Though Theo Epstein could possibly stay with the team beyond the 2021 season, the consensus among most writers is that he won’t be back after 10 years with the organization. The Cubs’ president of baseball operations will leave town the way Joe Maddon did, in a mutual divorce based solely on the desire to simply move on.
With that in mind, we can presume that the next two years will not represent any type of a rebuild, nor should we expect the Cubs to take a gap year in 2020 with the intent on winning it all in 2021 before sweeping changes are made at the top level of the organization. That possibility might legitimately exist if Jed Hoyer had a guarantee to take over for Epstein. There’s nothing wrong with putting your first lieutenant into a position to immediately succeed, but don’t believe for a second that the next championship-caliber roster will be built on promises or hunches.
Decisions are looming on a number of players, and there is probably going to be far more roster churn than you’d expect, so let’s get into it.
- Nicholas Castellanos – I’ve read several articles that project Big Stick Nick to get $20 million or more per season. That seems a bit too high. Castellanos would love to return to Chicago and the feeling is apparently mutual, so I believe the two sides will reach a deal, though the Cubs will probably trade one of their core four to make it happen.
- Brandon Morrow/Derek Holland – Though it hasn’t been formally announced, neither is coming back.
- Addison Russell – It’s time to move on from Russell, and the success of Nico Hoerner during the final few weeks of the 2019 season probably sealed the infielder’s fate. There was a time when I believed that Russell would reside in baseball’s upper echelon of talented young shortstops, but that time has passed.
- Albert Almora Jr. – There is no legitimate reason to continue to roster the centerfielder other than the fact that the front office may not want to give up on a 26-year-old former first round pick. I expect the Cubs to non-tender Almora.
- Cole Hamels – Would Epstein consider giving the veteran lefty a qualifying offer? He’d probably accept the guaranteed $17.8 million, so the smart play is to just let Hamels go. He’d have a tough time finding a new gig with draft pick compensation tied to any potential deal, so I assume he wouldn’t want to take that risk. Not extending the offer would be a nice way to let Hamels decide his own fate. I still think he can pitch, and were he to accept a one-year deal for $10-12 million, I’d be okay if Epstein retained him.
- José Quintana – The Cubs hold an option on the lefty that will pay him $11.5 million if exercised, or they can buy him out of his contract for $1 million. My guess is the front office picks up the option and then trades him. The Astros will be looking for starting pitching, and the teams line up nicely for a potential trade.
- Ben Zobrist – Will he retire or continue playing? My guess is that if he does not stay in Chicago, or follow Maddon to Anaheim, BenZo will probably hang ’em up.
- Brandon Kintzler – The 35-year-old righty had a great comeback year and I’d love to see him return, but the Cubs seem ready to entrust their bullpen to their younger pitchers. That’s probably the best option, and I’d bet Kintzler finds his way back to the Twins next season.
- Pedro Strop – Epstein loves him, but he’s a free agent and will probably fall victim to the team’s bullpen youth movement. That said, Strop won’t get more than a one-year offer from anybody, so he could theoretically return at a team-friendly number.
- Steve Cishek – The rubber-armed righty reliever has probably pitched his last game as a Cub.
- David Phelps – Same fate as Cishek.
- Jonathan Lucroy – If Epstein traded one of Willson Contreras or Victor Caratini, Lucroy could be the team’s backup catcher next season, and he’d probably come at a reasonable price. There might be better options in free agency however. Lucroy turns 34 in June.
- Kyle Ryan – The reliever is intriguing and is projected to earn $1.1 million in arbitration, though I could see the two sides agreeing on a slightly lesser number.
- Kendall Graveman – Evan provided a thorough breakdown of Graveman’s situation, and for me, it comes down to the fact that he carries a minor league option, so I believe he will be retained.
Cubs News & Notes
- Maddon has gone on record as stating he did not want to return to the Cubs this year. I’d hate to think Papa Joe was phoning it in during the final eight weeks of the season, though that might explain the general dugout malaise and a number of his failed hunches.
- Third base coach Brian Butterfield and strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss will be joining Maddon in Anaheim. I’ve disliked Buss for quite some time, so to me this represents the best move of the offseason so far.
- I despise way-too-early themed stories, but ESPN insists that MLB power rankings for next season, before the hot stove has essentially begun, are worth reading. Spoiler alert: The Cubs are not a playoff-bound team. Of course the Nationals, who could lose two of their best players, hold the top spot.
The stove lights up officially at 5pm ET on Monday and MLB.com provides a little high level analysis of this winter’s top 20 free agents.
CBS Sports provides a deeper dive into free agency, including potential suitors for baseball’s top 50 free agents.
Thanks everyone for the well wishes while I recover from my soft tissue infection. It means a great deal to me.
They Said It
- “Whenever you don’t make [the playoffs], it’s horrible around here. That’s not something we want to experience again. Next year is a priority. We have to balance it with the future and that’s probably more important now than it was a year ago because we’re now just two years away from a lot of our best players reaching their end of the period of club control with the Cubs.” – Theo Epstein
Saturday Walk Up Song
I’m Digging You (Like an Old Soul Record) by Me’shell Ndegeocello. I’m going to dedicate November to female performers.