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Former boss Towers raves about Epstein

CHICAGO — Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers said Wednesday he once gave some advice to his Yankees counterpart, Brian Cashman, after the Red Sox hired 29-year-old Theo Epstein in November 2002.

"This kid is dangerous," Towers recalled saying. "Don't take him for granted.

Cashman's worry is now a concern for the rest of the National League as far as Towers is concerned.

"As of today, he's a huge threat in this league," said Towers, who promoted Epstein in 1997 from the media relations department to become his director of baseball operations.

Towers, a Medford native, has seen Epstein develop from a person just happy to operate the radar gun at Qualcomm Stadium to charting pitches to reading scouting reports and joining him on minor league scouting missions.

While Epstein was learning his craft, he was earning a law degree at the University of San Diego, impressing Towers so much that he involved him in arbitration cases and negotiations with agents.

"I would enjoy giving him a project and expect him to take a couple of weeks," Towers said. "Theo would have it done by the next day. Of course, he would stay up all night. We wanted to be good. His work is off the charts.

"I know Cubs fans are going to have great expectations. He's going to have the same expectations. I think he's going to create an edge."

While Epstein was learning quickly about player evaluations, he expanded Towers' knowledge by adding factors such as a player's age, the ballpark and league he played in.

"I'll never forget one morning he came into my office with the waiver list and said, 'We have to get this guy,' " Towers said. "It was David Eckstein. Eckstein was 5-foot-7, 155 pounds with no power.

"But Theo told me he was an on-base machine who would set up the middle of the order. I shunned him on it. The Angels got (Eckstein) and won a World Series (in 2002).

"Theo is a big-time thinker who has incredible instincts. He has zero fear, as he showed when he traded Nomar (Garciaparra). He has the ultimate blend of scouting and other (statistical) factors.

"He takes the amateur draft seriously. He's going to be involved because he's going to have a plan, a vision."

The Cubs' move will alter the mindset in one of the more tradition-bound divisions in baseball.

Epstein's numbers-focused approach is a new way of thinking about building a team, not exactly the strong suit of the deposed Jim Hendry and current National League Central general managers.

Of course, Doug Melvin's Brewers and John Mozeliak's Cardinals are the last two teams standing in the National League, too.

"Obviously he had a ton of success in Boston and now that he's taking it to our division, it's going to change the landscape a little bit," Mozeliak said Wednesday. "It's good for baseball, and if it makes our rivalry any more interesting, that's fun too.

"(Cubs ownership) obviously is changing strategy. (It) doesn't necessarily mean instant success in 2012. They're looking at this long-term."

As for sabermetrics and such?

"(We use) a lot of the analytics in our decision-making, but we also rely heavily on our scouts," Mozeliak said. "I like to remain flexible."

Said Melvin: "All GMs are faced with different challenges. It doesn't stop us from doing what we're going to do. Our goals are still the same, to get to the postseason.

"The Cubs have always been challenging. When Hendry was there, I always felt like it was a challenge."