LIVE: Cubs President Theo Epstein Wraps Up the 2019 Season (UPDATING)

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LIVE: Cubs President Theo Epstein Wraps Up the 2019 Season (UPDATING)

Chicago Cubs

I liked it better when the annual after-season presser from Theo Epstein was a hopeful or celebratory affair, but now it’s something of a must-see post-mortem.

Epstein will be speaking live, and I’ll drop updated bullet points below with paraphrases of his remarks and my thoughts as it goes. Away we go …

  • Epstein thanks the fans, is disappointed to miss the postseason, and the feeling should motivate the front office to put in the work.
  • When we fail to make the playoffs, especially with the second highest payroll, it’s not on the manager. It’s not on the owner. It’s on baseball operations and on Epstein, he says. You have to take an honest look at things you can do better.
  • You’re likely to see change in the organization, because this is a real opportunity to do that if you’re honest.
  • We’re not going to blow this thing up, but there will be real change at every level throughout the organization, including the big league roster.
  • Scouting and player development, this is a good opportunity to think about how we would set it up from scratch if we were doing it today. We’ve made structural and leadership changes already. Going to add a director of hitting and director of pitching.
  • You want to have it all on the big league roster, knowing that you can’t have it all. There will be flaws, but you want to maximize as best you can.
  • Theo is careful when answering manager questions not to make it seem like what the Cubs are looking for are things that Joe Maddon was lacking.
  • We struggled with the major league team being as good or better than the sum of the parts. The next manager has to create an environment that turns the individual performances into wins.
  • The next manager also has to get the most out of every individual player.
  • For this group at this time, we need a culture that compels every player to push himself to be the best player he can be. That’s expected. The player should be lifted up by the culture.

  • The sloppy and mental mistakes need to not be tolerated. There needs to be a sense of grinding. Over the past couple Septembers, we just kind of expected to get it done, but the proof has been the last two. That mindset doesn’t work.
  • Front office is not looking to be more hands-on with the next manager or team, that’s the job of the manager to be hands-on with the messaging of the team.
  • We’re full speed ahead with the hiring process, but we want to be thorough. You don’t want the candidate who interviews the best, you want the guy who is going to be the best manager.

  • The key is to look forward, not to look backward at personal connections. But yes, Ross is on our broad list of candidates. One of many.
  • Just considering the players holding each other accountable for mistakes/standards, it’s an area we can improve.
  • A lot of the issues we have now started to show themselves last year.
  • There’s a bit of a winner’s trap, where you’ve had great success, you look back at the methods and the players and you attribute the success to them. But that can lead to you placing too much faith in that particular set of methods/players. You have to let go of the past and look to the future. Clearly, this is that moment.

  • I wouldn’t make any assumptions on payroll. We’ve realized that it is just not good to talk about strategically. There are a lot of unknowns in the market, so I can’t speak definitively about what you can expect on transactions. And separately, I just don’t think it’s wise to tip your hand on how you’re going to treat the luxury tax threshold.
  • But it’s important to note we had the second highest payroll in baseball this year. We get what we need from ownership. We will continue to get what we need. The owners pour revenue right back into the team (references Zobrist example).
  • Epstein says the team is “losing the contact battle.” Cubs see the fewest fastballs in baseball because they can be gameplanned against easily.
  • Baserunning mistakes and high-leverage pitching were among the reasons why results didn’t quite match underlying runs scored/allowed.
  • It’s becoming a younger players’ game, and the best teams are very young. At the big league level, we have to do better at developing players at the big league level.
  • In our five-year window, we’ve been competitive … we’ve had really good Major League pitching, BUT there is a cost to pay when you don’t develop your own Major League pitching. However, it’s cost a lot in free agency and trade to keep that up.
  • We don’t expect Craig Kimbrel to require any surgery at all. He’s really determined to have a productive offseason and a full, regular Spring Training.
  • I don’t think we have any surgeries scheduled for any players. (Epstein looked at someone else during this seemingly to confirm that, but that’s where he landed: no surgeries).
  • I’ve always felt that if you can get one guy to hold down the leadoff position that’s a huge asset for the team, but if you’re sacrificing something else for that it’s not worth it. My teams tend to focus on getting on-base and usually that means you won’t be lacking for a leadoff hitter, but you do need to find someone who’s comfortable there, as well.
  • The front office will meet with the coaching staff tomorrow, so Epstein didn’t want to say anything before that, but there seems to be at least one person from the coaching staff who could be considered for the open managerial gig.
  • The goal is to do everything we can to win the World Series next year, but we also have to keep our eyes on the long-term so we can maximize this window (this was in reference to the expiring deals in a couple years). We do not want to put the Cubs fans through another long rebuild, so we’ll do whatever we can to extend the window.

  • I don’t believe in untouchables (via trade) and I never have (this was mostly with respect to Kris Bryant). We’re open to change. We’re open minded about this roster. I expect to have a lot of trade discussions this winter. There’s more than one way to take advantage of a player’s value. With that said, Epstein believes a lot of players on this team will be on the next Cubs championship team.

  • No team has contacted us to ask for permission to talk to Jason McLeod or Jed Hoyer for front office jobs.
  • The goal of the Director of Pitching (and presumably hitting, as well) will to continue to implement the most cutting edge technology to assist the big league team, as well as the Minor League system.
  • Anthony Rizzo was more mindful to be a proactive leader this year and I think he made real strides. Rizzo also apparently suggested to Theo that he needs to do better at being leader next year.
  • “It was a real interesting year in the pen.” (Michael: LOL … ya.)
  • Our inability to pitch in high-leverage moments haunted us throughout the year, which led a lot of people to paint the entire bullpen with a broad brush, but there was a lot of individual, under-the-radar talent and production there. It doesn’t matter if you look back and didn’t win, but Epstein did seem to be happy with some of the process-based acquisitions (Brad Wieck, Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan come to my (Michael’s) mind).
  • I think it was an important year for Willson Contreras as a pitch-framer, who was trying many different techniques to frame pitches. He finally found one near the end of the year that worked for him and I think he’ll be an even better framer next year. This is the most “tooled-out” athletic catcher with a big heart who cares you can have, so we have to do our best to help him continue to develop. The best version of Willson Contreras is an MVP candidate.
  • We have no problem paying the right manager the appropriate amount. Joe’s expected price tag never came up once – not one single time (Michael: That’s all well and good and I’m sure he’s being honest, but that doesn’t mean saving upwards of $3-5M on a manager every year is inconsequential).
  • Center field and second base where we had the least production this year and the most trouble finding consistent performance. We do have in-house options. But of course that’s an area where we’ll look to add from the outside. It would be great to add one of those obvious center field/leadoff types, but you have to be realistic. You can’t just wait for the perfect guys, because you might overlook good and available options.
  • On our broad list of managers, there’s at least one guy who’s team is currently in the playoffs.
  • The Cubs would love to have Nicholas Castellanos back:

  • Theo Epstein is really hammering home that Joe Maddon is an excellent manger, but part of the point is change, so no matter how good he is, he can’t be that.
  • Manager of the Cubs is such an esteemed position that you should have access to almost anyone in the industry. Former managerial experience is an important factor, but it’s not a requirement.
  • Theo Epstein on some of the recent trades and free agents:

  • We don’t need to be more or less aggressive, we just need to be right.
  • Theo Epstein’s biggest self-criticism: Broadly, it’s been … looking back at this group that we won with. I had this belief that this group that won the World Series at ages 22 and 23 was going to grow into this group of unstoppable players. That hasn’t happened. I made decisions to pour resources to plug holes in this group, to add pitching to this group, a lot of prospects we’re traded out, a lot of young players that were blocked by this group were traded. Too much correlation to methods and players that’ve won in the past. As a leader I should’ve been more objective, more open-minded. And you also have to hit on deals.
  • If you look at the five-year rebuild, it was just about perfect. We hit on an incredible amount of deals – getting impact players back that we shouldn’t have, but we haven’t hit on those in a while. We’ll stay aggressive and we know we’re the right group to build the next championship Cubs team.
  • On the offensive planning that went wrong: raw power ended up being not as important as we thought, because the ball changed (got more juiced). Contact became more important and we struggled with that. We have to look ahead to what the environment will be. (Michael: In short, Epstein will keep the ball changes in mind when he’s assembling the offense for next year).
  • We’ve had contract extension discussions with both Javy Baez and Kris Bryant in the past and we’ll probably do that again this offseason. But you have to be open-minded. It would be hard to see them out of a Cubs uniform, but we’re at a transition point and we have to do what’s right to the Cubs. I hope that includes both of them, but we have to be open-minded.

  • Epstein is all about looking forward and literally anything seems to be on the table. But that doesn’t mean they’ll take any changes lightly.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.