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Cubs sign Epstein to five-year extension for close to $50 million

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 27: Theo Epstein (R), President of Operations for the Chicago Cubs, talks with head football coach Jim Harbaugh of the University of Michigan before the game between the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH – Just ahead of their most anticipated October in generations, the Cubs reached agreement on a five-year contract extension with the architect of this year’s World Series favorite. Team president Theo Epstein reached agreement over the weekend on a deal sources say is valued in the neighborhood of the five-year, $50 million package Andrew Friedman received from the Dodgers before last season. The guaranteed base is said to be below that figure, but includes incentive and bonus clauses.

Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts met four times over the summer, Ricketts said, before finalizing the deal Saturday and announcing it Wednesday. They originally intended to announce it Sunday, before the death of young Miami pitching star Jose Fernandez early Sunday morning sent shock waves through baseball.

“There was never any real drama throughout the summer,” said Ricketts of a deal that was called imminent since before spring training.

The announcement comes in the final week of the Cubs’ first 100-win season since 1935 – just four years after the first year of rebuilding under Epstein resulted in a 101-loss season.

“It’s almost uncanny how everything that we talked about five years ago, four years ago, three years ago [came together],” Ricketts said. “With the exception of the fact we had an incredible second half last year that I don’t think anybody expected, things have kind of moved forward in a way that is just kind of as we planned. It’s been pretty incredible.”

By the end of the week, the Cubs plan to announce five-year extensions as well for general manager Jed Hoyer and top player development executive Jason McLeod.

“The goal is to keep a really strong executive team together and keep building on the success we’ve started to achieve,” said Ricketts, who in spring training said Epstein deserved to be the highest-paid baseball operations executive in the sport.

Asked whether this contract met that expectation, Ricketts said he’s not sure. “But I think it’s in the range,” he said. “It’s competitive, and where it should be for someone who I think is the best baseball executive in the game.”

Epstein, 42, said the timing of the deal in the end came down to waiting until the Cubs had clinched all they could clinch during the regular season, and called the deal a reflection of mutual trust built over the last five years and a validation of the work done by “literally hundreds of people” in the organization.

“It took a bit of a leap of faith in [ownership] coming here, and they have lived up to everything they said they would do,” said Epstein, who is in the final year of a five-year, $18.5 million deal. “There’s no place I’d rather be.”

For how much longer? When he left Boston after nine years as general manager, Epstein said he believed in the philosophy espoused by legendary football coach Bill Walsh: essentially that 10 years is a natural shelf life for a high-stress job.

“That certainly seemed like the right amount of time [in Boston],” said Epstein, whose teams won two World Series there. “And I do really believe in a lot of what Walsh was writing about. But it’s too early to judge. We’ll see how I feel at that point, but certainly there’s some symmetry in 10 years. It’s just too early. So many things can happen between now and then.

“I’m really not thinking beyond trying to win a World Series for this organization.”

Ricketts seemed pleased, for now, to be assured five more years with the baseball boss who has achieved four consecutive years of big-league improvement since that 101-loss season, while building a strong pipeline of hitting prospects in the system.

“I think a lot of people have this perception – I know I was sort of in that camp – that he was more of a deeply quantitative, number-cruncher kind of guy,” Ricketts said. “And that’s true. Obviously, Theo understands numbers, understands how to apply them to make good decisions.

“But I think the thing that I have seen the last five years, which is even more remarkable, is how well he handles people, how well he choose people for his [front office] team, how well he chooses players for his team. And I think his ability to judge character and put together the right human resources on the same team has been truly remarkable.”