When I was reading Luis’ Matt Nagy Speaks post over at The Ten-Yard Line, I got jealous. So here’s me doing a “So-and-So” speaks of my own, heading straight to the top with the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, who chatted with Mully and Hanley today on 670 The Score.
You can catch the full interview right here at 670 The Score (it’s also embedded right down there at the bottom of this post), but in the meantime, I’ll hit on some of the highlights alongside some thoughts of my own.
- Getting the big one out of the way, Theo Epstein agrees that the Cubs are underperforming: “Yeah. I think that’s undeniable …. We are going through a period where we clearly are underachieving and playing frustrating baseball.” To be sure, Epstein went onto express his belief that the uneven start does not define this team and reminded folks that this is a 162-game season and the Cubs got off to slow starts in 2015 and 2017, as well. But you sense that Epstein is neverthless ready for this group to break out and play at a level consistent with the talent on the roster.
- On a more positive note, Epstein praised the bullpen’s consistency, and high-level performance throughout the year. Indeed, the Cubs’ bullpen ranks 1st in groundball rate (49.9%), 1st in soft-hit rate (24.4%), 3rd in hard-hit rate (28.6%), 4th in ERA (2.81), 8th in FIP (3.56), and 10th in WAR (1.5). They’ve been really, really good.
- About the offense, though … Epstein: “Obviously we’re among the league leaders in a lot of important categories, but if you watch us play every night, we all know we haven’t been able to achieve any level of consistency.” Epstein added that clearly the offensive talent is there, but they have to work to find a way to show up as often as possible: “No offense shows up every night, [but we have to show up] as often as possible.” We’ve all seen it – including in the modest one-run effort the Cubs put together between the last two nights – and we know the Cubs are capable of better.
- Epstein then turned his attention to the starting pitching, which he says had one really good turn through the rotation, but has failed to continue their momentum. On the defense, Epstein has seen some positive signs when digs into the numbers, but admits that there’s obviously been some lapses here and there.
- It was at this point in the interview that Epstein got into the Manny Machado/general trade deadline rumors, which Brett discussed in greater detail earlier. Later in the interview, the topic was brought back up and I want to add Theo Epstein’s comments in full, so you can decide for yourself what he meant. The Question: “When you reach a point where there is this [media] frenzy spasm, do you talk to the players involved? The answer: If it’s just your standard, you know, speculation, I think we’ve trained our guys through media training which starts in the Minor Leagues, helping guys just understand the landscape of MLB that this is just something you have to get through. But if it’s hyper-focused on one player and if there’s essentially nothing to it, then I will take the opportunity to pull the player and talk to him. And I won’t say, in this case, if I have or not, but you can probably tell from those characteristics I just talked about whether I have or not.” The rumors have all centered around Addison Russell (to the point where Joe Maddon even conceded that it was probably reaching the young shortstop), so it wouldn’t be surprising if that’s what Epstein was alluding to. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but, as he said, we “can probably tell.”
- On the deadline in a broader sense, Epstein adds that the Cubs “prepared on two fronts” last year (to sell and to buy), because the team waited so long to show which direction they were going. “It’s okay to have a mediocre year every now and then – you’re not going to be great year in, year out for a decade – but … if you do have that off year that disappoints everyone, is super frustrating, you better take advantage of it and create future value for your team that way.”
- But if that sounds like a reason against a big deal this year, it’s not. Epstein told The Score that the Cubs were aggressive to add to the 2017 team once they showed they were going to get right back into the race, but notes, prominently, that the deal for Jose Quintana was about the future, too. He came with 3.5 years of team control, so that was still a big move to help the 2017 team, but it also came with future value.
- In general, his entire response seemed to steer away from rentals this season, as he’s suggested before, but know that doesn’t mean a big move is impossible: “The team tells us what we should do. At this point in the season we haven’t earned the right to be polishing a roster for October – that doesn’t make any sense.” There is a ton of talent on this roster and it sounds like the Cubs are going to try to find how to squeeze out every ounce of that talent before they look outside the organization.
- Theo Epstein isn’t concerned about the mental half of Yu Darvish’s game. He’s had plenty of success throughout the regular season, and even his World Series breakdowns were preceded by two dominant rounds of October baseball. Agreed. Moving on.
- Epstein admits that he’s giving this interview at an airport, as he’s been out scouting for the upcoming draft. Remember this image from the Bullets?
- Although the Cubs front office was there to see a pitcher (and they drafted two pitchers in the first round last year), Epstein is still painfully aware of how tough it is and has been to find pitching: “Even in the draft, position players up high are such a better bet because of the volatility of pitching …. Pitchers, as they age, tend to wear down, and lose velocity, and have a harder time to stay healthy. It’s just so hard to have any confidence in the long-term projection for any pitcher.” The Cubs haven’t had a ton of success drafting and developing their own pitchers, but Epstein is proud of the defense he’s built, the advanced scouting team he’s assembled, and the lowest ERA in baseball by Cubs pitchers over the last 3+ years. It’s been a year-to-year grind, but they made it work (and won a World Series along the way).
- And finally, on the Javy Baez/Amir Garrett kerfuffle, Epstein thinks those sort of incidents could, under the right circumstances, help galvanize a team in terms of bringing guys together. I don’t think the Cubs have that sort of problem anyway, but, yeah, sure, I get it. Now go win some games, boys.
Here’s the full interview: