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posted: 10/4/2012 9:09 PM

Cubs' Epstein talks of 'covenant' with fans

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  • In this June 26, 2012, file photo, Cubs president Theo Epstein left, and chairman Tom Ricketts watch batting practice before a game against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field.

      In this June 26, 2012, file photo, Cubs president Theo Epstein left, and chairman Tom Ricketts watch batting practice before a game against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field.
    Associated Press

  • Cubs president Theo Espstein addressed the future of the team with reporters Thursday.

      Cubs president Theo Espstein addressed the future of the team with reporters Thursday.
    Associated Press FILE PHOTO


Cubs president Theo Epstein has introduced fans to a whole new lexicon.

Terms such as "parallel fronts," "linear progression" and "foundation for sustained success" are part of the everyday conversation around Wrigley Field.

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Epstein added another Thursday during a nearly 40-minute session with reporters at the ballpark: covenant.

During one point of our conversation, I asked Epstein how he reconciles sticking with the Cubs' long-term plan of building from within with the fans' desire to see a winning team quickly.

"The only way that we can thread that needle, I think, is by being transparent," he said. "That means not selling a bill of goods.

"I'm not going to sit here and say, 'Don't worry about 101 losses because we have a magic plan to win the World Series in 2013, and it's going to happen, so be there now.' That's not the case.

"If we don't stay committed to that vision, I think that's disrespectful of the fans, too, because we've made a bit of a covenant with them that we're going somewhere and by buying tickets and showing tremendous support as they have, they're buying in and they're a part of that covenant.

"So we need to reward them ultimately, and it's going to be a lot of hard work along the way."

Epstein is trying to pull off something that probably wouldn't play in other major markets: rebuilding. But, really, there's not much other choice.

If the Cubs are going to have that "sustained success," they had to start over at the minor-league level. On top of that, Epstein inherited a major-league team that finished 71-91 last year.

This year brought even more pain as the Cubs finished 61-101 for only their third season of at least 100 losses.

Epstein addressed a number of wide-ranging topics.

On this season:

"Very disappointing season in terms of wins and losses, and, ultimately, that's what counts. Just going through the year, we had a real tough stretch to start the year.

"We were in a lot of games. We had a tough bullpen month to start and lost a lot of close games and kind of buried ourselves right out of the chute. We didn't have the talent to overcome that.

"We had a really nice stretch, I thought, the best stretch of the year, probably from late June through late July. We went 19-10, played pretty good baseball.

"At the trade deadline, we had a decision whether to try to kind of preserve what we had going and win a few more games in 2012 even though we were out of the postseason race in our minds at that time or whether to make a little bit of an investment in the future at the expense of the quality of the club for the last two months of the season.

"We made a tough decision to invest a little more in the future at that time."

On exploring the free-agent market:

"We'll have to pursue free agency to some degree for starting pitching. We have some holes to fill in our rotation mainly because what we did at the trade deadline.

"Ryan Dempster would have been a free agent anyway, but Paul Maholm could have been in the 2013 rotation. But we got what we thought was a really, really talented young pitcher (Arodys Vizcaino) back for him.

"We'll have to pursue starting pitching in free agency. There are going to be a lot of teams looking at a pretty limited field, so I don't think there's going to be great value to be had out there.

"I think there's some quality, and I wouldn't be surprised to see us sign a free agent or two for our rotation."

On being contenders by 2014:

"I haven't considered 2014 or any specific year. I just know that we have to continue to push the organization forward.

"I'll say this: I'd be incredibly disappointed if our baseball operation as a whole is not much, much healthier by then and in a position where we can see what contention is going to look like here.

"In other words, our core of players is getting to a point where it's well defined.

"I don't know what that timetable is going to be and how quickly they develop and what moves we make, whether it's then, whether it's earlier for them, whether it's later for them.

"I would hope that we would have some real definition to our core of young players and at that point seeking out to really complement it and winning plenty of ballgames."

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