The 2017 Chicago Cubs season is at a close, which means team president Theo Epstein had to perform something of a postmortem, the fruits of which you can read here, here, here, here, and here, among other places.
We’ll dig into many of these topics in greater detail in the coming week, but this should get the high points in front of you …
- Of the season broadly, Epstein and I share a train of thought: it’s disappointing not to win it all, but when a team reaches the NLCS, wins its division, and wins 92 games, and you characterize that as “disappointing,” it says a lot about where the expectations are for an organization. To that, I say: sustained success is here.
- Fatigue and the World Series hangover were factors in the way this season played out, but nobody is going to lean on those things as an excuse for the NLCS. Still, Epstein mentioned that virtually all the players talked about what a trying season this had been in their season-ending exit interviews.
- Epstein held nothing back when offering an honest assessment of the challenges that lie ahead for an organization that has seen its prospect talent depleted by promotions and trades, and will have multiple rotation and bullpen spots to fill going forward. Specifically, Epstein conceded something that became more and more clear as the season went on: the available options this offseason are not as compelling as next offseason. As he put it, “We knew the 2017-18 offseason would be one of our most challenging. We’ve known that for a long time. There are maybe more opportunities presented next offseason.”
- Is that foreshadowing for a quiet offseason? I actually don’t think so. Instead, I think it’s an honest concession to the fact that the Cubs will absolutely try to address their needs, but doing so in a perfect, comprehensive way may not be possible. Moreover, the reality of next offseason is that there are set to be SO MANY compelling free agents that you want to make sure you’re in a position to be choosey and well-financed at that time.
- Epstein isn’t worried about lacking resources from an organizational perspective this offseason, but there still has to be strategic planning so that you’re making sure you can do what you want two, three, four years from now. As we’ve discussed many times, the new CBA imposes fairly significant baseball-related restrictions on large market teams that go far over the luxury tax limit, and so I’m thinking that probably remains a target for the Cubs to stay under from a payroll perspective.
- Epstein said of course they want Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis back next year, but we all know it’s not as simple as that. Each is in line for a significant payday, and the free agent process will play out in the coming months with each player probably getting more elsewhere than the Cubs are comfortable committing. But, hey, you never know.
- I think we’ll see the front office doing what it always does, thoughtfully gobbling up complementary pieces, and scouring the trade market for guys they can try to get over that final hump. Epstein even referenced Jake Arrieta – the acquisition, not the free agent – as the type of guy they prefer to acquire. (Note that it doesn’t always work, of course, because for every Arrieta or Mike Montgomery, there are probably at least two Eddie Butlers or Alec Mills.)
- In the bullpen, Epstein knows the Cubs need to improve on their hellacious walk rate – he referenced looked for some “pure strike throwers” – so you can expect a great deal of focus on that front this offseason as the Cubs retool the bullpen.
- Offensively, you shouldn’t expect too many changes to the roster – though it’s possible a big league bat will be traded away (more on that later) – but instead you want to see progress and continued development. Epstein wants to see situational hitting and two-strike hitting improve to the point that the team’s bats are simply no fun to face. I think about what a pain in the butt so many Dodgers hitters were this NLCS, and that’s what you want other great pitchers thinking when they face the Cubs: dang these guys are such a pain in the butt.
- The Cubs and Epstein still believe in Kyle Schwarber as a special, all-around hitter – an Anthony Rizzo type was the reference – but they know he became a little too “slugger”-oriented this season.