Theo Epstein Speaks: Why Change is Coming, Protecting Players from Rumors, Ideal Versus Realistic, Much More

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Theo Epstein Speaks: Why Change is Coming, Protecting Players from Rumors, Ideal Versus Realistic, Much More

Chicago Cubs

With the GM Meetings underway, the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein spoke with the media, essentially saying that he isn’t about to talk publicly about any player-specific rumors (because obviously). But he, together with Jed Hoyer, will continue to speak generally about the Cubs’ offseason plans and actions, as well as offering news updates from other parts of the organization.

You can read his quotes here, here, here, and here, among other places. Some of his thoughts and my own:

  • Any trades or trade talks that happen are not necessarily the product of the Cubs disliking a certain guy or wanting to move on from a guy. Instead, it’s just the cycle that Epstein suggests was expected all along: “This was coming. It’s not like it was going to be one generation of players and that’s it. We knew, when a lot of our best players were cost-controlled, those were the years we could squeeze the most amount of talent on the roster, and there would be difficult decisions and change ahead at some point. We’re just rapidly approaching that time, that’s all.”
  • To that end, I appreciated Epstein acknowledging the point a lot of us have been making about large-market teams having the ability to smooth their transition (i.e., keep competing long past a perceived window) while *also* adding impactful pieces during this window. He knows that’s the ideal world. We agree! Be ideal!
  • But I suppose you’d have to read this as a caution that the Cubs probably just can’t/won’t do that: “In an ideal world, you can enhance your Major League team and put a really compelling product out there — a team that has a legitimate chance to win the World Series and also take significant steps toward ensuring your future and make sure there’s not that big of a drop-off after 2021. There’s probably a series of moves that we could pull off that could bring that about, but it won’t be easy and you normally have to make sacrifices one way or the other and operate in a world where there are real tradeoffs. So we’ll have to see what’s available to us. This is the start of that process, really seeing what are realistic paths we can take, not just these sort of idyllic paths that we try to create in our mind.”
  • In other words, you can definitely expect to see the Cubs trying to make moves to smooth the transition, but adding impact pieces (particularly in free agency) for 2020? It sounds like that’s what Epstein is characterizing as the “idyllic path,” rather than “realistic.”
  • That said, Epstein encourages all – probably especially his players – to regard ALL rumors out there with some circumspection: “The nature of any offseason is that there are going to be rumors about your Major League players – and even your best players – and that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re true. No one knows how this winter is going to evolve, even us. We have no idea what will be available to us, so take any name that comes up in trade rumor with a mouthful of salt, not just a grain. Not that they come from a malicious place, but sometimes they can have real-world negative consequences for the player and his family. So we’re going to do everything we can to operate respectfully. These guys whose names keep coming up in trade rumors have done a ton for our franchise and are among the best players in the world. I don’t want to do anything to make their lives more difficult. Most trade rumors out there are not true.”
  • In other words, Epstein knows that Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras, in particular, have had their names aggressively making the rounds over the past week or two, and he doesn’t want those guys feeling like they are under the gun just because of swirling rumors. That’s not just lip service either: *EVEN IF* the Cubs *DID* want to trade those guys for huge hauls, there is nothing even close to a guarantee that a trade would happen. So why allow your guys to fret for months for nothing?
(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
  • (For our part, we’re still going to cover, share, and analyze the credible rumors that emerge, though we will continue to do so in a way that serves the readers, while simultaneously being sensitive to the actual human beings at the center of those conversations.)
  • Again, though … change is coming, one way or another. And not just the under-the-hood stuff we’ve been seeing a lot of (though that all definitely matters). From Epstein: “The players we have on the roster are the most important part. That more than anything will dictate how successful a year we end up having. The environmental stuff does count. You’ve seen teams that have good chemistry, create a lot of momentum, get on a roll – Washington this year is a great example. So that stuff does matter. But that’s not a plan. It’s not a good plan just to change all the environmental stuff and hope that you’re better. It’s all driven by talent, and all the pieces that you have, and how they all fit together.”
  • That quote seems like it could have come straight out of the fans’ and pundits responses to the things the Cubs did and did not do last offseason. They started the process of making environmental changes – which is good! – but didn’t really do anything of consequence with the roster, and it seemed like “hoping you’re better” was the primary strategy. Oops. I don’t think that was a lesson this front office actually needed to learn – they’re smarter than that – but it’s certainly something the fans will be even more aggressively attuned to this time around.
  • Speaking of which, like I said before, the Cubs just aren’t gonna say boo about the payroll – “strategic no-comments” is what Epstein said they’ll be deploying. The current payroll situation is laid out here.
  • Epstein says, by the way, that nothing he’s doing now for the organization is with his contract (which expires in two years) in mind. No one, including Epstein, wants to see the Cubs’ competitiveness abruptly end simply because they maxed out the final two years of his time with the organization. I really never would have expected otherwise from Epstein, but I still appreciate it.
  • The Cubs are getting close to filling their vacant Scouting Director spot, and will also have the ability now to add to the upper level of the front office with the departure of Scott Harris (though that stings).

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.