Let me tell you the good news about the Cubs Mr. Epstein

Theo Epstein has a lot more going for him than many Cubs fan think. (photo courtesy of www.bloodysox.com)

On the surface, it appears you are taking the reigns of a team at one of its lowest points. A team with one of the biggest payrolls in baseball that couldn’t even break even in the win/loss column the last two seasons. A team with some crippling contracts on its hands. A team with one of the worst farm systems in baseball. A team with a fan base that is losing faith by the day. A team with a decrepit ballpark, well that won’t be your problem, but you get the point.

The team is a mess right now.

There are a lot of wrongs and a whole lot more negativity in the city of Chicago right now. But I am not going to be the messenger that gets one in the back. You know all of this, that’s why you are here. Instead, I am going to bring the positive to the table. Tell you that you are actually coming in at a perfect time. Real fans understand that this is going to take some time to turn around. Your challenge? Deliver a World Series title to the north side of Chicago for the first time since the invention of plastic and the bra. And here are the reasons why the situation sets up perfect for you:

Starlin Castro

Every team needs a cornerstone to build around so how about a 21-year-old shortstop who led the league in hits this season?  He also hit eight home runs in 68 games after the All-Star break, so the power is coming, too. He also happens to be pretty fast. He stole 22 bases on the season but was caught nine times, so he just needs to learn how to be a better base runner and the sky’s the limit. His defense? Well, hey, that’s a nice suit Mr. Epstein.

2012 payroll is only at $72.6MM right now

That’s right, $54.2MM will be shaved off by six players alone. Gone is Kosuke Fukudome and his $14.5MM. So is Aramis Ramirez’ $14.6MM, unless you re-sign him, of course. And then there are Carlos Pena’s $10MM, John Grabow’s $4.8MM, Jeff “I should have stuck to football” Samardzija’s $3.3MM and the $7MM still owed to Carlos “Where did he go?” Silva.

Alfonso Soriano is still here for three more years at $19MM per, and you will most likely have to deal with Carlos Zambrano and his $19MM for one more year. But I am not hear for the bad news, just the good. And how about this for some good news:

As of right now, the payroll for 2015 is … $0. Clean slate, my man. Spend wisely.

2011 draft full of potential

The guy you replaced actually took his last draft seriously, even though he already knew he was a lame duck. And he might have signed one of the best draft classes ever in the team’s terrible history at the annual event. The team locked up several intriguing players at several key positions.

Starlin Castro should catch Theo's eye. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

First round (9th pick) Javier Baez — This kid was tabbed as having one of the best high school bats in the draft. Super quick hands with some real power. Not fast, but so what? He can rake. He has the arm and good enough footwork to play third base. Think Aramis Ramirez, just a whole lot younger (19) and cheaper. You’ll have to wait a couple of years for him, though.

Second round (68th pick) Daniel Vogelbach — Have you seen this guy? He is a monster: 6′-1″ 250 lbs. and left handed. He hit .457 with 19 HR and 54 RBI as a senior in high school, and he hit a 508-foot bomb at the annual Power Showcase to win the event. You’ll have to wait on him, too, but early signs look good as he hit .292 with 1 HR and 6 RBI over his six-game stint at the Arizona Rookie League.

Seventh round (219th pick) Trevor Gretzky — Yep, that’s his son. His focus was mostly on football in high school, so he is still raw. He is 6′-4″, left handed and has that bloodline, too. With all of his focus on baseball now, he could develop into a big-time sleeper for you. Not a big-time power prospect, but he could be a high-average hitter in the mold of a Mark Grace-type player.

Ninth round (279th pick) Garrett Schlecht — Yes, yes, the kid is a born-and-raised Cardinals fan. But he plays for you now, and guess what? He can really play. While he may not excel in one particular area, he just plays the game right and does everything solid across the board. Another left-handed hitter, he totaled nine walks over his nine games at the Arizona Rookie League, showing advanced plate discipline for an 18-year-old. He could develop into quite the find for you.

Eleventh round (339th pick) Shawon Dunston — Another name you recognize. The son of the former Cubs great, he plays a lot like his dad. He inherited his dad’s canon arm and has enough speed for two people. He is not going to hit a lot of home runs, but that isn’t his game. He is a contact hitter, a leadoff type who could be a nightmare on the base paths. And he is left handed, that’s four in a row. You really can’t have too many of those.

Fourteenth round (429th pick) Dillon MaplesSteal! Alright, I’ll calm down, but this guy was first-round material. He slipped because of a strong commitment to play football at North Carolina, but the Cubs shelled out a reported $2.55MM signing bonus, that’s top-five pick type money. The 6′-3″ RHP has a mid 90s plus-fastball with very good movement. And his curveball is outstanding. He projects to a front-of-the-rotation pitcher, so please, take good care of him.

Twenty-fifth round (759th pick) Roderick ‘Rock’ Shoulders — Hey, guess what side of the plate Rock hits from? Did you say left? Ah, I see why they hired you Theo, very sharp. The nickname is for a reason. At 6′-2″ and 225 lbs., the kid is built like one and the power is jaw-dropping. He hit .318 with 14 HR and 58 RBI in junior college last season, ranking in the top 15 in both categories. He slipped in the draft because of a strong commitment to USF. He has some work to do, but the potential is there.

Sixth pick in the 2012 draft

The silver lining in finishing with one of the worst records in baseball is that you get a high draft pick the following year. Now, the Cubs haven’t fared well with their first-round picks over the years. I could sit here and go through all of the names, but I will just let you take a look at this list of beauties. I mean, come on man, that is either severely bad scouting or just the worst luck in professional sports.

But you, sir, seem to know what you are doing come draft time. You got Jacoby Ellsbury at #23 in 2005, Dustin Pedroia at #65 in 2004, Clay Buchholz at #42 in 2005 and Jonathan Papelbon at #114 in 2003. All of those guys are core players for the Red Sox.

There are some big-time pitching prospects in this year’s draft, but most should be gone by the time you pick at #6. Assuming guys like top high-school prospects Lucas Giolito and Lance McCullers, Stanford ace Mark Appel, LSU’s Kevin Gausman and Texas A&M’s Michael Wacha are gone, here are some names I would consider taking.

Nick Williams — The 6′-3″ outfielder from Ball HS in Texas is possibly the best athlete in the draft. He has all five tools and his left-handed stroke reminds many of Ken Griffey Jr. I’ll take that.

Joey Gallo — Sick power from this 6′-5″ left-handed kid from Bishop Gorman HS in Nevada. He hit 25 HR his junior year and his ceiling is through the roof.

Victor Roache — College baseball went to a new aluminum bat this past season, and it appeared to give the pitchers an edge. Roache was unaffected by all of this as he smashed an NCAA leading 31 HR in 60 games for Georgia Southern. Not exactly an athlete but has a very good approach at the plate.

Kayden Porter — He wants to pitch but when you stand 6’-6″ at 245 lbs. and routinely launch 450+ft home runs, you may not have a choice in the matter. Plays for Spanish Fork HS in Utah.

Hunter Virant — Left-handed pitchers who can throw in the 90s and have a solid three-pitch mix are always a hot commodity. This kid is shooting up the draft boards and the 6’-3″ freak athlete from Camarillo HS in California would look mighty nice in blue pinstripes.

Hey, Theo! Brett Jackson deserves a shot.

Albert Almora — Some may say that #6 is too high for Almora. I say, if the kid develops into an All-Star down the road, take him when you can. He is the definition of a baseball player with instincts and a feel for the game that is rarely seen in a high school player. Has all the tools — speed, power, arm — to make it and has been a member of Team USA since he was 13.

So there you go. This will be your first chance to impress us with your expertise in this area. Don’t mess it up.

Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters

Bring them up already. That is if Jackson isn’t part of the compensation to bring you here. If he is, so be it. But if not, can we please get a chance to see if the kid can play? He was our first-round pick in 2009 out of Cal, and at 23, doesn’t have a whole lot more to prove down on the farm. Our current outfield is, well, can you even name our current outfield? Exactly, bring him up.

He hit .274 over 115 games this year. His numbers were a little down because of a broken hand he suffered midseason. Still, he hit 20 HR, stole 21 bases and had a .388 OBP. And he plays very good defense. Bring him up before he turns into Brian LeHair. He may not be a perennial All-Star but I’ll bet he can outplay Tyler Colvin.

Vitters is ready, too. His defense may still be shaky, but he has been spending time in the outfield at the Arizona Fall League. Where, by the way, he happens to be hitting .405 (15-37) through his first nine games, with 2 HR, 10 RBI and a 1.085 OPS. This after hitting .283 over 129 games in the regular season with 14 HR, 81 RBI and just 54 strike outs. Our first-round pick (third overall) in the 2007 draft has progressed slowly, but he is only 22 years old. Give him a shot, what could it hurt?

2013 free-agent class

Forget this year’s free agent class. Please just look the other way; just don’t squeeze the trigger in the process. Albert Pujols could end up being the best that ever played the game, but his best days, his $30MM a year days, are probably in the rearview mirror, or at the very least in the peripherals. A $300MM contract just scares the hell out of me for a 31-year-old baseball player. Even if his name is Pujols.

Prince Fielder is a great player, too. But he is large. At 275lbs, how will he look five years from now? He is only 27, just entering his prime, and has averaged 40 HR, 113 RBI and a .952 OPS over his last five years while only missing 13 games. But, injuries happen and players break down fast in baseball. Just ask Andruw Jones. Besides, first base isn’t a premium position in baseball. You can always find power hitting guys who can stand at first. For a lot cheaper than $200MM, which is reportedly the asking price for Prince.

I say wait until next year’s free-agent class.  It’s loaded with top-tier pitching, premium position players and players who might just need a change of scenery. Here are some to go after.

Ian Kinsler — A second baseman who just wrapped up his second career 30 HR/30 SB season this year. He is 29, doesn’t strike out a lot, takes walks, plays solid defense and fills a position of need. Darwin Barney is a nice player, but Kinsler is an All-Star.

David Wright — He has been up and down the last couple of years, but when he is right (pun totally intended) he is one of the best in the game. A move out of New York may be just what he needs to get back to the MVP-type player he is.

Matt Kemp is the guy you want, Theo. Pretty please? (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Matt Cain — A 27-year-old pitcher who has logged more than 200 innings each of the past five seasons. A career 3.35 ERA/1.19 WHIP and just entering his prime. Have always been a fan.

Cole Hamels — Phillies would probably never let him go, but if they did, you need to grab him. Had his best season this year with a 2.79 ERA/0.99 WHIP and 194 K/44 BB. At 27, also just entering his prime and will only get better.

Dan Haren— The Angels hold a $15.5MM team option on him for 2013, and I can’t imagine them turning it down. But if they did, go after him, too. He is an innings-eater, logging 238 this year while also posting a 3.17 ERA/1.02 WHIP and 192 K/33 BB. He is 31 and still has a lot left in the tank.

James Shields — The Rays hold team options on Shields for $9MM in 2013 and $12MM in 2014. But they are the Rays, so who knows? He has averaged 220 innings over the last five seasons and had 11 complete games this year. He had a 2.82 ERA/1.04 WHIP and 225 K/65 BB this year. He is 29 and getting better.

Matt Kemp –The Dodgers will probably try to do everything they can to lock him up but with the team still in disarray, he may opt to just leave. He is 27, hit .324 with 39 HR, 126 RBI and 40 SB this year and is arguably the best defensive right fielder in the game. He will command big-time money, but for his age, position and ability, is worth it. Go after this guy with guns blazing!

Okay, so that is the good news Mr. Epstein. As you can see, things aren’t so bad once you dig a little deeper. But I suspect you knew all of this already, and that is the reason you are here. If you need a deputy GM, I may be available.

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