Chicago Cubs have hope with Epstein

Theo Epstein has left his hometown Red Sox for the chance to bring the same success he enjoyed in Boston to the Chicago Cubs.

Theo Epstein helped turn his hometown Boston Red Sox into contenders, winning the World Series twice. Chicago Cub fans hope his magic will transfer from the East Coast to the Windy City.
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Can Theo Epstein do for the Chicago Cubs what he did for the Boston Red Sox?

That is the question being asked by fans in Chicago - and around Major League Baseball - as the Cubs prepared a news conference to introduce Epstein, whom they signed to five-year deal worth $18.5 million (Dh68m) to become the head of their baseball operations.

Epstein was 28 in 2002 when the Red Sox made him the youngest general manager in the history of the game. He helped build the 2004 team that ended Boston's 86-year championship drought.

Three years later, the Red Sox won another World Series, earning Epstein a reputation as one of the game's sharpest minds and most accomplished executives.

The Red Sox qualified for the play-offs six times in his nine seasons, won at least 90 games seven times and twice reached Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

But the expectations and pressure can be overwhelming in Boston. After two championships, anything short of a pennant is unsatisfying. Moreover, Epstein told friends that, despite Boston being his hometown, it was never his intention to be general manager of the Red Sox for life.

With the Cubs acting as a powerful allure and new challenge, Epstein was given permission by the Red Sox ownership to speak with the Cubs owner, Tom Ricketts. The two met twice before Epstein agreed to change teams.

The history of the Cubs is even more tortured than that of the Red Sox before their two recent titles. The Cubs last won a championship in 1908 and last appeared in a World Series in 1945.

The team Epstein inherits is not nearly as good as the one he took over in Boston in 2003. Those Red Sox boasted Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra and Johnny Damon. The Cubs, instead, have several underachieving and overpaid players whose careers are in decline, such as Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Pena.

The young shortstop, Starlin Castro, is a star in the making, but the Cubs have precious few others around whom Epstein can build a team. The minor-league system offers little help and is seen as subpar by most in the game.

But Epstein is creative and, as in Boston, he will have significant economic resources to reshape the roster. He values traditional, eyeball scouting as much as he does the game's more advanced methods of analysis.

Should he end the Cubs' seemingly endless search for a World Series championship, he surely will be remembered as one of the handful of top executives in the game's history.

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