Rozner: Just like that with Kimbrel acquistion, Cubs' Epstein a genius again

  • It seems whatever Theo Epstein does, it's never good enough. But after signing Craig Kimbrel, the Cubs president is quite popular again.

    It seems whatever Theo Epstein does, it's never good enough. But after signing Craig Kimbrel, the Cubs president is quite popular again. Associated Press

Updated 6/8/2019 6:11 PM

Never mind the SuperVolcano or the Sweet Meteor of Death. No need to consult NASA.

The true barometer for understanding the end is near is about 15 minutes of your day on social media.


It's a quagmire one would more fully appreciate had you walked in E.B. Farnum's shoes on the Deadwood thoroughfare.

It was only a few days ago that Tom Ricketts was the worst owner in sports and Theo Epstein landed somewhere in the middle of incompetent and gutless.

But having fallen into Ben Zobrist's dollars, Epstein has procured the services of Craig Kimbrel and suddenly the Cubs president of baseball operations is a genius again.

Amazing how that works.

If it is possible to underappreciate a certain Hall of Famer, who ended the most infamous of droughts in Boston and Chicago, Epstein is certainly one such executive.

Quickly was forgotten that he laid out a road map for success, followed it to precision and delivered as he said he would with a World Series title and what appears to be a fifth straight playoff team.

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Four consecutive is already a franchise first.

But it is not good enough, not for those who find reasons to trash the boss, like those who find fault with Mike Trout.

The funny thing about his sudden popularity in recent days is that it's the signing of a free agent, something Epstein has struggled with in Boston and Chicago.

That, however, is always a risk. You spend on free agents and there's a decent chance you will be wasting money, which is why it's always best to build from within and fill from below whenever possible.

What's remarkable is the way some executives in town are treated as saviors, despite having never won so much as a playoff game.

Measuring sticks can be rather odd, brilliance always in the eye of the beholder -- or maybe the beholden.


Nevertheless, Epstein has filled a hole for the time being, perhaps just short of desperate need. Come October that would have been an appropriate description.

And while you're at it, a few more bullpen arms will be necessary before it's over, lest you think the Cubs are perfect as constituted.

If Kimbrel is anywhere near his best, it's a huge add for the Cubs, but the extended vacation -- looked at in some corners as a positive -- could be a red flag.

And that's not the only one.

The second half of 2018 was a struggle for Kimbrel, as was his postseason -- the Red Sox thought he might have been tipping pitches -- ultimately passed over for the final outs of a World Series celebration.

That is both telling and insulting.

He struggled with control and his velocity diminished, as did spin rate, but his hard-hit rate went down last year and his contact rate was the best of any reliever in the game, something that had to be appealing for the Cubs.

There's no disputing that Kimbrel is one of the best closers of all time, so the gamble makes sense for a team that is right in the middle of its championship window, and they'll be careful with Kimbrel as he heads to Arizona to prepare for the second half and another postseason run.

"We're not going to rush it," Epstein said. "It's tempting to get him here as soon as possible, but we're trying to plan the right way so he can be in a position to succeed, not just immediately, but all the way through October."

Up against serious luxury tax penalties, Epstein is searching for a way to unseat the Dodgers in the National League, able to get creative this time, undoubtedly looking for ways to add more for the long summer ahead.

His desire to win has never been exceeded in Chicago and his track record speaks for itself, but someday Epstein -- who has two years and $20 million left on his deal after this season -- is going to depart, finding that next challenge in baseball or another line of work.

He's not going to stay forever and his work ought to be appreciated while he's here, because you're never going to see someone in the job this talented.

In the meantime, Epstein is brilliant again -- until Kimbrel blows a save.

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