If you're having a hard time following all of the front office movement of late as it pertains to the Chicago Cubs, it might help to think of this as an unofficial sequel to the Ocean's Eleven franchise. Theo Epstein, in the role of Danny Ocean, is recently set free from his metaphorical prison in Boston (hey, if we're going to paint things as bad out there, let's go all the way with it), and is ready for one more big job, the one that will have him set for life. He's collecting his former partners in crime to help him out in with his next target: a World Series ring in Chicago.
Epstein gets in touch with his former assistant general manager Jed Hoyer out in San Diego, convincing him to come along to the Cubs to be his new GM, while he rules over the club as president of baseball operations. Hoyer and Epstein also convince Jason McLeod, the former director of amateur scouting in Boston that had a hand in the selections of former MVP Dustin Pedroia, possibly future MVP Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, and so on, to leave San Diego for the second time in his career in order to shack up with Theo.
The only missing parties here are Ben Cherington, who has succeeded Epstein as GM in Boston, as well as Josh Byrnes, who declined to join Theo in Chicago in lieu of taking over in San Diego under Jeff Moorad, setting the Padres up much like the pre-Kevin Towers Diamondbacks. Yes, four general managers came out of the front office that brought the 2004 Red Sox the city's first championship in 86 years, and that number will be five if McLeod gets his own team someday.
Of course, there are more members in a front office than just those five (unless you're the pre-Theo Cubs, who had one of the smallest baseball operations departments in the game), but everyone in this group was a key member of the 2004 Red Sox, and all but Byrnes were integral to the 2007 team as well -- especially when you consider how important players like Papelbon, Pedroia, and Lester were for that second title team. They have all worked in a major market before, and have had success spending (John Lackey notwithstanding), but also understand the importance of building a team from the inside with high-quality prospects. The first thing Epstein did when he took over the Red Sox was explain the plan that would combine dollars with prospects in order to create a perpetually competing club, and Hoyer, when he traveled west to San Diego, said much the same about the value of a farm system that could produce talent in waves, something the Padres lacked under Towers.
The Red Sox were criticized for a lack of young talent to come to the rescue in 2011, but besides the aforementioned players, the system has also produced the likes of Anibal Sanchez and Justin Masterson, two successful arms for other teams who were given up in trades for more established, win-now players. Their drafts are generally highly-regarded, and the lower minors are currently full of intriguing names of potential impact players. The Padres, in just two years under Hoyer and McLeod's watch, have revamped the farm to the point where it is no longer one of the shallowest in the league, but is instead one of the most promising. The Cubs have the big budget this group is used to working with, and the same need the Sox and Padres had for infusions of productive, in-house talent.
This influx of front office talent is the kind of things many teams should be jealous of, much like the Mets last year with Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta, and J.P. Ricciardi all coming to town at once. But, also like the Mets, there are many problems to be fixed here, and winning immediately is likely not on the agenda. The Cubs won just 71 games in 2011, finishing in fifth place in the NL Central, 25 games out of first place. The minor league system isn't empty, but it is bottom heavy, as there is little to love at the upper levels, especially since Andrew Cashner and Starlin Castro are already in the majors. Throw in that there will be compensation for these moves, and the system might be even a little thinner than we think of it being now. In theory, though, given the histories of those involved, the system won't be thin forever, and should be a positive in the future.
There might not be the same explosions or Hollywood sheen in this production that there is in an Ocean's flick, and the fact Brad Pitt recently played Billy Beane in a movie means we'll need to make some mental casting leaps here, but make no mistake: Theo is getting the gang back together, and is attempting to succeed at what has been considered impossible.