Theo Epstein & Sandy Alderson Go Toe to Toe: A Closer Look at Their Rebuilds

Theo EpsteinMike:

Today the Mets travel west to Las Vegas —


— Vegas, baby!!! We’re going to tear up this town!!! Where the women at????!!!


Calm down, Jimmy. You need to get over the Vegas thing. Anyway, the Mets are traveling to play the Chicago Cubs.


Ten bucks says Seratelli goes deep. He loves the thin air.


I thought this would be an interesting day to look at Chicago, who have been moving along a similar path as the Mets.


Good idea. I’ve been keeping an eye on Theo out there in the windy city. He’s very similar to Sandy, and yet different in interesting ways, too.


In October of 2010, we know, the Mets hired Sandy Alderson to assume control of the Mets front office. Theo Epstein was hired one year later, in October, 2011. Like Alderson, Epstein was not brought in for a quick fix. Epstein’s goal also became a complete rebuild of the organization, from top-to-bottom.


Epstein was willing to crater, perhaps by design. They’ve been a terrible team the last two years under Theo, and have thus benefitted from the corresponding high draft slots.

A quick look:

2012 Draft, 1st Round:

  • 6th overall, Cubs: Albert Almora, HS, OF

2013 Draft, 1st Round:

  • 2nd overall, Cubs: Kris Bryant, 4YR College, 3B

2014 Draft, 1st Round:

  • 4th overall, Cub: TBD

That’s the kind of thing that can make a big difference when it comes to drafting difference-makers. For the Mets under Sandy, they’ve had to wait around, watch some big names come off the board, before drafting in the 10-13 draft positions.


The transactions that Epstein has made since taking over indicate a patient approach. So far 2014-Bowman-Platinum-Baseball-Gold-Jorge-Solerthere have been no splashy high-end major league free agent signings. The two longest-term contracts executed indicate a team planning for the future. One was the signing of Cuban defector Jorge Soler to a nine-year contract in June of 2012. The outfielder joins the players listed below as a top 100 prospect. The other was used on young Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who was signed to a seven-year contract that does not expire until after the 2019 season. Last July Theo traded away established players Matt Garza and Scott Feldman at the deadline in moves made to bolster the future. Garza netted two top prospects from the Texas Rangers, pitcher C.J. Edwards and outfielder Mike Olt.


Both of those guys should be successful, btw. Fans might recall that Olt was dangled as a possible return in an R.A. Dickey trade.


Feldman was traded to Baltimore for pitchers Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, and two international signing bonus slots. Alfonso Soriano was also traded away to the Yankees. Due to a very bad contract Soriano was basically dumped to allow the Cubs the ability to move on.

Epstein is not just practicing a measured approach on the team building front. He is another member of the current wave of baseball men who believe patience at the plate is paramount to offensive success.


Both of these guys are egocentric enough to, like God and Bill Parcells, want to make over the teams in their own image. Plate discipline — high OBP — was held out as the magic elixir that

Linus, another patient True Believer

Linus, another patient True Believer

would cure all ills. Theo has promised that high OBP will become “a Hallmark” of future Cubs teams. They are not there yet, but he’s preaching the same patient approach as Sandy. Both these guys are True Believers. They go to the same Church of Baseball. However, easier said than done. When I read about Starlin Castro’s regression and confusion at the plate, it all sounds eerily familiar. And likewise, Rizzo has learned to walk more — but the power has dropped off.


Castro’s OBP in the year before Epstein arrived was .341. In the two years since, .323 and .284. His walks remained flat, and he is getting less hits. Whatever they are telling him, it’s not working.


I question the extent to which it is a teachable skill. I suspect Sandy has similar thoughts. That’s been a feature of his drafts, IMO: The Mets are actively seeking those types of hitters. On the down side, they might be bypassing some pure-talent swatters out there who don’t fit the mold.


ManyQuestionsWhatever the thinking is, it is beyond me. I heard Alderson on the radio in the winter. He was asked if Daniel Murphy was a leadoff candidate and Sandy sarcastically referenced Murphy’s OBP as the reason that Murphy cannot bat leadoff. Murphy’s lifetime OBP is .330. Chris Young, on the other hand, is getting serious consideration for the leadoff spot. His career OBP is .315. Now Young walks more, and Murphy gets more hits. Has it now come to that, are walks considered superior to hits? I don’t understand that.


In conclusion, I figured I’d list the two team’s best prospects. I’ll use Jonathon Mayo’s composite list as a basis, which combined rankings from Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and ESPN. Mets in boldface.

  •  4. Javier Baez, SS: Via 2011 Draft (4th overall, pre-Esptein)
  • 11. Kris Bryant, 3B: Via 2013 Draft, 2nd overall.
  • 14. Noah Syndergaard, P: Via Trade, R.A. Dickey
  • 24. Albert Almora, OF: Via Draft, 6th overall.
  • 33. Travis d’Arnaud, C: Via Trade, R.A. Dickey
  • 38. Jorge Soler, OF: Cuban defector, signed to 9 Yr/$30 MM deal, June 2012.
  • 57. C.J. Edwards, P: Via Trade, Matt Garza
  • 76. Arismendy Alcantara, 2B: Signed as International Free Agent, 2008
  • 79. Rafael Montero, P: Signed as International Free Agent, 2011.
  • 81. Dominic Smith, 1B: Via Draft, 11th overall.
  • 100. Pierce Johnson, P: Via Draft, 43rd overall.
  • 111. Wilmer Flores, INF: Signed as International Free Agent, 2007
  • 123. Brandon Nimmo, OF: Via Draft, 13th overall.

Anything strike you, Mike?


Well, as you mentioned earlier, the Cubs have been worse on the field and that creates an Jose Reyesadvantage in the draft. Epstein has surely not went out of his way to do any quick fixes, but he inherited a bad team and bad roster. The Cubs were 20 games under the season before Epstein took over. Alderson inherited a near .500 team with major assets such as Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriquez, and R.A. Dickey on the roster. Because of this the team has never been as bad as the Cubs, and this has made it easier for Epstein to navigate the annual draft. The flip side is that Alderson had more chips available to use to rebuild the farm quickly.

Also, there is Soler at 38. Soler was about money, and Epstein has the advantage of working in a big market for owners who did not invest all their capital in a Ponzi fund. And one last aside, I saw Alcantara, a second base prospect, hit a ball out in the Futures Game last year that might still be traveling. I would keep an eye on him.

Overall, these are two teams who are down right now. For Mets fans the losing has seemed like forever, for Cubs fans it has been forever.

We will see if either of these GMs can get right their franchises fortunes.

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  1. Mack Ade says:

    Actually, the combination list of prospects looks like one heck of a 2017 all-star team. Possibly both Theo and Sandy are doing their job correctly.

    • Both have had successes and failures. Overall, I think it’s relatively easy — that is, easier — to simply fail to compete, lose games and fans, while stockpiling draft picks and trading away veterans. How can you go wrong? Especially when you are judged by potential, rather than actual on-field results. The jury is still out, but it’s true, both have acquired some high-end talent. The Mets got theirs by trading Beltran and Dickey; the Cubs through one big signing and some great draft positions. It’s pretty fascinating to watch. I like Theo, btw. And like Sandy less, because I think he has been horrible in some areas. Thanks for stopping by, Mack.

  2. Eric says:

    From a baseball fan’s perspective, I am pulling for the Cubbies to turn it around. So tired of hearing about the Saintly St. Louis Cardinals in the Central.

    I know it is rare to see prospect for prospect trades, but the Mets and Cubs sure look like they could deal from their surpluses to address weaknesses on the field (Mets, pitching – Cubs, position players).

  3. Eraff says:

    I give Theo the Edge, if only based on his history. I regard Theo as a Baseball Guy—I regard Sandy as an Organizational Guy.

  4. James Preller says:

    What makes Theo a baseball guy?

  5. Eraff says:

    JP…. Larry Luchino seems to be the “SANDY” in Boston—-the Operational and Organizational Overlord. He hired Theo as his Baseball GM. That provided an organizational format similar to the one Sandy had in Oakland with The A’s when he made Billy Beane “The Baseball Guy”. Similarly, in NY, Richardi and Depo as “Baseball Guys” (not that I have much regard for them).

    Larry Hired Theo Epstein in 2002… here’s the wiki on Theo…

    You can read his activity and results and judge for yourself.

    My read is that Sandy has considerable weight and talent as an executive….. and NOT as a transformative BASEBALL leader. Whatever he has done, he has very little history (certainly NOT recently!) or connection with on-field success. That is not to denegrate him, because I actually believ he has done an amazing Job with the Mets given the burden of this ownership. He has been Faceman/Human Shield and a good steward of necessary misery… a key executive in the survival of the Mets Organization—but Baseball Guy?…No.

    • I guess that I think of “baseball guys” as scouts, insiders, folks who have spent a lot of time inside the game, evaluating talent. Ricciardi fits that bill for me, so does Omar Minaya; whereas DePodesta and Epstein are cut from a different cloth.

      Anyway, not sure the distinctions are meaningful, since it’s usually a collection of guys bringing together a lot of information. Sandy is the captain of the ship, somebody else might be reading the stars, and Fred, alas, still owns the (leaky) boat.

      I think Epstein has a lot more in common with Alderson than your Baseball/Organizational Dichotomy suggests.

      My two cents.

  6. Eraff says:

    Ricciardi and Beane is a Great analogy… ex High Level players, etc. DePo and Theo are “Sabers”… All of those guys made their chops as BASEBALL GUYS…

    Sandy was a High Level Operational Guy FIRST….not a Baseball Centered discipline.

    • Sandy was devoutly reading Bill James in the 70’s, long before DePo or Epstein entered middle school. I am not saying that you are wrong about Sandy’s strengths, but that you are crediting those two as being more authentic “baseball guys” and I don’t see it. Strikes me as highly arbitrary and not really meaningful. No disrespect.

      • Michael Geus says:

        I don’t see Alderson as a baseball man. He reminds me of M.Donald Grant and Al Harazin, a corporate spokesman hired to do managements bidding. The only time I ever see Sandy act with any urgency is when he runs to the media to refute negative payroll talk. But there are guys beneath him who hopefully care about the baseball side.

        I have less of a feel for Epstein, could be the same thing. He quickly hired Hoyer when he got the Cubs job to do the real GM work, and that is a pretty strong signal.

        Gun to my head I wouldn’t call either of these guys baseball men. But that is having to answer the question black and white, and there are shades of gray, I suppose.

        Fifty, right?

  7. Eraff says:

    OK…. I’ll add that I don’t see much Baseball Cred/Success from Sandy in his most recent experience. I won’t saddle him as much with The Mets record as I “credit” this ownership with most of the failure.

    Additionally, Sandy may have been brought to his previous jobs for “other than on-field progress”— and I believe we can now accept that he was brought/PUSHED here because of EVERTHING Off-Field.

    So…I see a Young Exec with roots in BASEBALL and a recent hampionship recipe of his own hand versus a High Level Business Operator without much success on-field.

    Sandy?….I think BAIL OUT, Stabilizer…. Not BASEBALL. He said it would be Money Ball with Money….it’s turned out to be Moneyball without BALL.

  8. Raff says:

    I think Theo and Sandy are actually very comparable, in terms of their strengths at building up their organizations with management personnel and developmental talent through draft and trade. They each excel at building a minor league system with a structured approach as to the type of player they draft and the philosophical approach they teach to their young prospects. In those ways- I think they are very similar. Each “inherited” rosters with considerable amount of talent- although Boston had more to start with than the Mets had when Sandy took over. That said- The differences in their individual managements’ situations make a direct comparison difficult. Theo began with a Green Light to spend and expand the on-field talent, and Sandy began with the edict to pare-off on-field assets in order to attempt to rebuild with a dramatically diminished and unpredictable budget. The only “bad” move Sandy made was the whole Reyes debacle, but in hindsight, I think he strung out the decision, hoping he could hold on to Reyes, only to find out that he had to lose him at the end. I surmise that Sandy “learned late” that Wilpons couldn’t pay or even offer to Pay Reyes- I think he would have moved Reyes at the trade deadline, had he known- Just as he did with Beltran and Dickey. Theo’s mistakes were wall-papered over with Money. This is not a criticism- just a statement of fact. When the Sox made bad high-riced acquisitions with Renteria and Lugo- they just dumped and pumped money into roster building. And they continued building their minor league with MONEY, adding draft picks with over-slot spending and adding talent on the field with additional free-agent spending. Sandy hasn’t had that ability. I think that Alderson has actually done a very goo job, given the tools he has.

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