There will be a time very soon to do the emotional side of things. What Theo Epstein meant to the Chicago Cubs organization – and to so many of our fandoms – isn’t quite incalculable, but it’s sufficiently enormous that when the weight of today hits me, I’m probably gonna feel some things. Oof. Yeah. I’m gonna feel some things.
But in the meantime, I’ll stay in the zone, and hit on some of the immediate bits of fallout from the announcement that Theo Epstein is stepping down as the President of Baseball Operations, and Jed Hoyer will succeed him in that role. There will be more – so much more – but this is the stuff that is hitting me in the first hour after the news broke.
• Epstein’s statement pins the decision to step down now on the timing of what comes next: “I believe this is the right decision for me even if it’s a difficult one. And now is the right time rather than a year from now. The organization faces a number of decisions this winter that carry long-term consequences; those types of decisions are best made by someone who will be here for a long period rather than just one more year.” To what extent that was THE motivating factor in the decision I don’t know that we can say for sure, but it’s definitely a legitimate piece. The Cubs DO have to make some really significant long-term decisions this offseason – we keep hammering that point – and it’s better that the longer-term leadership structure is in place to make those decisions.
• That said, here’s a question: do the Cubs now aggressively search for a new GM externally? If you’re going to bring in a new number two for Hoyer, you’re going to want that guy ASAP (and for all we know, that’s part of what precipitated Epstein and the Cubs making this decision now). There are a bevy of stellar assistant GMs out there (I’m looking at you, Diamondbacks) who have connections to the Cubs/Red Sox/Hoyer, and I hope the Cubs give them a serious look.
• Alternatively, we could just see the Cubs promote from within, allowing someone like Jason McLeod or Dan Kantrovitz to step up into the GM seat. I don’t have a problem with those guys, but I do think the Cubs strongly need to consider bringing in a significant external voice, given what’s happened the last four years. Kantrovitz was a great start on that front, but more is probably needed. The fact that no internal GM announcement accompanied today’s announcement at least makes me think no decision has been made. Maybe the Cubs and Hoyer will really take their time on this.
• I can’t help but wonder if the departure, in addition to the timing considerations, was dictated at all by the size of Epstein’s final year salary ($10 million), and the impact it could have if repurposed to save other front office jobs. Is it possible that Epstein and Tom Ricketts had very specific discussions/negotiations about how to put that money to different use, assuming the thought of Epstein moving on was already on the table?
• Hoyer is reportedly getting an extension as part of this transition. He was signed only through next year, so the extension is pretty obvious. In time, we’ll learn how differently (or not) Hoyer runs things when he’s at the top, AND without Epstein. Obviously he has a little of that experience going back to his days with the Padres, but the reality is that his professional baseball life has been spent almost entirely with Epstein. He’s a very smart and capable dude, who has no doubt learned a lot from Epstein along the way. But make no mistake: this is a major change in his role.
• My expectation is that this decision doesn’t impact – in a major sense – what the Cubs were planning to do this offseason. We already know that the baseball budget is going to get slashed thanks to the (reported) $140 million loss in 2020 and (anticipated) $100+ million loss in 2021. That’s going to dictate the offseason much more than an internal change at the top of the org. That said, it’s not inconceivable that Hoyer and Epstein had different visions at the margins, nor is it inconceivable that Hoyer is more willing to maneuver this offseason in a way that works better financially for the Cubs. We weren’t expecting major expenditures this offseason anyway, but rather targeted low-cost additions, paired with trades. I don’t think that changes, but it’s possible the depths of the trades going out the door could be more substantial as the Cubs rightly (in my view) start thinking less about 2021 and more about 2022+.
• What next for Epstein? Well, although there are high-profile openings atop the Phillies and Mets organizations, no one expects Epstein to just jump immediately into the same job with another org. And apparently Epstein is telling friends the same:
Epstein says in the letter he will spend time with family and work with non-profits, including his Foundation to Be Named Later and The Players Alliance.
"I do plan on having a third chapter leading a baseball organization someday, though I do not expect it to be next year."
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 17, 2020
• Just don’t take over an NL Central organization in a couple years, OK? Also, are you sure you don’t want to try your hand at football?