The Rundown: The Anti-Epstein Twilight Zone, Sox Troll Cubs, Bargain Shopping, Dodgers Dodge ‘Cheap’ Label

As far as I’m concerned, Cubs fans have really short memories. It seems odd that there is a what-have-you-done-lately attitude surrounding the front office, considering that the team’s most recent championship and the one before are separated by 108 years. The team has won 387 games over the last four seasons, including three NLCS berths, and that championship in 2016, yet the vibe exists that Theo Epstein and his staff have something to prove this season.

“Hi, this is Dominick from Franklin Park. Excuse the background noise, I’m hands-free on the Skyway and I just wanted to ask: Why are the Cubs sticking with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who have done nothing to improve this team this winter? I hope you’re gonna tell me that Theo’s lying in the weeds and is gonna pounce on Harper in the next week or two, otherwise, I say get rid of him.”

That was an actual call into MLB Radio last week, though I’m paraphrasing a little. Are we ready for front office changes if the Cubs fall short of a World Series victory this summer?

Have you ever watched the Twilight Zone? Let’s change up the episode “It’s a Good Life” just a bit to background this narrative. I’ll be Rod Serling.

“On a given morning not too long ago, the rest of the world disappeared and Peaksville was left all alone. Its inhabitants were never sure whether the world was destroyed with only Peaksville left untouched or whether the village had somehow been taken away. They were, on the other hand, sure of one thing: the cause. A monster had arrived in the village. Just by using his mind, he took away Peaksville’s confidence in itself and its leaders — because suddenly, and without reason, the monster was displeased. Now the monster has moved an entire community back into the dark ages of the previous 108 years.

Oh, I’d like to introduce you to some of the people in Peaksville. This is Jed Hoyer. It’s in his lack of performance that this monster strengthens. This is his boss, Mr. Epstein, who actually had more control over the monster in the beginning than almost anyone. In the beginning he kept a tight rein on Peaksville’s budget, but success came quickly and he amplified spending until he could spend no more.

Now, the monster became unhappy because of the lack of continued spending, so he turned Messrs. Hoyer and Epstein into the smiling, vacant beings you see this winter. And you’ll note that the people in Peaksville no longer smile. Instead, they hope the monster can wish Epstein and Hoyer away or change them into grotesque, walking horrors.

Oh yes, I did forget something, didn’t I? I forgot to introduce you to the monster. This is the monster. He is the Peaksville baseball team’s fanbase. He’s three years old, born the day after Peaksville’s last championship, and he sports a cute little-boy face and guileless eyes. But in those eyes is the power to destroy everything that’s been built over the course of the past eight years. This is Peaksville, and this is the Twilight Zone.”

Let’s pump the brakes for a second, Epstein’s stated goal as been to compete for a championship every season. I’d grade him at an A+ on that alone.

Yes, despite averaging 97 wins per season over the past four years, there is a growing contingent of Cubs fans that would like to see Tom Ricketts fire Epstein and his staff. It’s unfathomable to me that Cubs fans no longer share the vision of this front office. Sure, they’ve made mistakes in free agency, but nothing as egregious as what the Los Angeles Angels have done over the last six years.

But look at all of baseball’s whiff rate on $100 million free agent contracts. There’s a reason why front offices league-wide have been hesitant to spend, and Chris Davis of the Orioles is your poster boy there. From 1999-2013, there were 48 $100 million-plus contracts handed out by front offices, and the success rates were middling at best. Since 2016, there have been just five, with no contracts exceeding nine-figures signed in 2016-17.

Jeff Burdick wrote a piece over the weekend focusing on the draft failures of this front office. I somewhat agree with Jeff that the Cubs could have drafted better, but I think player development is more of an issue. The Cubs Way has lost its way in the deeper parts of the organization. The front office intends to fix that, and here’s hoping fans lighten up. I have little doubt that 2019 will grace us with another championship-caliber season.

Cubs News & Notes

Monday Stove

The Royals extended Whit Merrifield yesterday. The all-purpose super-utility player will be the centerpiece of Kansas City’s rebuild.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler wants to be “more Philly.” He could walk around dressed up like Ben Franklin, but if the Phillies fail to and on of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado he won’t feel a lot of Philadelphia affection.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is 25 pounds lighter and 100 percent ready for spring training. Jansen is off medication after having his second heart surgery this winter.

The Cardinals are hoping Paul Gosldchmidt will elevate their entire infield.

Mookie Betts will not accompany the rest of his Red Sox teammates when they visit the White House.

Drew Smyly is ready to join the Rangers’ rotation after a grueling recovery from Tommy John surgery.

A few prominent White Sox players delivered their pitch to Machado over the weekend.

You can add the Indians and Twins to the growing list of teams defending their payroll thriftiness.

Extra Innings

The Dodgers payroll has dropped by almost $100 million since 2015, but Stan Kasten says that doesn’t make Los Angeles cheap. Kasten dismissed the idea during the team’s annual FanFest on Saturday and called it “anecdotal” while answering questions from fans and media.

“You keep making this stuff up,” Kasten said.

Whether you believe it is collusion or something else, it’s getting harder and harder to deny that baseball front offices do not share a like-minded operational stance when it comes to free agency.

Monday Walk Up Song

Monster by Mumford & Sons.

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