Epstein faces big challenge with Cubs

What had been rumored and discussed for weeks is official now in Chicago, as Theo Epstein has been named the President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs.

Epstein will try to lead the team to an elusive World Series title, something that loyal Cubbie fans haven’t seen in over 100 years. Despite Epstein’s championship pedigree with the Boston Red Sox, he faces a huge challenge in getting the Cubs to the level of a team that can compete for a World Series ring.

There’s no question that Epstein inherited significantly more talent when he became the general manager of the Red Sox than what he has here in Chicago. In November of 2002, the Red Sox had just completed another successful season with 93 wins and a plus-194 run differential. The Cubs lost 91 games last year and were outscored by over 100 runs.

2002 Red Sox vs 2011 Cubs
Season Prior to Epstein’s Arrival

Using Wins Above Replacement (WAR), we can assess the level of top-end and overall talent both organizations had at the time of Epstein’s arrival.

The biggest difference between the two teams is clearly in the pitching department. The 2002 Red Sox had accumulated 29.0 WAR, which was the second-highest total that season, compared to just 13.3 for the 2011 Cubs.

Furthermore, according to WAR, the Cubs last season had no elite players and just one player (Matt Garza) with a WAR above 5.0. The 2002 Red Sox, on the other hand, had three players with a WAR of at least 5.0, and one (Pedro Martinez) who had an MVP-caliber season with 8.3 WAR.

Another potential pitfall for Epstein moving forward is that two of the Cubs top five contributors by WAR this past season are likely to depart in the winter, as Ryan Dempster and Aramis Ramirez both have options on their contracts worth a combined $30 million.