By Bruce Levine-
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) -- For the Cubs, building a new foundation through the minor leagues has led to an average of more than 95 losses the past three seasons. Now, the front office running the show is looking forward to its first winning season in Chicago, as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer anticipate holding their heads up high in 2015.
There was no way around it: Losing had to become a part of the Epstein game plan when he took over the baseball operation in October 2011. In his first press conference, Epstein talked about creating the Cub way of doing business. Essentially, Epstein wanted to create a culture of winning that was close to what was accomplished in Boston during his time there -- seven playoff appearances and two World Series crowns in nine years.
To get there, he needed a young foundation and knew he'd have to weather the ups and downs.
"Not everything we have done has gone according to plan," Epstein said Thursday at spring training. "I have made mistakes along the way. We have made mistakes as an organization. By and large, I think we have performed at a very high level. A building process that can take five to seven years, we have made a lot of progress in three. We have put together an impressive amount of talent in the organization. I believe we have a really nice culture. We feel we can trust each other, and we feel like we are a part of something special."
The growing pains have been a difficult part of the process. They aren't necessarily over, either, with plenty of top prospects in the organization still making their way to the major leagues. But hiring Joe Maddon as the manager and signing pitcher Jon Lester to the most expensive contract in franchise history ($155 million) has changed the direction of the organization.
"Our trades for young players is just about over," Hoyer said. "We had made a lot of trades going in that direction. We tried getting veteran guys to eventually get younger talent. Our hope is that suddenly we have reversed that."
Maddon may be just the man to lead the Cubs to their first World Series championship since 1908. Teaching a winning brand of baseball will be his first order of business after getting to know the players on a personal basis.
Building trust and communication has been a strength of Maddon's throughout his coaching and managing career.
"When you see somebody who has a unique view of life and sees the world from a different perspective, you develop more comfort in them when you see it work," Epstein said of not hiring Maddon when he interviewed for the Red Sox job in 2003. "It worked out great for the Red Sox and Joe (in getting the Rays' managerial job). Once you see him in a major league uniform leading people and not being afraid of trying new things, it makes the picture clearer. He is new school and also old school. He has a long scouting background, a long player development background, and we saw that yesterday as he expounded on our approach as an organization -- 'The Cubs Way.' He got down deep with some of our minor league people, talking about ways to do things better."
Winning a division title is the first goal for this newly assembled group of leaders. While ownership talks about winning the World Series, Epstein and Hoyer concentrate on being competitive for the next decade. Their goal is to consistently field talented teams under a well-thought-out player development and contract control plan. (Long-term contracts signed by Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro will save the team millions due to savvy early projections of the escalating marketplace.)
With an experienced manager in place, Epstein and Hoyer will also be able to dedicate more time to player moves and less on nursing an inexperienced manager through the rigors of a major league season.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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