Cubs reward Epstein for turnaround with 5-year extension
CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs announced a five-year contract extension with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein on Wednesday, rewarding him for an overhaul that has the long-suffering franchise eyeing its first championship since 1908.
The extension comes with the Cubs wrapping up one of the greatest seasons in franchise history and their fans believing that this just might be the team to end the 108-year World Series title drought.
They reached 100 wins for the first time since 1935 and were a major league-leading 101-56 heading into Wednesday's game at Pittsburgh. Chicago clinched the best record in the majors with more than a week left in the regular season.
"In the five years under Theo's leadership, he has brought in a strong executive team and acquired and developed some of the best players in the game," chairman Tom Ricketts said. "Now, the results are on the field."
Terms were not disclosed. Ricketts said the contract "ensures the baseball operations team assembled by Epstein will continue its remarkable tenure of building a consistent championship contender."
Epstein, who was in the final season of the five-year deal he signed when he left Boston in October 2011, had repeatedly said a new contract was formality, that there were more immediate priorities. Ricketts had echoed that and indicated in the spring that he was prepared to make him one of the highest-paid executives in baseball.
The new deal is a reward for a stunning transformation that began with the arrivals of Epstein along with general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod — his friends from Boston — following the 2011 season.
The Cubs tested some fans' patience by taking the long approach rather than going for a quick fix. But they are seeing the benefits.
High draft picks such as 2015 NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant made big impacts. Trades for last season's NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo and potential Gold Glove shortstop Addison Russell in recent years paid off.
The hiring of NL Manager of the Year Joe Maddon and signing of starter Jon Lester before the 2015 season showed just how serious the Cubs were about jumping into contention. And the additions of three-time Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward, pitcher John Lackey and veteran infielder Ben Zobrist along with the re-signing of outfielder Dexter Fowler this past offseason added to an already deep roster.
Throw in the emergence of Kyle Hendricks as a Cy Young candidate, and the Cubs are widely considered a postseason favorite.
It hasn't been an easy rebuilding process. There were missteps along the way, like signing pitcher Edwin Jackson to a four-year, $52 million deal before the 2013 season.
But the Cubs are in a far different and far better place than they were five years ago. And if they win it all under Epstein, it won't be the first time he helped end a long championship drought.
Before he took aim at the Billy goat curse, he took down the Bambino.
Epstein oversaw two World Series winners in nine seasons as Boston's general manager before leaving for the Cubs.
In Chicago, Epstein parted with high-priced veterans and loaded up the minor league system while expanding the team's scouting and analytics operation as part of an overhaul that saw the organization get stripped to its studs.
The Ricketts family also invested heavily in infrastructure in recent years, hoping to generate revenue streams and a pipeline for sustained success.
The Cubs built new training facilities in the baseball-rich Dominican Republic as well as their spring training home in Arizona, and they began a multiyear renovation designed to update Wrigley Field and transform the surrounding neighborhood.
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