Theo Epstein’s state of the Cubs: His future, assessing the 2020 Cubs and what comes next
Theo Epstein delivered his state of the organization Monday morning, tying a bow on the 2020 Cubs season.
The Cubs president of baseball operations touched on a plethora of different topics in his 61-minute press conference, including his future with the organization.
Epstein has one year remaining on his contract and 2020 marked his ninth season on the North Side of Chicago.
After each season is done, the Cubs baseball operations department and ownership meet to determine the next steps for the organization and included in those meetings is time for a 1-on-1 with Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts.
“I’ve been transparent about my feeling that after a certain period of time, there can be real benefit for both an individual leader and for the organization for change,” Epstein said. “I think I mentioned it the first day I was a Cub and then again when I signed my second contract. I’m not gonna run away from those feelings.
“But I also am as invested in the Chicago Cubs as our leader in baseball operations today as I was at any point in the last nine years. I woke up this morning thinking about how we can improve for next year and position ourselves for long-term success. But given the things I’m on record with about the benefits of change at a certain point, it just means that you have to be smart in discussing the timing and nature of a transition. Because it’s inevitable at some point.
“My expectation is that I’ll be here and my expectation is also that I’m gonna do whatever is best for the Cubs. Every day. That means being thoughtful about a transition, whenever that may come. But I’m focused on the 2021 Cubs and how to position ourselves for long-term success.”
There is obviously some ambiguity in there, as Epstein mentions the inevitable that a transition will come at some point atop the Cubs’ baseball operations department.
But he still expects to be in the same position for the 2021 season.
“I’m fully invested in the Cubs and open to anything that’s in the best interest of the organization,” Epstein said. “I think my expectation and Tom’s expectation is that being status quo for now as we go into 2021. But a status quo that is mindful of the importance of transition planning and mindful of some of the unique circumstances that we have.
“We’re clearly entering an offseason that will require some critical decisions, that have long-term impacts for the organization — on the field and some off the field, as well. Because of that, we’re just gonna be open-minded and thoughtful about it and take our time and if adjustments in structure or role or timing are necessary to put the Cubs in the best possible position going forward, then that’s what I want. I think we all feel like the most likely outcome, again, is status quo. But in a thoughtful manner as we move forward.”
Epstein reiterated that he is passionate about the Cubs organization and his role in building both short-term and long-term success for this franchise.
“I feel the same now as I felt every day as a Cub — which is honored to be a Cub, privileged to be a Cub, lucky to be a Cub and I view the world through a Cub-centric lens,” he said. “I want to do everything I can to contribute to this team winning another division next year and having better October performance next year. For setting the organization up for another long run of success similar to the one that we’ve had over the last six years.”
As for the last six seasons, Epstein accomplished exactly what he set out to do when he signed on to head up the Cubs front office in November 2011.
He preached the need for sustained success and the Cubs have lived up to that, making the playoffs in five of the last six seasons. That includes division titles in 2020, 2017 and 2016; three straight trips to the National League Championship Series (2015-17) and, of course, hoisting the World Series trophy in 2016 for the first time in 108 years.
But Epstein also didn’t run from the fact that the Cubs fell short of their own expectations in the postseason over the past few years and acknowledged with that comes a potential for transition on the roster, too.
“Clearly, some change is warranted and necessary,” Epstein said. “We have not performed up to our expectations offensively and especially at the most important times of the year and sort of simply hoping for a better outcome moving forward doesn’t seem like a thoughtful approach. Embracing some change – even significant change — is warranted.
“Is it possible to thread the needle and improve in 2021, while also setting ourselves up for the long-term future? I think it is. On one hand, we have to be honest about our performance and we have not gotten to the point with our offensive production that we expected to get to with a number players who are really talented and have done some remarkable things in this game — MVP awards, MVP consideration, All-Star, consistent offensive performance by certain guys at a really high level.
“Then to have the year we had this year, we have to own that. We expected our offense and our core position group to be our strength as guys are 27, 28 years old — some guys 30, 31. We expected it to be a strength and it hasn’t. So, we have to be honest about that.”
Epstein also spelled out all the reasons for optimism with this club, including the performances of Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and Craig Kimbrel in 2020.
“We have a lot going for us as an organization moving forward and a lot of chips to bring with us this offseason both in terms of building a very strong and improved team in 2021 and also — in some instances — being transactional as we see how the marketplace unfolds,” Epstein said. “We have two of the best starting pitchers in the game on good contracts moving forward. Our most important relief pitcher righted himself after the first 3 or 4 outings of the year and pitched at a level of dominance over the last two-thirds of a season that is in line with his career norms.
“Our three most valuable position players this year by WAR in Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras are all under club control for multiple years going forward. We have four really accomplished big bats who are coming off career-worst years who are all entering contract years. A really sound defense. An excellent manager coming off a great first year and coaching staff.
“There’s a lot to work with going forward. That said, especially offensively we have to be really open with going back to the drawing board and embracing some change. There are players on our roster who are part of the solution offensively who are gonna be part of the next really productive Cubs offense, including in October. And there are players from outside the organization who are, too. We have to figure that out.”