Theo Epstein Underscores the Value of Good Players on One-Year Deals - With the Cubs or in Trade

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Theo Epstein Underscores the Value of Good Players on One-Year Deals – With the Cubs or in Trade

Chicago Cubs

Through nine years of Theo Epstein, I can tell you that the Cubs President of Baseball Operations is not difficult to read.

I mean that as a compliment: Epstein has perfected the art of telling folks clear and candid truths while also not giving up anything he doesn’t want to give up. Quick on his feet, while also very deliberate and careful, Epstein thoughtfully addresses topics on the fly in a way that leaves the listener sated, but never with a “gotcha” in hand. None of this is the reason he’s had 20 years of success at the highest level, but it does seem consistent with a guy who leads as well as he does. The guy is just smart and fair and wants to tell you everything he can – so he finds a way to do it without spilling a single drop of tea.

I say all of that because I have learned over the years that, when Epstein sits down for an hour-long press conference like he just did this afternoon, you’re never going to come away with a “holy shit!” moment. It’s been nine years, and there hasn’t been a single eye-popper. I knew we wouldn’t get one today, so I wasn’t disappointed.

At the same time, because of his candor, I do know that you’ll sometimes find Epstein willing to offer up a surprising concession – maybe something that you already knew was true, but about which you didn’t necessarily expect a baseball executive to be so open.

Today’s installment on that front? What Epstein thinks about the market this offseason, and how it relates to the needed changes in the offensive core.

To be sure, for much of the presser, Epstein said no more than you would have predicted when it comes to the offense, which he said “broke” at some point in a presser a couple years ago, and which he may well have said the same thing again today if he were inclined. Guys didn’t get going. The longer-term development at the big league level hasn’t been what is expected. Lineup diversity is necessary. So on and so on. All true, but all stuff we’ve known for literal years now.

Then, when Epstein was asked about the financial uncertainty heading into this offseason and how it will relate to the organization’s possible maneuverings, Epstein answered in a very specific direction that I found both surprising and telling. He went to a particular talking point, and you could tell in his affect – even through the mask! – that he really wanted this point to be made (emphasis mine):

“Uncertainty rules the day, and we have to hunt for information every day and try to make a proper forecast, because you can’t always wait for full information before you have to make a decision and act. But I think there are going to be certain fundamentals that are true of this winter and that have been true for decades. One of those is especially relevant in our situation: a one-year deal for a really talented player is a valuable thing. That’s to our benefit both with what we can do in constructing the 2021 team having an additional year of control on certain players, and also potentially to our benefit in the trade market as we look to make some changes. So, I just think that’s a fundamental – if you can bring back some talented players who’ve done some special things in this game on one-year deals, and have those either to build your roster or to go out in the trade market, that’s a good position to be in.”

Clearly, Epstein is talking about the core guys who are under control for just one more year: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez, and Kyle Schwarber. It really doesn’t take much parsing to know that he is trying to make the argument, preemptively, that one-year deals for potential star-level players, are always a valuable thing, even in this market.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

That, of course, stands in stark contrast to what my gut has been telling me about this group in the current market. Are they more valuable one one-year deals than on over-market eight-year deals? Of course. But just how much prospect currency (which is, itself, all the more valuable in a depressed financial environment) are you going to give up for one year of a guy who is approaching his market price in salary? Especially when he’s coming off a bad, albeit abbreviated and challenging, year at the plate?

Epstein’s position would be that it’s just a one-year deal, so that always has value – there’s no risk of exposure beyond 2021. And he’d say these are guys who’ve had great success when it was a normal year, so maybe you throw out 2020 results at the plate.

I think you could debate those points, but it isn’t Epstein’s job to drive down the value of his own players. He wants the other 29 teams to know that, yeah, we’ll talk about these guys, but we still believe there’s value in having only a one-year commitment. He’s not wrong, but I do wonder how much that’ll carry the day when stacked against the other hindrances to trade value. If the Cubs actually got real, impact value in trade for any of these four players this offseason, I’d be surprised.

None of that is to say that I endorse – or that Epstein was suggesting – aggressively shopping ALL of Bryant, Rizzo, Báez, and Schwarber. Epstein was simply acknowledging the reality of the situation, and trying to get out front of the idea that these players do not have trade value. It’s a point he wanted to counter, and he made sure to get it out there before the offseason begins.

So, then, circling back to where this post started: Epstein is not hard to read. He wanted to make sure this point was made clearly, and he made it for a reason. I expect the Cubs to be exploring the trade market with some haste this offseason. Doesn’t mean they’ll have success. But it’s obviously on the radar with some level of sincerity.

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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.