That was some kind of interview on McNeil & Parkins today from Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. I’ll have the audio link for you as soon as it’s up at 670 The Score, but there was so much here that I just wanted to get you some bullets as soon as I could. (UPDATE: Full interview now embedded at the bottom of this post.)
What follows is all straight from Epstein, with the best and most faithful paraphrasing I could type live (emphasis my own):
- We’re all really frustrated. Stretch of play nobody is proud of. You find out what people are made of in stretches like this. It can’t continue. Too many words about it, not enough action. Things I can’t say on the radio.
- A big part on our end is transactional. It’s the time of year for that. Change is obviously called for when you play like this. There are opportunities for everyone. Guys are disgusted.
- Way sloppier than we’re used to. We come out of the chute sloppy. Going down 1-2-3 right away. Mental errors early. Not fighting back. Not the normal amount of fight that we’re used to seeing. The games have been over quickly, turn the page, next game. The lack of fight. That has to bother you.
- These things can turn around, it’s hard to pinpoint what can be done. Focus on individuals, asking them to be their best selves with preparation, physical, mental standpoint, pick up teammates better. When the team concept is lacking, the energy isn’t there to turn things around. Change some things in the environment. Joe and the players are trying different things behind the scenes. Not the kinds of things we’ll go into great deal publicly. Also, it hasn’t worked yet.
- From a roster standpoint, we’ve got some areas that haven’t looked as expected. We were deep going into the season – like at second base – but the production hasn’t been there for anybody. There is some sense in being patient when you have multiple options, but when it doesn’t happen, at some point you have to make changes. We’re working aggressively behind the scenes to make changes.
- If we don’t snap out of this, major changes are necessary.
- I don’t think sitting on our hands is a viable option this month. We want to be in a position to have belief in aggressively adding/polishing. If we’re not, that means the stretch has continued, and a ton of change is in order. Change to spur better play is also on the table, but you can’t necessarily just press a button and make those opportunities yet.
- On a production basis, this is the thinnest worst depth we’ve had since we’ve been here. With some of the guys, it’s been a head scratcher. You get to the break and it’s like that, you kind of have to accept it and improve the situation.
- We’re definitely underachieving right now. The way all of us are doing our jobs – to be a team and be greater than the sum of the parts – is not functioning in an acceptable manner. A lot is going on behind the scenes. Trying to be the best version of ourselves. At some point, a different mix may come.
- [Epstein announces Robel Garcia is coming up.] He’s had a helluva AAA season, he hits velocity well, and there’s a chance he can help us. That’s us trying to think more aggressively. Given the way we’ve played, we’d be negligent if we weren’t looking through a more proactive lens. He could potentially help us in the lineup and also off the bench. That’s just step one, though. We have to be proactive to create other change.
- I don’t think we are going to define ourselves as “this,” but you have to honest about what has transpired. I’m not going to walk down the street humming my favorite song while the team is playing like this. No one around the team is in a good mood right now. We can’t BS around it, and pretend like this is just a tough road trip. It’s more than that. I don’t quite know how we’re going to get there yet, but I know we’re going to get there.
- This isn’t just some natural part of the season, it’s a long stretch of not answering the bell. Joe Maddon has a unique challenge. It’s his fifth year, he’s remarkably consistent. When you’re the manager, you have to try to create new environment while still maintaining consistency.
- There are uncharacteristic soft spots that we didn’t anticipate. We can all do better.
- I think both Ben Zobrist and Brandon Morrow will play for us this year. There is a bit of a plan in place – a tentative one – with an understanding that Zobrist at some point will return. We’re not ready to talk about it. We’re hoping he’ll help us down the stretch and beyond [Note: there have been previous rumors that it might be September]. Morrow is feeling good, throwing all his pitches off the mound. That story will be told by how his arm responds. I’m not going to predict.
- The starter at second base is just whoever Joe thinks gives us the best chance to win that day, offensively, defensively, and the match-up.
- The impotence of the division doesn’t really change planning. We expected a good division. If we were 10 games out right now behind some crazy hot team, we’d absolutely be in sell mode. But we’re not. We may not deserve to be here, but we have the ability – so do others – to put together a dominant second half and run away. You have to walk before you can run, though.
- The opportunity to make transactions cannot be wasted. If we don’t play a stretch of great baseball and tell us we have a good chance to win the World Series … we can also still make additions to improve.
Whew. So much to unpack there. I’ll need some time to digest and wade through the implications and fallout from what’s coming.
My quick, as-I-listened sense? The frustration is very real, as is the willingness to make significant changes depending on the opportunities that come up and the way the team plays. And those changes could be in either direction – aggressive buying or aggressive selling. The concern seems serious enough. But also, you get the sense that Epstein and Co. are still fighting to maintain that sense of patience, at least until late in this month.