Theo dishes on data, Cubs life ahead of opener

March 27th, 2018

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein traveled with the team for a pair of exhibition games against the Red Sox before the regular season starts on Thursday in Miami against the Marlins.

Before Monday night's game, Epstein had a wide-ranging exchange with reporters. The following are some of the topics he touched upon:

On trying to repeat as World Series champs

We tried everything we could to bounce back and repeat. We didn't deal with it very well the first half of last year. The good thing is we woke up, and we played great ball the second half. We had to expend so much energy the second half that we were pretty much fried in October. I admire any team in any sport who can repeat.

On being in Chicago for six years

Time flies, man. Things move on without you in this world. That's the way it works. I'm happy to say it worked out well for everybody. Both franchises are in a really good place. People here [with the Red Sox] seem really happy. Everybody is excited about the young players they have, young nucleus in place in Boston. They are one of the best teams in the American League. We're content where we are. We have one title under our belt but we'd certainly like more, and we're in the middle of what we hope is an extended competitive window.

The organization is a fun place to come to work every day. A lot of really good people have left their stamp on the organization. It's now a destination. We feel privileged to be here. We don't get everything right, but we do pretty well and everyone gets along. It's a nice, rewarding, fulfilling, professional environment.

On starting the trend of young general managers

If you go back 15 years, it's definitely changed a lot since then. But I feel like the old guy now. There are a lot of GMs that I don't know that well. I rely on some of the younger guys in the office to communicate with them sometimes or to get information. I'm a dinosaur in this game at 44. We're definitely in a time of tremendous change in the game.

With so much statistical data, is it harder to find information now?

Most organizations are operating with basically the same data streams and numbers. So it kind of pushes you in three different directions. One, is you have to look that much deeper to find that proprietary source of information or some data that another team doesn't have. You have to get really creative either whether that's neuro-scouting or some stuff going on in some office somewhere that they protect deeply that top, double-secret confidential info that the team can maybe keep for a competitive advantage for a couple of years before it becomes publicly available.

Two, is I think it's important now more than ever to develop really smooth streams of communication from the front office to the field. Since everyone has really advanced data, it's really important now to find the right people and the right process to get your manager involved, get your coaching staff involved and ultimately the players because a lot of the information is only as impactful as it can be if it's actually put into play on a nightly basis knowing the team across the field is making adjustments on you.

And the last issue is really sort of to go beyond the numbers and remember the game is played by human beings. So if everyone's got the same information you really want to put a premium on a humanistic approach, understanding people, putting them in a position to succeed, supporting them as human beings and individuals, and the chemistry of the group overall.

It's challenging in some ways that everyone has the same information now, but it also opens up opportunities in those three areas.

Did you see the new wave of inexperienced managers coming?

I think it was starting to trend that way maybe five years ago. Teams were toying with the idea, maybe interviewing a guy here or there who had no experience. I think Robin Ventura was one of the first. Mike Matheny, AJ Hinch and Ventura, and now it's almost commonplace. The majority of guys interviewed are seemingly new or don't have a lot of experience. Seems like there have been some token interviews of former managers now instead of the way it used to be when having managerial experience was a prerequisite for the job.

I think the pendulum certainly swung. It's going to probably settle somewhere in the middle where experience might be a little bit underrated or undervalued right now. It'll probably settle in. With that said, I know [Red Sox manager Alex Cora] really well. I think he was a tremendous hire and will have as smooth an adjustment as anyone who takes the job without some previous experience. I know Aaron [Boone, the Yankees' manager] a little bit, too. We had a rough start to our relationship in the past, in 2003, but it's improved since then and I think he's going to do a terrific job as well. Pretty amazing, Yankees and Red Sox first-time managers the first time ever, right, that's happened? But I think two outstanding choices. Guys that we would have loved to hire, tried to hire both guys in the past. It didn't work out for us.

I think there will be a correction at some point where more experienced managers become en vogue again.