CHICAGO — Entering the final year of his contract with the Chicago Cubs — and his 10th overall with the team — president of baseball operations Theo Epstein reiterated his longstanding belief that about a decade of service time for an organization might be enough for him.
“For me, as an individual, there is benefit for change, after a significant amount of time on the job,” he said on Monday, days after his team was eliminated from the postseason. “I have to keep that in mind without making any definitive statements.
“I’m not going to run away from those feelings but I’m also as invested in the Chicago Cubs as I was at any point in the last nine years.”
Epstein spoke several times in a conference call with reporters about a transition of power. The next 12 months are likely to include that transition, though he says a successor hasn’t been discussed yet.
When asked whether his role with the team could change in 2021, Epstein said: “My expectation and Tom’s [Ricketts] expectation is that means status quo, for now, as we go into 2021. But the status quo that is mindful of the importance of transition planning. … If adjustments in structure or role or timing are necessary to put the Cubs in the best possible position going forward, then that’s what I want. We all feel the most likely outcome is status quo.”
So in other words, Epstein will likely continue to be the decision maker but with an eye on the future more than ever. His longtime lieutenant and current general manager, Jed Hoyer, could be in line to succeed him.
“Jed is someone who’s been a huge part of the success here at the Cubs,” Epstein said. “He’s also someone that has been a successful No. 1 in baseball operations [in San Diego].”
Epstein’s timeline could follow a similar path to that of his days as an executive for the Boston Red Sox, where he spent about a decade before signing on with the Cubs. After winning the World Series with the Cubs in 2016, he signed a new deal that runs out after next season.
“It means you have to be smart in discussing the timing and nature of a transition because it’s inevitable at some point,” Epstein said.
The team that Epstein will hand over to his successor is also in a transition period, despite winning their third division title in five seasons. The Cubs have now played meaningful September games for six consecutive years, but have come up woefully short at the plate over the last three of them.
“The thing that we were not proud of was our offensive production, following the pattern of the last three years, especially when it counted the most down the stretch and into October,” Epstein said.
The Cubs scored one run in getting swept by the Miami Marlins in the wild-card round last week at Wrigley Field after producing the lowest franchise batting average at home during the regular season.
Epstein isn’t shying away from a call for roster changes.
“It certainly is still the case there are no untouchables,” Epstein said. “Clearly some change is warranted and necessary. We have not performed up to our expectations offensively. And simply hoping for a better outcome moving forward doesn’t seem like a thoughtful approach. Embracing some change, even significant change, is warranted.”
That change could come in the form of moving on from some core players who helped win them the World Series in 2016. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo will all be free agents after next year and all four had subpar 2020 seasons. Epstein isn’t likely to let them all walk for nothing and sees a benefit in their situations.
“A one-year deal for a really talented player is a valuable thing,” Epstein said. “That’s to our benefit, for what we could do constructing the 2021 team, and also to our benefit to the trade market as we look to make some changes.
“The math simply changes as you get to a point where a lot of your best players only have one year left. It becomes less appealing to continue to invest opportunity cost in simply the present. We have to find a way to win in 2021 and also solidify our future. It’s not enough to move forward as is and deal with these issues at the end of next year.”
Bryant and perhaps Schwarber would be the two most likely players on the trade block this winter as Baez could be signing up for a long-term stay with the team. Rizzo has a team option for 2021 at a reasonable cost and is a team leader.
“Embracing significant change is warranted,” Epstein said. “Is it possible to thread the needle and improve in 2021 while setting ourselves up for the long-term future? I think it is.”
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