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Nightengale: GMs Looking to Emulate Cubs, Theo Epstein’s Success

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Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, left, and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. Photo: Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

They slowly trickled into the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa in Paradise Valley on Monday, general managers and the front offices from every Major League team, all sharing one agenda.

To be the 2.0 version of the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs, who finished in fifth place for five consecutive years, and lost 101 games four years ago, now are sitting on baseball’s mountaintop as the World Series champions, and considering their fabulous youth, it may take a tremor for them to come tumbling down anytime soon.

“Everybody would like to get where the Cubs are now,’’ New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman says. “In the last decade, everybody wanted to be the Cardinals, the Giants, the Royals, and now, it’s the Cubs. You get a collection of talent like that, and you want to ride it as long as you can.

“It led the Royals to two championship appearances. It led the Giants to three championships in a decade. Now, the Cubs are sitting on something I know they feel really good about, and feel good about everything moving forward.’’

Who can blame teams for wanting to emulate the Cubs, who had six players 25 years or younger in their starting lineup during one of their World Series games?

The Arizona Diamondbacks, with new GM Mike Hazen, talked about their own potential bounce-back season during their introductory press conference Monday with manager Torey Lovullo at Chase Field. In Minnesota, chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine discussed a return to greatness. In Colorado, where Bud Black was hired as their new manager, the focus was on returning to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

“I want to be able to have us all tell a great story,’’ Lovullo said, “at the end of the 2017 season.’’

Yep, just like the Cubs, where Hazen and Lovullo each worked under Epstein, who was voted executive of the year by his peers, while with the Boston Red Sox, before he departed for the Cubs.

“Nobody in this world could have done a better job than Theo,’’ says Yankees special assistant Jim Hendry, who was replaced by Epstein. “To do it in Boston, and then in Chicago, two places where it never happened, Theo has proven to be a cut-above everyone.

“So you can have all of the plans you want, and everybody can want to do what Theo did, but you’ve still got to get them right. You still have got to make deadline trades that worked out admirably for them and get the right guys high in the draft. It’s more than just, ‘We’re going to rebuild and start over and build it.’

“It’s got to be done in the tremendously high fashion to be able to pull it off. A whole lot of people have been picking in the top 10 for a while, and never get out of the hole.’’

Hazen, who left the Red Sox two weeks ago, acknowledged that the Diamondbacks’ plan is to be the Cubs of the West. Why not shoot for greatness? Rarely a week would go by when Hazen wasn’t talking to Epstein or Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, picking their brains on managerial candidates, player evaluations, or simply running a new team.

“I think there’s a professional curiosity to bounce ideas back and forth,’’ Hazen says. “What do you think about this? This is the dynamic we have here, do you have any thoughts about it? That goes on a lot.’’

It’s far-fetched that any club at the winter meetings is going to hit pay dirt like the Cubs in the draft, selecting soon-to-be-named MVP Kris Bryant and left fielder Kyle Schwarber in back-to-back years, or acquiring All-Star pitcher Jake Arrieta and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell in lopsided trades.

Still, considering what Hazen observed in his five years working with Epstein in Boston, it’s hardly a fluke that Epstein turned around the Cubs’ franchise into a powerhouse that has all the makings of a potential dynasty.

“There’s an intensity about Theo Epstein, and the way he pushes his employees,’’ Hazen said. “He demands excellence from them, and challenges everything, no matter how small. Nothing is unimportant to Theo. No detail is unimportant. I think that’s a really positive attribute that he has.’’

The Cubs, after breaking their historic 108-year drought, now want to the be Yankees of the ’90s. The Yankees, featuring a core of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, won three consecutive World Series championships, and four in five years from 1996 to 2000.

“We had a nice dynasty,’’ Cashman said. “You couldn’t predict it was going to happen, we had a collection of talent, and we were able to hold it together for quite some time. It’s part of our history, and something to be proud of.’’

History tells us that no National League team has won back-to-back World Series championships since the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76, and the Cleveland Indians now possess the longest World Series drought at 68 years, but this is where everyone’s dreams all begin.

“I can’t really answer what’s happened in the past,’’ Hazen said. “I feel very good about what’s going to happen in the future.’’

Then again, no one can possibly feel better about their future than the Cubs, the franchise everyone aspires to become at these GM meetings.

“These things all go in cycles,’’ Hendry says, “but the guy running the Cubs is pretty special. And as long as he’s there, they’re not going away.

“You hear everybody saying they’re going to get the next Theo.

“Well, it hasn’t happened yet.’’

Maybe, it never will.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale

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