Theo Epstein levels with Cubs fans

CHICAGO -- As a rough 2012 season nears its end, Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein was bold enough to suggest Friday that 2013 might not be much better when it comes to playoff expectations for the team.

That might not make the ticket department stand up and cheer but it goes along with Epstein's objective of being as forward as possible about the Cubs' rebuilding project.

"I think obviously we really care about our fans and we want them to have a great experience, but we're trying to be transparent about it," Epstein said. "We have a plan and we have a vision and it won't happen overnight, but given the way of things I think this is the best way to go."

Despite the club's 56-87 record entering Friday, the Cubs still are outdrawing all but five National League teams after 2.47 million fans have poured through the gates this year. At their current attendance average, the Cubs will still draw more than 2.9 million fans this year.

Even at the risk of cutting into that attendance next season, Epstein had some frank things to say about the immediate future.

"There might be some tough things we have to tell (fans) along the way, and there might be another trading deadline in our future where we trade away 40 percent of a really good rotation," Epstein said.

In July, the Cubs dealt Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm, and lost Matt Garza for the season to injury. Assuming Garza comes back healthy in 2013, the Cubs figure to attempt to deal him.

"You do that because there will be a day when you acquire two starting pitchers at the deadline just to cement your club and go on a run in the postseason," Epstein said. "Again, our goal from the beginning was that we were going to do what we need to do to put ourselves in position to be a contending team year in and year out. So that means no shortcuts and taking a long approach."

Manager Dale Sveum was informed during his interview last winter that the process would be slow. For that reason, he is being judged more on his ability to teach than his ability to win.

"We told him that based on where we are as a franchise, we're going to try to win but we're not going to evaluate him on wins and losses the first couple of years, to be honest, because it wouldn't be fair," Epstein said. "We knew we would be putting out a team that had too much developing talent to be evaluating him strictly on wins and losses. We will evaluate him on a number of other criteria that we shared with him, and I think he has done a fantastic job to be honest with you."

If a dip in attendance comes next season but the team is competitive by 2014 or '15, then it's a trade-off Epstein is willing to make. He isn't just trying to build a club that can rise up and make a playoff statement one year. His objective is long-term competitive success.

Yet, stripping down a roster and loading up on young minor-league talent is one thing. Having talent that eventually is better than any other team's is the hard part. In that sense, there is no guarantee that what Epstein is doing will bring a World Series.

The first goal is to make the playoffs. Until then, titles can't happen.

"When you acquire really young players and trade for prospects and focus on the draft, it's really obvious that it's not a quick road, but it's going to be a really, I think, rewarding journey," Epstein said.