Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations for the Cubs, is Sporting Newsâ 2016 Major League Baseball Executive of the Year, as selected by a panel of 56 major league executives.
Epstein, 42, was presented with the award Monday night at MLB’s annual general managers meetingsÂ in Scottsdale, Ariz. Voting for the honor, which SN has awarded since 1936, was conducted before the start of the postseason.
The Cubs, of course, just won the World Series for the first time in 108 years, and Epstein deserves much of the credit for the historic feat. But the award was based on the Cubs’ regular season, which was historic in its own right.
â¢ Won 103 games, its highest win total since 1910;
â¢ Registered its highest winning percentage (and first 100-win season) since 1935;
â¢ Won the NL Central by 17.5 games, it biggest first-place margin since 1906.
That’s a far cry from the state of the Cubs when Epstein took over after a 91-loss season in 2011. Three more losing seasons followed before Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer’s massive rebuilding project started to pay off in 2015 with 97 wins and a spot in the playoffs.
After that season, which ended in an NLCS loss to the Mets, the Cubs made a series of moves, including signing free agents Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey and trading infielder Starlin Castro.
And in July, when it was clear the team would win the NL Central easily, Epstein and Hoyer worked to shore up the bullpen for the postseason by trading for lefties Mike Montgomery from the Mariners and Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees.
“You see the makeup, you see the character of the guys and you see the direction the organization is headed,” Heyward said of his decision to sign with the Cubs. “To me, that was the pitch. He took care of business and did a great job doing his job, putting a young team with a young core together and adding the right veteran guys to lead that, and having the right manager and right coaching staff.”
Indeed, Epstein’s work to build the Cubs into a powerhouse goes back several seasons and includes savvy drafting, one-sided trades and smart free-agent signings:
â¢ In January 2012, in one of the first major deals of the Epstein era, the Cubs acquired top PadresÂ prospect Anthony Rizzo in a trade that sent Andrew Cashner to San Diego.
â¢ In June 2013, the Cubs drafted San Diego State’s Kris Bryant with the No. 2 overall pick.
â¢ The next month, they made one of the most lopsided trades in recent history when they acquired Jake Arrieta from the Orioles for pratically nothing.
â¢ In June 2014, Chicago picked Indiana’s Kyle Schwarber with the fourth overall pick.
â¢ The next month, the team traded for top A’s prosect Addison Russell in a deal that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.
â¢ In November 2014, the Cubs inked former Rays skipper Joe Maddon to a five-year contract as manager.
â¢ The next month, Epstein signed top free-agent pitcher Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract, the largest in franchise history at the time.
â¢ A month after that, in January 2015, the Cubs traded for Astros outfielder Dexter Fowler, who they re-signed to a free-agent contract before the 2016 season.
Cubs catcher David Ross told Sporting News the players are well aware of what the front office has accomplished.
“Itâs been evident all year,” Ross said. “Even in spring training … I look around and see not just the team and all the talent thatâs on this team, but the minor-league guys, the guys who come up and contribute, guys like (Albert) Almora, Willson (Contreras) and guys who are on their way who are talented, too. Then you hear about the trade with Chapman and the talent we gave up, so you know thereâs a lot of talent in the minor leagues. We think about that a lot. These guys, itâs pretty impressive what theyâve done up there.”
Epstein, who helped lead the Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, has never won SN’s Executive of the Year award before. But SN did name him Executive of the Decade for the period of 2000-2009.
He is just the third Cub to win Executive of the Year, following Phil Wrigley (1945) and Dallas Green (1984).
Sporting News MLB writers Ryan Fagan and Jesse Spector contributed to this story.
(Voting by AL and NL front office executives)
Theo Epstein, Cubs-13
Chris Antonetti, Indians-9
Brian Cashman, Yankees-8
Jon Daniels, Rangers-7
Mike Chernoff, Indians-3
Mike Rizzo, Nationals-3
Dan Duquette, Orioles-2
Jed Hoyer, Cubs-2
Updated at 10:53 p.m. ET