Cubs’ Epstein not wavering in his belief

While suffering through his third fan convention in Chicago, Cubs boss Theo Epstein remains the biggest star in the organization.

Not exactly what he expected — or wanted — when he arrived here a little more than two years ago.

But make no mistake about his intentions. He likes his plan and he’s going to keep his plan — even while some Cubs fans have grown tired of it.

“I can deal with the frustration of the fans and understand where they’re coming from, and sleep at night because I know what we’re going to deliver for them. That’s the bottom line,” Epstein said. “We’re so much better off than we were two years ago as an organization. We have a whole generation of talent ready to break through that we really believe in.

“We’re never going to lose sight of our plan, and we won’t sign a player just to appease anyone, or to make a convention better.”

So there you have it. The Cubs will continue building through the draft and develop their own, until such time as it makes sense to add through free agency.

“When you see teams sign big-time free agents for big money and six or seven years, they’re really only paying for contributions they can reasonably expect to see over the first few years of the contract, so they’re taking on two or three extra years in order to get that player,” Epstein explained.

“The meaningful impact for the first couple years that might take them from 88 wins to 92 wins and the postseason, that calculus doesn’t add up for us right now.

“We’re more than a few wins away from getting where we need to be. The second thing is we’re just not in the payroll position we want to be in or we’re going to be in.”

Based on that, what also doesn’t quite add up is the Cubs’ pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka, who would seem to be one of those players who would put a team over the top.

So either Epstein believes the 25-year-old Tanaka will still be in his prime and helping the Cubs reach the postseason three or four years from now, or he’s indeed trying to throw Cubs fans a bone while they watch a couple more years of 90-loss seasons.

Or perhaps it’s a combination of both.

Epstein was specific in arguing against the signing of big-money free agents who waste cash that could be spent in other areas, and for a player who will only be in the way of homegrown players and clogging payroll at a time when the Cubs plan to spend big and win.

“The contribution you expect the first few years isn’t as meaningful for us in the near term and is more damaging to us long term right when we want to be more aggressive in the market, and his contribution is no longer significant,” Epstein said. “We expect to have a very significant payroll four, five, six years from now.

“Obviously, certain things have to happen to give us that certainty. The Wrigley project slowing down has hurt our forecast going forward, and the TV deal — when that happens — gives us a lot more certainty and will catapult us financially.

“I think the biggest disappointment is that things are taking longer than we expected. We would all love the Wrigley project to have happened quicker so we would start realizing that incremental revenue.

“We’d all love it if our TV money was on the horizon sooner rather than later so we could level the playing field with some of our competitors that have some of the really significant TV deals.

“Those are just realities.”

I had a long talk with Epstein on Friday night about all of the major issues he’s facing, and a few things were crystal clear.

He is as confident and patient as ever, willing to change what he can and unwilling to be frustrated by the calendar or forces he can’t control. He is going to keep finding the best young players he can until he has money to spend and a reason to spend it.

“If it was an easy road to travel I wouldn’t have necessarily wanted to be here. This was a bottom-up rebuilding job,” Epstein said. “It’s going to make it that much sweeter when we get there. I’ve screwed up a couple things along the way, things haven’t gone great in certain areas of the organization, but we have come a long way.

“I’d say more than surprises there have been reminders that everything is fluid in this game and there are more variables than constants. One thing you can do in an organization fundamentally — and it works in any organization with any plan and any payroll — is draft well and develop well.

“Frankly, I think we’ve done a really nice job so far. We can always be better, but we really like our young core and I’m really bullish on our future. So we’re not deviating from the plan.”

It is a good plan, one that was decades overdue on the North Side. It is also a baseball plan that needs a business companion.

In that regard, Epstein can do nothing but wait — something he has very much in common with Cubs fans.

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