Reaction to Theo Epstein's end of year press conference
Monday, Cubs President of Operations Theo Epstein gave an unfortunately early end of year press conference. He had a lot to say, in a conference that lasted almost an hour and a half. Based on some of the trends set previously, some of what he said made perfect sense. He alludes to a lot of change, so buckle up. There were three specific quotes I'd like to touch on.
On the Joe Maddon situation:
"Joe was the perfect manager at the perfect moment of time for us," Epstein said. "For the group that we had, where they were in their careers, what they were trying to accomplish in the game, the identity that we needed to establish, he was the perfect guy."
"Now we need the perfect guy for this moment in time, for this group, for where they are in their careers, for the way their skills, their habits, their outlook has evolved. There's a unique challenge for this moment in time."
All of this makes sense. After 2018's abrupt end, the front office made a focused approach on urgency. They also brought in a lot of new personnel, replacing some Joe Maddon hires. One could read between the lines and see the disconnect between Epstein's urgency, and Joe's relaxed approach. Where Joe was able to get the most of young rosters in 2015 and 2016 his message had arguably fallen flat in recent times. No longer were the Cubs dominating in the second half. Instead they looked tired and unlike themselves. I don't think Joe had lost the clubhouse, per say, but that this core of players need a different type of manager at this point. All of the signs were there, and Theo sheds light on conclusions we could draw on our own.
On the Cubs core players:
"I had this belief that this group of players who won the World Series at 22, 23 years old, many of them, were going to grow into an unstoppable set of players if we could continue to supplement them, show faith in them," Epstein said 72 minutes into his media session.
"Because we were the youngest team in World Series history. You look at the starting players. That hasn't happened. "
"I've made decisions to pour a lot of resources, every available dollar, we've poured back into plugging holes in this group, trying to find pitching for this group, trying to elevate this group. A lot of prospects, lots of young players that were blocked by members of this group, we traded out as a belief in this group.
So here is where things get interesting. The Cubs front office assembled or maintained a special core of players, including:
Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, and Albert Almora.
They chose these players over others like Jorge Soler, Gleyber Torres, and Dan Vogelbach. Partially because of positional blocking, but also to acquire pitching. Theo bet big on the above group of players, and unfortunately, it hasn't paid off like one would hope. After winning it all early in their careers, a lot of those players have failed to live up to expectation.
This is especially painful as the players they've traded away have outperformed the ones they kept. For example, Jorge Soler led the American League with 48 home runs. That's nearly as much as Russell, Almora, and Heyward combined.
He also had an OPS higher than all 3, and on par with Anthony Rizzo. Gleyber Torres put up a better OPS than Javy Baez, and was significantly better than Addison Russell. Even Dan Vogelbach hit more home runs than Rizzo this year. These are tough pills to swallow when distinctive choices were made over who was kept and who was traded. Adding insult to injury is the fact that you can argue that all eight of the cubs core hitters under performed to a certain degree this year. You can't win on all decisions, but for a lot of safe bet players, there has been a lot of under performance.
On the front office:
"To that broad theme of a winner's trap and putting too much correlation to methods and players and things that helped you win in the past, I think I can be guilty of that. If I could do it over again, as a leader, I'd try to find a way to be more objective, more critical, more open-minded to various different ways to do it. I think that's gotten us in trouble if you look at the amount of resources that have gone out the door trying to supplement this group."
In days past, Theo was able to sign a bunch of free agents and essentially buy a ring. He was able to financially raid foreign free agent markets. He was able to build a bullpen out of spare parts. Between rule changes and shifts in the game, he hasn't been able to use the same tricks in the past. And as he admits, his process needs to evolve if the Cubs are to return to glory. He's taking some responsibility here.
Overall, I think Theo Epstein is alluding to potential major changes. Out of the eight core offensive players I mentioned, I would not be surprised to see four playing elsewhere come 2020. In 2004 he traded the icon of the Red Sox, Nomar Garciaparra for a few lesser parts to rebuild their depth. It paid off instantly. I would be more surprised if Theo does NOT make any surprising moves this offseason.