9/18/2013 1:42 A.M. ET
Epstein sees room for growth in Rizzo, Castro
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- Theo Epstein said Tuesday that the Cubs were "nowhere close to where we want to be offensively," and two players who have struggled in that regard are Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro
Rizzo entered Tuesday's game against the Brewers batting .229 with 22 home runs and 75 RBIs, while Castro was hitting .241. What is puzzling is that Rizzo ranks among the National League leaders in walks and extra-base hits.
"If you would've told me that in Spring Training, I would've been really excited about the year Anthony had," said Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations.
"It's really unusual that he accomplished that in the same season where he struggled to hit for average and was really searching a lot at the plate," Epstein said of the first baseman. "Pitchers made the adjustment to him. He tried to make adjustments back. It was a cat-and-mouse game. He was kind of on the losing end of that cat-and-mouse game."
But what Epstein also saw was that Rizzo continued to battle.
"He never gave up, he fought back and I think he'll be better off for this," Epstein said.
Epstein called Castro a "unique hitter" and said the shortstop was "somebody who we want to be himself."
"As an organization, we introduced him to the concept of getting a pitch he can really drive, because in the long run it'll benefit him," Epstein said. "But if that can't be accomplished without him being himself as a hitter, then you have to let time play its course, and I think he'll naturally evolve that way. I think he's in a pretty good place right now. I think he's in a good place now where he's comfortable at the plate."
Cubs unlikely to rebuild through free agency
MILWAUKEE -- Looking ahead to 2014, the Cubs have holes to fill in the lineup, but Theo Epstein said they would not be doing so by spending on high-priced free agents.
"Right now, we're clearly nowhere close to where we want to be offensively," said Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations, who met with manager Dale Sveum on Tuesday to discuss the roster and coaching staff. "Getting on base will be a hallmark of this organization, and we're not good at it yet. And frankly, a lot of the more talented young hitters who we have coming tend to be more aggressive and not naturally on the patient side."
Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer will have to be creative. Finding those perfect hitters while staying within a budget will not be easy.
"I don't think we're going to get to where we need to be through free agency for the short term, honestly," Epstein said. "Given the needs that we have and where we are and the likely price tags on the market, I don't think we'll have the ability to add multiple impact pieces in free agency.
"We're going to have to take a multi-dimensional approach to changing things," he said. "We won't solve our problems through free agency. It's a very viable and sometimes attractive way to add talent, and to be a great organization you have to do it from time to time. Given our situation on a lot of fronts, it's not the cure for our ills."
The Cubs have gotten the go-ahead from the city of Chicago to install a video scoreboard at Wrigley Field next season but have yet to determine whether they will do so in 2014 because of possible litigation from rooftop owners. What does that have to do with the team? The Cubs need the revenue from scoreboard advertising.
"We know we're not going to be able to pick and choose what we want in free agency," Epstein said. "We're going to be aggressive where we can be, and when we can be."
With evaluation coming, Epstein praises Sveum
MILWAUKEE -- Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, said Dale Sveum had done a remarkable job maintaining a good clubhouse despite two rough seasons, but he also acknowledged the manager was being evaluated with the rest of the coaching staff and that a decision on Sveum's future would be made after the season.
Asked directly whether Sveum would be back in 2014, Epstein said there would be a checklist, adding that there were "no alarm bells to ring," but it is a subject that will be addressed once the evaluation process is completed.
Epstein met with Sveum on Tuesday at Miller Park for about four hours to go over the roster, the coaching staff and the manager's performance.
Sveum was tested Monday when he and pitcher Edwin Jackson clashed in the dugout because the right-hander was not happy about being pulled after four innings. It was the first public incident in Sveum's two seasons with the Cubs.
"With respect to keeping the clubhouse incident-free, I think he's done a remarkable job," Epstein said Tuesday. "That really is the first such incident in two very difficult seasons, which I think is a feather in Dale's cap."
Epstein complimented Sveum's demeanor rubbing off on the players in the clubhouse.
"There haven't been many conflicts with players," Epstein said. "Obviously, everything hasn't gone the way we wanted the last two years, but as far as incidents and tempers flaring, there haven't been that many. I think teams sometimes take on the personality of their manager, and Dale being so even-keel has rubbed off on the atmosphere here."
The Cubs lost 101 games last season, and though they will not reach 100 losses this year they could finish last in the National League Central.
"I think we've been very up front that we're not evaluating Dale on wins and losses," Epstein said. "Our record is more of a reflection of the roster that we've put on the field as a baseball operations department and where we are in this building process. I don't hold Dale accountable for the record."
In lieu of looking at the record, Epstein cited the development of young players, in-game decision making; the way Sveum used the roster; the manager's ability to create a culture of accountability, hard work and preparation; and the ability to develop solid, trusting relationships with players. The latter is important when dealing with adversity.
"Dale's been given a difficult hand to play at times by us," Epstein said. "There are certain categories where it's hard to evaluate him. Any time an organization suffers back-to-back last-place seasons, you have to examine every single aspect of the organization. We're looking at our own decision-making process in the front office and evaluating the players."
There is no timetable, except that a decision will be made after the regular season ends.
"I think, as a whole, Dale has had a nice calming effect on the club," Epstein said. "I think he's established a level of professionalism here that's admirable and held his head up high in difficult circumstances in the course of two years."
The Cubs head into the 2014 season without a definitive closer, but Epstein feels the team may already have that pitcher on the roster.
Kevin Gregg, whom the Cubs signed to a Minor League deal in mid-April after he was released by the Dodgers, has stepped in and posted his third career 30-save season. The Cubs began the season with Carlos Marmol as the closer, and he was replaced by Kyuji Fujikawa, who needed Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
"I'm a believer that closers come from a lot of different places," Epstein said. "You find a guy with some swing-and-miss stuff and some courage and effectiveness earlier in the game, you should try him in the ninth inning because he has enough balls and enough stuff that he can handle the ninth inning."
Gregg will be a free agent, and could return next year. Other options include Pedro Strop, acquired from the Orioles in the Scott Feldman deal, and possibly Justin Grimm.
"The bigger story for me is that we started out the year with a bullpen that didn't perform well, and that's our fault," Epstein said, pointing the finger at the front office. "I think over the course of the year, it really steadily improved. The pitchers deserve a lot of credit."
• Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson were on the Cubs' big league roster at this time last year, but this was a difficult season for the first-round picks. Epstein said Vitters, who was the No. 1 pick in 2007, will be converted to an outfielder this offseason.
"We're converting him to left field," Epstein said. "He's going to come to Spring Training ready to re-establish himself and force himself into the mix as one of our right-handed hitting outfielders."
Jackson, the Cubs' first-round pick in 2009, battled injuries this season and ended on Double-A Tennessee's roster. Epstein said Jackson may follow the same program as Vitters this offseason.
• Shortstop Javier Baez, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2011, was named the Minor League Player of the Year after an impressive season. Fans want to know when Baez, rated the organization's No. 1 prospect by MLB.com, will be in the big leagues.
"He's got all the ability that he needs to play Major League shortstop, not that he's not still developing," Epstein said. "We have a shortstop now [in Castro]. If we're fortunate to get to that point in time where Baez is pounding on that door and Castro is healthy, then we will look to move Baez around so he can perform at other positions. I think he has a lot going for him, that he can do that. For a young kid, he has tremendous baseball instincts."
Epstein also said outfielder Albert Almora, the Cubs' 2012 first-round pick who was sidelined with a groin injury, was healthy and preparing for the Arizona Fall League. Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler, bothered by a stress fracture of his tibia, was also doing baseball activities and preparing for the AFL.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.