With most of the Midwest snuggled beneath a blanket of fresh snow, you can bet we’re going to take every opportunity to toss even the skinniest, wettest log on the hot stove. In this case, it’s a quip from Theo Epstein about how players approaching the end of their team-controlled years will alter the Cubs’ strategy when it comes to this offseason and beyond.
“This was coming,” Epstein said at the GM Meetings in Scottsdale, per Jesse Rogers. “It’s not like it was going to be one generation of players and that’s it. We knew, when a lot of our best players were cost controlled, those were the years we could squeeze the most amount of talent on the roster, and there would be difficult decisions and change ahead at some point. We’re just rapidly approaching that time, that’s all.”
On the surface, this is little more than a fender bender in the opposite lane that has you rubber-necking momentarily before realizing you’ve seen the same thing a thousand times before. Epstein has repeated ad nauseam the familiar trope that the Cubs don’t believe in untouchables and that they’ll listen on anyone.
His reiteration of that notion during this year’s postmortem press conference even had a click-hungry former Tribune and MLB.com scribe claiming Epstein said Kris Bryant and Javy Báez were basically on the block. That wasn’t at all how things were presented in the presser, but portraying it accurately isn’t what drives traffic to Forbes. It’s been made clear, however, that the Cubs won’t just hang up the phone as soon as another team asked about either.
With Bryant in particular, the speculation is such that rival executives are sure at least one of a group of him, Mookie Betts, and Francisco Lindor will be traded this winter. But unless the Cubs are actually going to punt on 2020 in order to regroup for a big run at 2021, it’d be nearly impossible to replace Bryant’s production with a trade. And bringing in a big-time free agent like Anthony Rendon makes little sense for a team that seems unwilling to add meaningfully to a payroll that went well into the second level of competitive balance tax penalties, so there’s that.
Despite sticking primarily to the tropes, something really stood out at the end of Epstein’s statement. He said they were rapidly approaching the point at which they’d need to make some difficult decisions, not that they’d already arrived there. With at least one more year of control over nearly all of their young core, the Cubs are not yet up against the wall when it comes to making deals.
Closing with “that’s all” made it seem like Epstein was a little exasperated by all the questions about the same stuff all over again. It’s not hard to imagine he’s tired of having to cook up yet another nothing-burger for Rogers and other media members to eat, especially when everyone knows he isn’t just going to make like a Bond villain and lay out his whole plan at this point.
If any of you picked up additional nuggets of meaning in that brief exchange, please feel free to share below. Seems to me it’s still just a matter of listening on everyone and standing pat unless they’re absolutely blown away by an offer. Unless they’re prepping for a fire sale, which…no.
Ah, the season of innuendo and speculation is upon us as surely as winter herself. Ain’t it fun?