With just two days before the regular season begins (bright and early Thursday morning!), Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein shared some of his thoughts on the upcoming season (roster/predictions/feelings/etc) via Cubs.com, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun Times.
Let’s take a closer look at what exactly he had to say …
- On the lighter side, Epstein is happy with the current status of the Cubs (i.e. in terms of their competitive window), but is hungry for another title. He did dive into the 2017 hangover, but we’ve discussed that plenty, and in my opinion, it’s time to leave that in the past. “The organization is a fun place to come to work every day,” said Epstein. “A lot of really good people have left their stamp on the organization. It’s now a destination. We feel privileged to be here. We don’t get everything right, but we do pretty well and everyone gets along. It’s a nice, rewarding, fulfilling, professional environment.”
- It might be boring, but it is definitive not a bad thing that the Cubs run so smoothly at an organizational level. As we’ve seen with many other franchises (Mets, Marlins, Braves, Orioles, etc.), that’s not always the case.
- Epstein points out that the trend towards young GMs may have started about 15 years ago (i.e. around the time he was breaking in), but he feels like one of the “old guys” now. “I’m a dinosaur in this game at 44. We’re definitely in a time of tremendous change in the game.” As far as I’m concerned, the Cubs could give him a 20 year deal if he’d take it.
- (This is a good time to remind you, though, that Epstein has previously stated that 10 years in any one place is a good amount of time, and he’s been through six seasons with the Cubs.)
- Like the young GMs, Epstein also addressed the move toward more and more inexperienced managers: “I think it was starting to trend that way maybe five years ago. Teams were toying with the idea, maybe interviewing a guy here or there who had no experience. Seems like there have been some token interviews of former managers now instead of the way it used to be when having managerial experience was a prerequisite for the job.” That’s definitely an interesting point, but don’t think Epstein is all about new guys. According to him, the pendulum might’ve swung just a bit too far, and he expects it to swing back and settle somewhere in the middle. Experience, Epstein suggests, is probably a little undervalued right now.
- Now that every team is basically operating with the same advanced data and analytics, Epstein outlines three ways a team can gain a competitive advantage: 1) Dig WAY deeper into the numbers and hope you can keep something you discover a secret for a year or two, 2) improve the stream of communication from the front office to the field, and 3) go beyond the numbers and remember that this game is played by real life human beings. We’ve seen just how much the Cubs value and incorporate numbers two and three.
- Although Epstein recognizes that there will be bumps in the road ahead, he seems generally comfortable with the lack of juicy storylines this spring: “Some (issues) are more laden than others, some are obvious. We’re in a position where you’re talking about the eighth guy in the bullpen, and you’re wondering how certain playing time is going to be allotted to keep guys engaged and hungry. We’re not wondering who our opening day starter is going to be or who the shortstop is.” This whole quote reminded me a lot of that Maddon-ism “The best defense is boring.” Sure, high-profile Spring Training battles can be fun to watch, but it’s a whole lot better to have very easy, obvious decisions.
- I’m not going to even share the next quote, for fear of jinxing it (or did I just jinx it? (or does calling it out negate the jinxing?)), but, in short, Epstein has been happy with the way Spring Training has gone and just hopes the Cubs can reach Miami without any major calamities. So far, so good.
- But the Spring wasn’t just good from a health stand point. Several young Cubs, particularly Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ, had huge camps and figure to play prominent roles when the season opens up. That, alone, is a weight of Epstein’s shoulders: “There have been a number of times at the end of Spring Training where you kind of panic, looking at our depth chart, calling other teams, trying to talk ourselves into ‘somebody’s going to get a lot better all of a sudden when the lights come on.’ But we haven’t really had to do that this spring. It’s been a nice, smooth leadoff to the season.”
- But before ending his comments, Epstein took another opportunity to say he wasn’t holding his breath, because something always happens. And I have to say, even though I 100% know that to be true, I’m always hoping that this might be that one special season where nothing goes wrong (heck, even the magical 2016 season saw the full-regular-season loss of Kyle Schwarber).