2011 in Review: Top 5 Cubs stories

The Cubs found a new leader and a building block for the future, and Ron Santo finally got the Hall call in 2011. US Presswire/AP Photo

1. Theo Epstein hired: In a franchise-altering decision, Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts decided to create a new position, president of baseball operations, in order to interview and hire Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. Epstein, who had one year left on his Boston contract, was allowed to interview because the job being offered was above a GM description. Epstein was given a five-year deal that pays him $3.5 million a year, believed to be the highest annual average salary paid to any top baseball official. Epstein immediately hired Jed Hoyer as GM, doubling his salary to $1.2 million, according to industry sources.

2. Santo inducted into Hall: Almost one year to the day after his death, Ron Santo was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with 94 percent of the vote from the veterans committee. The former third baseman and broadcaster had been passed over by the Baseball Writers' Association of America for 15 years and the veteran's committee another 10. He became the 47th player to wear a Cubs uniform enshrined into Cooperstown. Santo hit .277 with 342 home runs and 1,333 RBIs in a 15-year career. He called Cubs games as the radio analyst for 21 seasons until his death in 2010.

3. Cubs fire Hendry and Quade: After a second straight fifth-place finish, Hendry was fired on July 23 but was asked to stay on the job to complete the signing of the June draft choices and oversee trade deadline responsibilities. Hendry traded Kosuke Fukudome to the Cleveland Indians three days before the deadline. In nine seasons as Cubs GM, Hendry orchestrated three playoff teams and hired two celebrity managers in Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella, who both managed four seasons. In October 2010, Hendry removed the interim tag on Mike Quade and gave him a two-year contract. Epstein fired Quade in late October, and hired Dale Sveum. Under Hendry, the Cubs went to the playoffs in two straight seasons for the first time in 100 years only to go three and out in the 2007 and 2008 division series. Escalating salaries and abject failures in the signings of Fukudome and Milton Bradley eventually sealed Hendry's fate.

4. Castro's emergence: With 207 hits, Starlin Castro became the youngest player to not only lead the NL in hits but also the youngest player in Cubs history to make a NL All-Star team. Castro became only the fifth player in All-Star history to steal two bases in an All-Star Game. He led the league in at-bats (674) and also led NL shortstops in errors with 29, playing 158 out of 162 games. Castro also had five hitting streaks of 10 games or more. He came under fire for having his back turned to home plate as a pitch was thrown during a nationally-televised game in August. The mistake was noted by an ESPN producer and relayed to Bobby Valentine, becoming national news.

5. Zambrano quits the team: The always unpredictable pitcher walked out of the clubhouse and announced to team personnel that he was quitting baseball after an embarrassing performance in Atlanta on Aug. 12. Zambrano gave up a Cubs-record five home runs in 4 1/3 innings before being ejected for throwing inside on Chipper Jones twice in the same at-bat. After storming out of the clubhouse, Zambrano was put on the disqualified list and never pitched again for the Cubs in 2011. Epstein met with Zambrano and agent Barry Praver on Nov. 15 and told him if he worked hard in winter ball he would have a chance to re-build his career and his relationship with his teammates in 2012. Zambrano received 19 stitches after taking a line drive off his mouth in his third start in Venezuela in November.