CHICAGO -- Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein took time to say hello to some of his former Red Sox players and staff, but the focus is on his current team, and despite its 21-42 record entering play on Friday, he likes what he sees developing in the clubhouse and on the field.
"It's all about wins and losses -- that's what matters in the game," Epstein said on Friday. "If you dig a little deeper, you see a manager and coaching staff who have set high expectations for the players, and players who are working hard to live up to those expectations.
"I do think we're very prepared day in and day out, and we play the game hard day in and day out. There's a little bit of a talent deficit right now, but hopefully, we'll advance as we move forward. I like what's being established in the clubhouse."
Epstein tried to shift the attention to the two teams but admitted there was "probably some curiousity about what we're up to here as we try to put this thing together." Television and still cameras were focused on Epstein during batting practice as he shook hands with some Red Sox players. Epstein spent 10 seasons in Boston, the last nine as general manager, and put together two World Series championship teams. Cubs fans have the same high expectations.
"We're not where we want to be, and there are some games we'd like back -- we could've won a few more games," Epstein said of the Cubs, who entered Friday having lost 22 of their last 28 games. "These guys are playing hard and preparing hard, and they're not backing down. I think we'll find a way to get a few more wins going forward the rest of the season."
Despite the results, Epstein said he sees progress, adding that most of it involves scouting and player development.
"We've committed to a vision of the future around a core of young players we're trying to identify and develop," Epstein said. "There's a lot of work behind the scenes. Hopefully, we'll see some progress on the field, too."
When Epstein took over the Red Sox, they were coming off a 93-win season of 2002. The Cubs lost 91 games last year and are on pace to exceed the club record for losses of 103, set in 1962 and matched in '66.
"We made moves at the big league level and had some success right off the bat, and that bought us time to commit to the Red Sox way of doing things, which we established there in scouting and player development," Epstein said. "The work is similar here, but there was clearly a mandate for change."
The Cubs' goal, Epstein said, is to stick to the organization's plan of building a foundation for sustained success, which will hopefully translate into many trips to the playoffs.
"There have already been a lot of potholes along the way," Epstein said. "There will be more. It's a very competitive landscape out there. Hopefully, a couple years from now, we'll look back on it and say some of the things we did helped us get to where we wanted to be."
If it's tough at times for the fans to watch, it's also tough for the front office.
"You can talk about a vision and a plan and a theory, and when you have to get in the trenches day in and day out and suffer through some losses, it's really tough, and it should be," Epstein said. "If it was easy, you'd be in the wrong game.
"You have to strike a delicate balance, because you don't want to talk too much about the future. You have to have complete respect for what these 25 players are trying to accomplish night in and night out, and the integrity of this season and how hard they're preparing each and every night.
"That's one thing I'm proud of," Epstein said. "I think our players are working really hard, playing really hard, very professional. Even though we're not where we want to be in the standings, they're establishing a nice culture in the clubhouse."
Cubs lean on Valbuena in Stewart's absence
CHICAGO -- Luis Valbuena, called up from Triple-A Iowa on Thursday, will be the Cubs' primary third baseman while Ian Stewart is on the disabled list with a sore left wrist.
Valbuena, who primarily played at second base with Iowa, made his second start on Friday.
"[We like] his defense and left-handed bat -- he can drive the ball," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "We'll keep him in there. He was swinging the bat well down there. You try to keep that left-handed bat in the lineup as much as you can."
Valbuena, who was batting .303 at Iowa, said third is more difficult than second, especially when a right-handed hitter is in the batter's box.
"It's harder," Valbuena said. "You have to be ready every time."
Including Soto, Cubs may carry three catchers
CHICAGO -- Geovany Soto was making progress in his rehab at Triple-A Iowa and could join the Cubs as early as Monday. Manager Dale Sveum said the club has talked about keeping three catchers on the roster in Soto, Steve Clevenger and Welington Castillo.
"Clevenger can play different positions on the field, and you're not worried about pinch-hitting," Sveum said. "It opens things up a little bit."
Clevenger, who started on Friday, was batting .281, while Castillo, who was activated from the disabled list on Thursday, was hitting .185. Castillo will start on Saturday.
"We'll see what happens the next day," Sveum said.
In four rehab games with Iowa, Soto was 3-for-12 with two doubles. He's been out since May 17 after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
Epstein said he's had more talks with teams as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches.
"I think most of the phone calls are preliminary in nature, more 'feeling out' calls -- 'What are you looking for? What are you trying to?' -- more that kind of thing," Epstein said on Friday.
Sveum's son Rustin may not play in the big leagues, but at least he can tell friends he homered at Wrigley Field. Rustin, whom the Cubs selected in the 39th round of last week's First-Year Player Draft, took batting practice on Friday and hit one out.
"He hit a home run at Wrigley -- he can always say he hit a home run at Wrigley and with a wooden bat," Sveum said.
Rustin, who was 5-1 as a pitcher for Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., has already committed to Dixie State College in St. George, Utah.
"He's definitely going to college," Sveum said.
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.