"That moment when you're at the press conference and you're holding up the jersey, you're sitting there thinking, 'This could be a great moment in franchise history,'" Epstein said. "And there's a big voice in the back of your head saying, 'I might be regretting this for the next six years.' You can't get away from it, and that voice is louder than the one that says, 'This could be a great thing.'
"Just look at the history of long-term free-agent contracts -- they tend not to work out. As tempting as they are and as great a way they are to improve your club in the short term, there's two sides with free agency."
Epstein isn't criticizing what the Marlins have done. But it's not the approach the Cubs are taking since he took over the team in late October.
The team has been linked to free agents Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder since the Winter Meetings began, but neither would appear to fit into Epstein's plan. Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told MLB.com the team's interest in the pair of sluggers has "been overblown."
The challenge, Epstein said, is to spend wisely.
"The real swagger and confidence comes from building an organization that you know works," he said Wednesday. "That means you draft well, you sign players internationally, you develop them. You have a stable of players you target coming up.
"The most valuable commodity in the game these days is not dollars, it's the prospects you project to be regulars or better and good young players under control. That's the swagger, and the whole universe is open to you if you have those players to work with. ... That's the currency of the game, is good young players more than available dollars."
What Epstein & Co. have to do is evaluate the current Cubs roster. For example, what to do with Tyler Colvin? A No. 1 Draft pick by the Cubs in 2006, Colvin, 26, batted .150 in 80 games with the Cubs and hit six homers and drove in 20 runs last season. In 2010, he hit .254 with 20 homers, 18 doubles and 56 RBIs.
There were reports the Cubs were talking about trading Colvin for third baseman Ian Stewart, 26, who batted .156 in 48 games with the Rockies, and .275 with 14 homers and 10 doubles in 45 games with Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Both Colvin and Stewart may benefit from a change of scenery. Epstein will not comment on players or free agents, but did say the team was working on a few smaller trades.
Epstein wants to make sure they evaluate the players fairly. In December 2005, the Diamondbacks left Dan Uggla unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft, and he went on to have success with the Marlins.
"There's a history of some good trades that have been made because they're more active because they're not necessarily tied to some of their prospects," Epstein said, "and there's a long history of mistakes that have been made."
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.