by Nov. 1.
The Red Sox will introduce Ben Cherington as Epstein’s successor at a news conference today. Cherington has been with Boston since 1999, including the last two as assistant general manager. Epstein said he and Cherington had discussed a transition plan in which Cherington would take over as GM when Epstein left the organization.
“I’m really proud of what we accomplished together,” Epstein said in thanking Red Sox coaches, executives, players and fans. “I wish you nothing but the best going forward.”