Sutcliffe played for the Cubs from 1984-91, and had been in spring camp when Lou Piniella was manager, but the big right-hander wasn't as hands-on with the pitchers then as he has been this year.
Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations, contacted Sutcliffe shortly after Dale Sveum was named manager in November, and wanted him to work, not sign autographs.
"I'm doing what I'm asked to do," Sutcliffe said Friday. "Lou and I, we clicked. Dale's a lot younger. I wanted to get to know what was going on here and they've got a great staff. Any way I can help. Chris [Bosio, pitching coach] is phenomenal. Chris has told each one of us coaches to grab a guy and help him. Not everybody is like that. That's been encouraging and a lot of fun. As Theo knew when he took the job, there's a lot of work to do here."
The experience appears to be beneficial for both the pitchers and Sutcliffe. Rodrigo Lopez and Chris Volstad both have said Sutcliffe has been key in tweaking their grips. He may have made more of an impact talking to them as well as young right-hander Jeff Samardzija about the mental side of the game.
On Saturday, Sutcliffe heads home, but he expects to be back. He likes what he's seen so far.
"There's some nice things going on here," he said. "I wasn't here last year. I wasn't on board with what was happening and I love the Cubs, pull for them, but I didn't feel I was welcome.
"I've been around the Phillies and the Yankees, and when you go down to a bullpen and watch five or six guys throw, you sit back and almost every other guy, you go 'Wow, he's got a chance,'" Sutcliffe said. "There wasn't a whole lot of 'wow' going on here [in Cubs camp]. It was disappointing. You've got to know where you're at to get better."
And Sutcliffe sees Epstein, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting and player development director Jason McLeod as the people to get the team on track. Sutcliffe will leave camp with 10 pages of notes on things he's learned from Sveum this spring and will likely utilize that during his ESPN "Baseball Tonight" segments.
Aren't those secrets?
"There aren't any secrets," Sutcliffe said. "There's the truth and the fact that this is a mess. To me, the chain of command was broke, people were going in different directions with no leadership. There's leadership now."
He said the players have to come from within the organization and the Red Sox are the perfect example. Jon Lester was Boston's top pick in 2002, outfielder David Murphy in '03, Dustin Pedroia in '04. All have made it to the big leagues, all have contributed. The Cubs' top selections those years? In '02, it was right-handed pitcher Bobby Brownlie, in '03, Ryan Harvey, and in '04, right-handed pitcher Grant Johnson. None reached the Major Leagues.
"Those guys [they drafted] in '02, '03, '04, they're supposed to be carrying us now," Sutcliffe said. "Those guys are no where to be found [with the Cubs]. That's why Jed was brought in and Jason was brought in. Theo is going to have to evaluate for this thing to evolve, and I really think that's the No. 1 reason Theo asked me to come back as far as our pitching. 'What do you see? What's your opinion?' That's all it is -- nothing more than my opinion."
It's easy to pick up on the change in attitude and energy in Cubs camp under Sveum.
"I tell these guys, I played on some good Cubs teams and I played on some teams that won, and I played on a couple teams that didn't," Sutcliffe said. "But I didn't play in front of empty seats. [The fans] were there through the good and the bad because they liked what they saw. We won as many games as our ability was capable of.
"We played hard, we policed ourselves," he said. "That's what they're going to see here. To me, that's the exciting part about it. They know who's in charge in this clubhouse. When [Sveum] walks through, you know. He's got their respect. Nobody's going to outwork him. There's been a lot of teaching going on. It's a great staff. I learn something every day from each and every one of them. Dale had impact on the guys who are here."