Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer are at this week’s GM Meetings, and recently discussed a number of Cubs-related items.
Below, I’ve assembled some of those comments along with some thoughts of my own, in something of a bulleted version of Cubs’ executive notes.
- If you’re anything like me, the Cubs World Series Championship still feels like a dream. I wake up every morning and have to remind myself that yes, it really did happen. And, incidentally, Theo Epstein feels the same way. He told Cubs.com that – after a semi-recurring dream of the Cubs winning the World Series over the past five years – he’s been in a constant state of disbelief since they actually did. To have been part of not one, but two historic World Series victories is very special to Epstein, and I’ll echo that with an “Us, too.” But, according to Epstein himself, he’s far from done. “It does make you hungrier to validate it,” Epstein said about winning the first championship, adding that it would mean a lot to him to get that second World Series win for the fans.
- Citing the Braves, Yankees, Red Sox, and Cardinals, Epstein wants the Cubs to be the type of organization that national baseball fans think of every October. To be fair, they have already made it to two postseasons in a row (and left with one trophy), so maybe a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done.
- Still, each of Aroldis Chapman, Dexter Fowler, Jason Hammel, and Travis Wood have become free agents, so there is a lot to be done before the 2017 season. That said, Epstein, for his part, isn’t going to try to recreate 2016, telling ESPN, “The mix has to change a little bit. If you look to just bring back every single component and try to recreate the past, it’s going to change by definition. Group dynamics change. Human beings change. And so maybe it’s better to change it in some small ways on your terms and some intent behind it rather than just let it come back exactly the same and be stale.”
- I think this is certainly the right attitude to have. Too often, teams look at the most recent World Series winner and try to emulate their every move. But, as Epstein pointed out, the game and the people playing it change all the time. What worked last year won’t necessarily work this year, and even if it would theoretically, that doesn’t mean luck won’t just bounce you right out.
- I know you’ve been dying to talk about it and we’ve not yet really had an opportunity to get into it (when it wouldn’t have seemed silly to belabor), but Jerry Crasnick (ESPN) got into some of manager Joe Maddon’s questionable decisions in the World Series, and asked Jed Hoyer for his opinion on the matter. Hoyer mentions that by the time each team reached Games 6 and 7, both bullpens and rotations were tired, which had a huge impact on the usage we saw. He added that the extra spotlight on Maddon didn’t help, but that there’s no way the Cubs would have won 200 games and a World Series without him. I tend to agree. [Brett: I think the decision to remove Kyle Hendricks in Game Seven was defensible. I think using Chapman a bit too much in Game Six was the real mistake, but I also do understand that Maddon was working with limited healthy and trustworthy options in the bullpen. I can let it go, because obviously, and I also know that Maddon’s successes and valued-added these past two years faaaaar outstrips any questionable decisions.]
- Moving away from last season and the World Series, Hoyer suggested to ESPN that the Cubs’ “overarching focus” going forward will be to find controllable pitching (both starting and relieving). He’s aware that he’s said the same thing a thousand times over, but adds that it remains the goal and focus. Their young offensive core is too good and too bright to abandon without a pitching staff to support them. I will add that, although I don’t think it’s sustainable, the Cubs have found a way to produce a successful pitching staff for each of the last few years through savvy trades, under the radar signings, and interesting reclamation projects (well, and one huge money free agent signing in Jon Lester). That said, I wouldn’t mind if they went out and got another sure-fire starter, so much as that exists.
- And on those free agent closers you’re undoubtedly pining over – Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon – Patrick Mooney suggests that’s not the route in which the Cubs are going. Instead of paying Chapman or Jansen for their success in the past, the Cubs are going to try to identify the next one of them.
- That said, Jed Hoyer did mention that there’s no way the Cubs would have won the World Series without Chapman and that they’ll at least “have those discussions” of bringing him back. Frankly, I wouldn’t anticipate Chapman back on the Cubs, but it isn’t unlike this front office to explore every single possible angle.
- According to Mooney, in fact, the bullpen is going to be the team’s priority this offseason. It’s just that improvement doesn’t need to come from an expensive free agent class. Hoyer believes that closers come from all over, and historically, he’s right. Hell, Hector Rondon was discovered in the Rule 5 Draft. I am still interested in a Cubs’ pursuit of Kenley Jansen, but I’ll defer to the front office. Their decision making abilities and creativity has built the Cubs into a World Series winner before. I’m not suggesting you trust every move they make, but I think they’ve more than earned the benefit of the doubt.
- With a lesser free agent class and expectedly high prices for cost controlled starting pitching in trade, the Cubs might have a much quieter offseason than the explosive winter of 2015-2016. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hoyer wants us to remember that the Cubs have a “dynamic, young position playing group that makes the offensive part of the game pretty stable,” going into next year (Tribune). Indeed, the Cubs may be losing Dexter Fowler, but gaining Kyle Schwarber. And I’ll add that I firmly believe Jason Heyward will have a better year at the plate in 2017, if for no other reason than he couldn’t do much worse.
- In the end, I’m not quite sure which direction the Cubs will ultimately go. Even after countless comments from Epstein and Hoyer on the positive state of the Cubs, I wouldn’t be surprised by a big trade or a pricey reliever contract. As always, you’ll just have to be ready for anything.
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