Although we saw plenty of Cubs President Theo Epstein during his solo baseball operations panel at the Cubs convention this weekend, his time was largely gobbled up by fan-questions that didn’t always hit the mark (omgtheodidyouknowyouarelikesoamazing?!). Meanwhile, GM Jed Hoyer was pretty much nowhere to be found – at least, in availability to the general public – so his state of the organization went mostly undocumented.
- Epstein understands the fan disappointment and acknowledges that the lack of additions to the roster is a reasonable gripe, even if it doesn’t change the reality of their plan or budget this winter. “Standards have been raised around here, and that’s a really, really good thing.” Yeah, okay. Cool. Go buy a reliever.
- I believe Epstein when he says he’s worked even harder this offseason than he has in any other, but I don’t feel good when he admits that the front office obviously wants impact players like Bryce Harper, but can’t always have what they want (like a second dessert after a big dinner). I want my baseball ops department to have whatever they feel the team needs. If they think the team needs an impact bat, they should get it – especially under special circumstances (like a 26-year-old superstar becoming available in the middle of a competitive window).
- In any case, Epstein thinks the offense is going to bounce all the way back in 2019. Which, yes, maybe it will. Really. I genuinely think this is can be an excellent offense next season without question. And also, I think that stands in direct contrast to his own comments at the end of the year. I mean, in this interview he literally said, “We have a ton of talent here, and we underperformed last year,” despite the fact that he also said we have to stop evaluating in terms of talent and start evaluating in terms of production at his end of season press conference.
- Again: I *do* think this team can be great as constructed. I think Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber, in particular, are going to be monsters compared to last season, but I thought that heading into 2018, too, and then their 163 game season ended in one sad playoff game at Wrigley Field. The wound is still fresh. I’m still raw. And I don’t know if there’s been a consistent message throughout the winter.
- Theo Epstein is not concerned about consistency or continuity among the coaching staff, even if it is a goal of the organization – as long as the message is right. And right now, the message is right. Fair enough.
- Epstein says that the Cubs initial instincts with Addison Russell upon learning of his suspension were to separate themselves from him, but that position evolved to the one we know today (they want to make sure he betters himself on their watch/they want to be a part of the solution). There’s a lot more on Russell in there, from about the 24-minute mark on, if you’re interested.
- As for Jed Hoyer, this comment about the “Kumbaya thing” not working, was taken a bit out of context:
Funny timing, as Joe Maddon literally *JUST* talked about how getting mad doesn't work. https://t.co/XuXRdrs1rw
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) January 19, 2019
- Hoyer believes in bringing in positive people and positive perspectives. He admits that the environment won’t always ward off the bad times in the clubhouse (like the end of the 2018 season, in his opinion) – sometimes, losing and playing poorly just ticks people off – but having the right people and perspective around can certainly mitigate those issues.
- Hoyer says that nothing about this winter’s budget was a surprise to him or Epstein, even if they had some needs in the rotation that they didn’t see coming a year ago (a.k.a. the need to pick up Cole Hamels $20M option). That tracks with what we’ve been saying for a while: clearly, the front office wasn’t confident going into the season with a Mike Montgomery/Tyler Chatwood battle for the fifth starter spot, given the injury, performance, and age-related questions from 2018 elsewhere in the rotation.
- Hoyer: “The angst has been misguided when it comes to the budget …. the debate can’t be over the size of the budget.” The front office keeps turning to this “it’s already a huge payroll” talking point, with which no one disagrees. They haven’t yet been pressed on the idea of making a special exception to the budget under certain circumstances that call for it, so we’ll just never get that answer on that front. He concluded those thoughts with: “A shortage of talent is not going to be our challenge” next season, which, just, okay.
- In Hoyer’s defense, he admits that going back into next season with their current group is a bit of a gamble, it’s just one he’s confident making. I actually really appreciate that transparency and wish that was a bigger focus of their positions.
- Hoyer hopes the free agent market in November returns to the level of activity it had before the last two offseasons. It’s better for the players and the teams.
- The Cubs are optimistic about Yu Darvish, even framed as a top of the rotation starter. He doesn’t think expectations should change for him and he expects him to impress in 2019.
- Hoyer says the Cubs are talking to free agent relievers and players at other positions and suggests that there’s still moves to be made. Even though it’s January, the slow market means there’s a lot of talent out there.
- Hoyer had a nice discussion near the end of his interview about situational hitting and launch angle, suggesting that although the latter is a good idea, you need to have a “b-swing” to break out when you need it. Sometimes, a grounder is what you’re going for, and you need to be capable of making that happen. “All outs are not the same.”