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Epstein's fingerprints all over All-Star teams

July 9, 2016

CHICAGO -- Theo Epstein isn't going to write a book -- not any time soon, anyway. But if he did, it would be required reading, especially for aspiring baseball executives.Epstein has got it figured out. His fingerprints are all over first-place teams in both leagues. And many of the players

CHICAGO -- Theo Epstein isn't going to write a book -- not any time soon, anyway. But if he did, it would be required reading, especially for aspiring baseball executives.
Epstein has got it figured out. His fingerprints are all over first-place teams in both leagues. And many of the players Epstein and his top lieutenants -- such as Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod -- brought to the Cubs and the Red Sox will be gathering on Tuesday in San Diego.
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Nine of the 17 players elected by fans to start the All-Star Game are Epstein's players. That's a sentence that belongs near the top of the remarkable personal biography he is writing.
• 2016 All-Star Game rosters
When the Cubs hired Epstein in 2011, Curt Schilling gave him a strong endorsement.
"If he spends the same amount of time he spent in Boston in Chicago, you'll have a World Series,'' Schilling said. "I don't question that for a second.''
Schilling, the ace of the Red Sox's curse-busting team in 2004, was given an inside look at how Epstein runs a franchise. Upon being hired as a general manager at age 28, Epstein declared his goal was to "build a scouting and player-development machine.''
That was 14 years ago, and Epstein has now done it twice. His guys on the All-Star Game stage range from 22-year-old shortstop Addison Russell to 40-year-old designated hitter David Ortiz.
Ortiz will be joined on the American League team by Red Sox teammates Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts. Russell is part of an All-Cub infield -- the first in the All-Star Game from any National League team since the 1963 Cardinals -- with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist, as well as center fielder Dexter Fowler.

Those nine guys were acquired by Epstein's teams in all of the traditional ways -- the Draft, international signings and free-agent signings. (Rizzo is a special case as Epstein drafted him in Boston, traded him to San Diego, and then traded for him in Chicago.) This group averaged 22 years, five months in age when Epstein initially acquired them. Only Zobrist, a 2016 free agent, earned as much as $10 million in his first season on the payroll.
Six of the nine, at least, were watched closely as teenagers by Epstein's scouts, whose reports (along with firsthand experience, in some cases) piqued his interest. There are many common denominators between the players, with Ortiz -- signed as a 27-year-old castoff to fill a hole at first base for Boston in 2003, Epstein's first year in charge -- serving as the exception who proves the rule.

Big Papi aside, the players Epstein favors are well-rounded, with the ability to contribute defensively, as well as with their bats. They are athletic, have above-average instincts and an understanding of the strike zone. They are good communicators who are coachable and play well with others. They see themselves as baseball players, not specialists locked into the position they've most often played.
"It has to do with the quality of the person, to me,'' said David Ross, the catcher who followed Lester from Boston to Chicago two years ago. "Theo guys, to me, are talented. Their skill set is what it is. But I see that with a personality, with values and respect for the game, respect for their teammates. The way they carry themselves, the way they were raised, probably. That's what I see. It's the total package.''
Ross points out something else he views as a common trait.
"These are guys you can market because they have a personality,'' he said. "Not that this matters, but they have a great smile. KB is a model, for [goodness] sake. David Ortiz is the face of baseball. … All those guys, they're just good, quality human beings. They're likable people, as well as their play.''
Epstein rarely talks about any of this, deflecting credit to scouting directors like McLeod, Amiel Sawdaye and Jaron Madison. But when you examine the teams he's put together, it is clear that he is about much more than statistical analysis, which is what he was known for early in his run with the Red Sox.
"I think a lot of people misunderstand what it is Theo does,'' Hoyer said. "People see the computer, talk about 'Moneyball.' He uses those things, but it's just a part of what he does. He's always had tremendous respect for scouts. He's a good listener, and he involves everyone in the process. That's what makes him successful, not [computer analysis].''
Epstein describes his style of combining boots-on-the-ground scouting with statistical analysis as "looking through two lenses to improve the focus.'' He developed the approach in Boston, and he used it to get the Cubs to the NL Championship Series in four seasons.
Starting pitchers Jake Arrieta (acquired in a trade) and Jon Lester (originally drafted by the Red Sox, signed as a free agent by the Cubs) bring the total of Epstein All-Stars to 11. The only position he doesn't have covered is catcher.
Epstein might have had one of those, too, but Kyle Schwarber was injured in the first week of the season, playing left field. Maybe next year.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for