The Rundown: Chicago Cubs May Look Entirely Different Next Year, Lester Return Possible, Rays Take Game 1 of ALCS
“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility. Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” – Jack Kerouac
One thing I’ve noticed as teams have been eliminated from the postseason is what a difficult and seemingly long season it’s been for anyone involved with the game. Players, front offices, managers, coaches, and even television and radio reporters have shared similar commentary. As a blogger, and generally the lowest level of the MLB food chain, I’ve felt the same way. I used the entire weekend as a mental health escape.
I left town and put up a barricade between myself and all sports from Thursday evening through this morning. I’m afraid that leaves me with not much of anything new to author in this section today. The LeBron Lakers won the NBA championship (yawn); the Blackhawks are gutting their team; the Bears may be the weakest 4-1 team in the history of football, and the PGA is so out of order I can’t keep up. As far as the Cubs are concerned, the status quo has taken on a “same old, same old” feeling. That may not necessarily be the case, however, and the Chicago front office may try to reshape things this winter while hoping to have one, last magical run in ’21.
David Kaplan (@thekapman) of @espn1000 says on #RivsAndBK that he doesn't expect Theo Epstein to finish out his contract with the Cubs.
PODCAST: https://t.co/yE4wPedWFE pic.twitter.com/dNWVq2lRBf
— 101 ESPN St. Louis (@101espn) October 9, 2020
“Simply hoping for a better outcome moving forward doesn’t seem like a thoughtful approach,” the president of baseball operations said at his end-of-season presser. “Embracing some change, even significant change, is warranted.”
It seems to me that if Theo Epstein wanted to gut his team, now may be the best time to do it. We don’t know, when, if, or how many fans will be able to attend games at Wrigley Field next summer so “shocking the pool,” so to speak, may not be the virulent experience it could be under normal circumstances. Sudden and drastic change can be far more palatable when an organization’s fan base is forcibly kept at arm’s length or further. It’s also hard for fans to argue against financial restraint when game day revenues have been removed from the income statement.
That doesn’t change the fact that the playing field, at least from a financial standpoint, is similarly level for all 30 teams. Indeed, we may see more DFA’s than ever before, and some players expecting to seek arbitration raises may find themselves non-tendered. As I see things from my vantage point, the teams that have the strongest farm systems right now may become league juggernauts in the next few years as teams trim all of the fat from their organizations. That doesn’t bode well for the Cubs, who currently sit near the bottom of most organizational minor league rankings.
Still, flags fly forever, and certainly Epstein has players other teams may covet at the right price who want to win next season. Selling low is never an easy thing to do, especially for Chicago’s analytical front office, but restocking the farm with lower-level prospects isn’t the worst thing in the world either. It seems unlikely that all of the team’s core can be extended, even in an environment that will favor franchises in financial negotiations.
We’re all tired, and 2020 has left most of us drained emotionally. Heading into 2021 with essentially the same squad that fell dismally short of an extended playoff run may just extend that misery. Perhaps we should all just let go and start looking forward to the team’s inevitable rebuild.
Cubs News & Notes
- Though we have probably seen the last of Tyler Chatwood and José Quintana, the likelihood that Jon Lester stays in Chicago seems to be gaining traction. The Cubs are expected to buy Lester out for $10 million and then try to work out an agreement with him for 2021.
- Things are generally never as good or bad as they seem on the surface, and the organization can point to some favorable trends in assessing this season.
- Shortstop Javier Báez had the worst season of his career and will need to do a 180 if the Cubs have any hopes of making the playoffs next season.
- Unsurprisingly, Ian Happ graded out as the team’s best hitter this year.
- Though there was no All-Star game this year, the Cubs had five players worthy of a roster spot for the mid-summer classic had one been played this year, including Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks.
- Is this winter the right time for Epstein to consider trading Kris Bryant or breaking up the team by moving other core players?
- It’s a safe bet that any additions to the roster this winter will happen through trades. Don’t expect any splashes in free agency, and the front office will be just as hamstrung as last winter and the year before.
- If the league votes to keep an expanded playoff format, that may hurt the Cubs in any attempt to strengthen the team this winter.
- Though Epstein is expected to lead the transition of baseball operations to Jed Hoyer, if the Cubs seek to completely restructure their front office, some very good candidates may emerge from outside the organization, including Chris Antonetti of the Indians.
Odds & Sods
This may seem insignificant because NASCAR is such an extreme niche sport, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see ad agencies ask for discounts, or pass entirely, on promotional sports spending in the coming year. Political ads have probably been a 2020 savior of sorts and, in fact, Joe Biden and Donald Trump have spent over $40 million in sports advertisements this year. That well will completely dry up in about three weeks.
#NASCAR has paused its advertising relationship with @barstoolsports as a result of a COVID-forced adjustment on marketing and sensitivities around social-justice protests this summer (@A_S12). The two sides first aligned in early 2019.
Free to read: https://t.co/VsigDfj7nt
— Sports Business Journal (@sbjsbd) October 9, 2020
Apropos of Nothing
The next three weeks are going to be an insane time for most Americans. Please make sure you do a wellness check – for yourself and your family members – to ensure everybody is handling the challenges of this crazy year. Often it is those who seem outwardly unaffected that are suffering the most inside. I have been tried like never before, and am not ashamed to admit that I occasionally battle through a great deal of anxiety.
The Rays have an incredibly deep bullpen and leveraged that strength to take the first game of their best-of-seven ALCS match with the Astros. In yesterday’s 2-1 victory four relievers kept Houston hitters at bay. The Rays improved to 33-0 on the season when leading after seven innings, and 16-5 in one-run games. That .762 winning percentage in such contests is the best of any team in baseball history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. John Curtiss, Ryan Thompson, and Diego Castillo were all heroic in relief of Blake Snell.
How About That!
The Rays would love nothing more than to continue the team’s role as villain slayers by knocking off the Astros.
Reds starter Trevor Bauer has seemingly campaigned to play for almost every team as he enters free agency, including Cincinnati.
Starters are expected to dominate the headlines and be the keys to victory in both league championship series.
The Red Sox may look to the Rays as an organizational blueprint for rebuilding their team.
Billy Beane could face a conflict of interest in running the A’s, where he has a small investment stake, if the acquisitions company he co-chairs invests in the Red Sox.
MLB indicated there has not been a single positive COVID-19 test in 40 days.
These are the kinds of baseball stories that keep me tethered to the game whenever I seek a clean break. If you haven’t been following the incredible postseason run by Rays rookie Randy Arozarena, you’re really missing some of the best moments of 2020.
Pedro Gomez: Where did Rays rookie Randy Arozarena, 'best player on earth,' come from? https://t.co/NFrBL4Cn3k
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 12, 2020
They Said It
- “This is really about the Cubs and the process of doing everything we can to continue to put the organization on solid footing. Get back to the postseason in ’21, win the division again in ’21 and then perform better in the postseason while setting ourselves up for another run of long-term success. That’s the challenge. It’s a difficult environment out there. Being mindful of a potential transition – even one that might be a year away or an indefinite period of time away – is the smart thing to do.” – Theo Epstein
Monday Walk-Up Song
A Token of the Wreckage by Megan Slankard- Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I feel that big changes are coming to the Cubs before Opening Day.