Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein spoke with the media before heading out to Las Vegas for the Winter Meetings, which officially begin on Monday. We touched on the most pressing elements of his comments last night – Brandon Morrow’s elbow surgery, the state of the budget and what the Cubs may not be able to do this offseason – but there’s actually quite a bit more that shook out in the full write-ups. You can check out more from Epstein here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, among other places, and I’ll comment on some of the high points below.
- Of the unspecified limitations on spending that may or may not be in place, Epstein did the best he could to be nuanced: “I understand the desire for a big name every winter. And there will be winters when we do acquire big names and there’s going to be winters when we don’t acquire a big name. I don’t know what category this winter will fall into yet, but there’s a chance that it’s going to be a winter where we don’t acquire a big name from outside the organization. That does not represent failure. We should be judged on the product on the field and we should be judged on the games we win and we should be judged on whether we make the playoffs and we should be judged on how we perform in October.”
- That is absolutely correct, and every year we see teams that “won the offseason” going on to have deeply disappointing years or deeply disappointing performances from their big additions (heck, looks no further than the Cubs’ offseason last year). But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the feeling of apologizing in advance for an inactive offseason – if that’s what happens – when the needs are crystal clear. Yes, we will absolutely reserve most of the judgment for next season, when it all comes together and we can see how things have translated onto the field. But if the Cubs fail to add an impact bat and the offense struggles? If the Cubs fail to make significant additions in the bullpen and it implodes? Criticism is going to be warranted.
- Epstein said he expects the Winter Meetings to be active, and the Cubs will be plenty involved in trade talks: “We’re certainly open and active in trade talks with a lot of deals that usually don’t come to fruition. So, we may make some trades. We could make big ones that transform the roster. We may make smaller complementary ones. But there’s certain things we’d like to accomplish.”
- It’s fun to dream on “transformative” trades, but of course, on this roster, that would most realistically require the Cubs finding a way to deal a big contract like Jason Heyward’s (or, to a lesser extent, Tyler Chatwood’s), while also getting past his limited no-trade clause. It would be unreasonable to project it happening, but if the Cubs pull off some kind of significant bad contract swap – imagine the Cubs being able to fill a need with a bad contract by unloading a bad contract of their own where there is a redundancy – they could then have a little more flexibility on the free agent side, too.
- Epstein said, among other things, that the Cubs are looking for leadership in outside additions, players with skills that complement the guys in-house, more middle-infield depth, and relievers that can be late-game options. Interesting that Epstein did not explicitly mention the need to add an impact bat, instead focusing on internal improvement. Yes, that does matter, of course. More than what the Cubs add, in fact. But … there’s still a clear need for an addition.
- I really liked Epstein’s follow-up comments on the Addison Russell situation, and the organization’s decision to tender him a contract and work with him through his suspension and attempt to make things right: “Given the way we’re handling this, it’s appropriate for the public to hold us accountable for our words and make sure that those translate into actions. I can just tell you that we’re certainly intent on it. There’s work that’s going on with that in various corners of the organization every single day.” Without question, the Cubs are at least publicly indicating they are going to proceed differently than other teams (and they) have proceeded in the past. They should absolutely be watched closely and held accountable.
- The season ahead is a reckoning, apparently:
- Epstein added that it’s possible that a sense of “inevitability” may have creeped in, with players simply expecting to be good and fine in the end, because they’ve had so much success recently. To that end, having the season end with such a thud in 2018 may wind up a good thing for 2019.
- Epstein was complimentary of Paul Goldschmidt – a “truly elite player” – and how the Cardinals have raised the bar in the NL Central: “It was a great division before that trade and even better now …. It just reinforces that the NL Central is to be earned. We have our work cut out for us.”
- On the injury front, Yu Darvish (debridement in mid-September) is on schedule to start throwing in a couple weeks, and Kris Bryant (shoulder) has no limitations in his offseason workouts, though he apparently does not really ramp up his hitting program until January. So, well, fingers crossed for then.
- Epstein said Joe Maddon is in the mindset to “return to his roots,” a “Joe Maddon who’s buzzing around in the middle of all the action, talking to his players all the time and really engaged with what’s going on on the field and in his players’ lives, that’s the very best Joe Maddon.” There’s an implication in there about what Maddon hadn’t done in recent years, but since Epstein was keeping things positive, I will resist the temptation to read into things. Instead, I’ll just point out the comment, and reiterate that the Cubs declined to engage in extension talks with Maddon before the 2019 season, his final under contract.