Earlier today, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein joined Mully and Hanley on 670 the Score to discuss the Cubs slow start to the season, what the team could do to improve in the future, and much more.
In fact, today’s earlier article about the Cubs previous interest in trading for Chris Sale came out of this interview, so you know it’s jam packed with good stuff. You can listen to/read the full transcript of the interview here.
Among the highlights and my thoughts:
- First and foremost, Epstein suggested that while no, he’s not “relaxed,” that has nothing to do with the Cubs’ .500 record 34 games into the season. He recalls back to the 26-8 start – through the same amount of games – last season and the articles suggesting the Cubs may be on their way to the best single-season record ever … which of course did not happen. That was “not baseball reality,” so to speak and, similarly, the Cubs are not playing “anywhere near” their capabilities here in 2017. So, patience.
- To be fair, Epstein recognizes that the team has not met expectations. Specifically, the starting rotation has not gotten off to a good start and the team has not hit with runners in scoring position, but there’s just not been enough of a sample to make any sweeping conclusions. After all, Epstein explains, if you were to judge the Cubs on just that stretch before the All-Star break last season, you would not think they were a very good team – of course, they were actually the best team in baseball. Fortunately, the 162 game MLB season creates a meritocracy – over the long haul, the best teams rise to the top, and that’s what the Cubs are going to do.
- One thing that has surprised Epstein the most so far this season, though, has been the defense. Usually, according to Epstein, defense is fairly consistent year-to-year when the same personnel and infrastructure is in place. But in 2017, the defense has been mostly underperforming. That’s not something I expect to continue, and Epstein said he would be surprised if the Cubs weren’t one of the best defensive units by the end of the season. So basically Epstein and I are just as smart.
- When asked about the urgency to make a trade for a starting pitcher, Epstein suggests that while there’s no urgency, most of the Cubs’ energy and resources over the next few months to few years will be devoted to starting pitching. He realizes that the team is in a great place positionally – even saying it’ll be difficult to crack this lineup for some time – but at some point the Cubs will dip into their positional prospects to make a big trade for a starter who can help the Cubs both in the present and future.
- But while that’s exciting to hear, I will warn you that we’ve heard that same response for many years now. And that’s not a criticism of Epstein. Instead, it’s just a testament to how difficult it is to pull off that kind of trade. This is when, for what it’s worth, Epstein explained the very brief Chris Sale discussions Brett addressed earlier.
- Switching gears, Epstein explains that the start of this season actually reminds him of the offseasons following his Red Sox World Series wins. The short offseason, in particular, shows up in ways that the team isn’t necessarily able to mitigate. In fact, Epstein says that was something they purposefully brought up with the team during Spring Training – the idea of opting back into the team concept despite the many new distractions that come along with being a world champion.
- One positive take Epstein pointed to near the end of the interview is that he expects a lot of guys to get hot at exactly the same time, because, obviously, a whole lot of guys are cold at the same time. That, Epstein predicts, can help propel the Cubs back to where they need to be (in addition to things that should regress normally).
- While Epstein does not believe that Schwarber will lead off for the majority of his career, he does recognize the reasons for it on this particular club. Schwarber’s ability to see a lot of pitches and get-on-base mind-set fits perfect atop the order, and ahead of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
All in all, you can tell that Epstein is not experiencing the doom and gloom some Cubs fans are given the Cubs recent stretch of baseball. And when Epstein’s content, I’m content(ish). So stay patience, friends. It’ll get better.