Earlier today, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein jumped on 670 The Score to talk Cubs baseball with Bernstein and Goff.
You can check out the full version of the interview right here at CBS Chicago, while I cover the highlights alongside some thoughts of my own, below …
- While Epstein is aware of – and believes in – the concept of a World Series hangover, he says that neither he nor his players want to lean on that as an excuse this season. There’s certainly context – both physical and mental – that makes climbing the mountain again more difficult the second time, but by the sounds of it, he expects his players to turn everything up a notch now that they’re “in a sprint, not a marathon” here at the end of the season. Good.
- Asked whether the periodic losing streaks/stretches of bad play this season have ever caused Epstein to question his decision to double down on this team (i.e. trading away top prospects), he says yes and no. Yes, it’s easy to question yourself, especially when the team is struggling. But to be objective, Epstein suggests, you have to use the widest possible lens and remember that this is a team (hopefully) at the beginning of a “seven-year” long window of contention. And in that frame, he’s happy about the moves he’s made.
- On Javy Baez, Epstein claims that not enough has been said about his maturity and improvements in making the “routine play” since taking over a shortstop. Not to toot my own horn, but I recently said something similar: “… Baez has really looked locked in lately. Aside from the flashy, almost-nightly defensive gems, he’s started to make the routine plays look easy, too.” More specifically, Epstein has noticed that Baez has made tremendous growth on his fundamentals, particularly his footwork, which forces him to rely less on making ridiculous throws (which he’s obviously capable of) and more on sound, steady, and more traditional plays at the ball.
- Epstein says a lot more about Baez, all complimentary, and I really can’t oversell how highly Epstein seems to value him. As for his position, Epstein doesn’t necessarily care whether he plays short or second, but seems to imply Baez at second (with Russell at short) is the optimal defensive alignment. Agreed.
- Changing gears, Epstein discusses the value he places on homers/power and suggests that’s it’s always been very important and not just something he’s leaned on given the current run/home run environment or the particular roster he’s put together. With that said, he doesn’t want to be misunderstood. Power is supremely important … so long as it’s not at the expense of other also supremely important abilities. In other words, being well-balanced (base running, situational hitting, scoring runners from third with fewer than two outs, etc.) is more important than being a team full of sluggers. (Hi, Tommy La Stella, Jon Jay, Leonys Martin, etc.).
- On what took Jake Arrieta so long to right the ship (and how right that ship has been since), Epstein suggests it’s all about the delivery. Because Arrieta’s delivery is atypical, it can take him some time to find the right mechanics. Once he does, however, he tends to stay there and succeed (as we’ve seen). Also, Epstein expects Arrieta back before the regular season is over (which isn’t news, but is certainly some additional, comforting confirmation).
- And for what it’s worth, he completely side-stepped a question about whether the Cubs would be in the “Jake Arrieta business,” this offseason.
- Finally, for the playoff rotation/bullpen considerations, Epstein (cautiously, of course) suggested that performance down the stretch does matter, regardless of what might’ve come before. I don’t think you should really expect too many surprises in this vein, but who knows, maybe a dominant last stretch by a few players here or there can shake things up come October.