Exit interviews are a staple of corporate culture and sports teams have adopted similar annual evaluations of personnel as a way to bridge the end of one season to the start of the next. In fact, since the start of this century, baseball has truly become a year-round sport. It is usually just within a week or so of the final game of the World Series that teams close the books on one season and open them up for the next.
If this is indeed the last season that Theo Epstein will lead the Cubs, how will he be graded at the time of his exit? As fans fully invested in the success of the organization, what will we say about the president of baseball operations as he segues into his next challenge?
Bringing a championship to the North Side for the first time in 108 years is arguably the crowning achievement of the man’s career. No disrespect to his success in Boston, but Epstein had to dive way deeper to transform the Cubs into the type of organization that is even worthy of comparison to the Red Sox. The Cubs were the ugliest house on the block in 2011, the ultimate fixer-upper.
Epstein didn’t just change the culture of the big league team, he rebuilt an entire franchise, including all of the Wrigley Field upgrades. For that alone he deserves a flag flying atop the stadium, right up there with Ernie Banks and Billy Williams. Who would have ever thought that we would be disappointed with only winning the division, or missing the playoffs just once in six seasons? Yes, he’s changed the culture of the fanbase, too.
There were some mistakes, though. Epstein and his front office entourage have struggled to develop both starters and relievers and it’s cost him dearly in free agency and trades. To get José Quintana, Aroldis Chapman, and Wade Davis, the Cubs have surrendered Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jiménez, Dylan Cease, and Jorge Soler. Despite the likely additions of Adbert Alzolay and Brailyn Márquez to the rotation and Burl Carraway to the bullpen, the Cubs are still in the unenviable position of having to buy pitching this offseason.
Other than selecting Albert Almora Jr. with their first draft pick, the Cubs have drafted well during the Epstein-Hoyer tenure and have also been successful in international free agency. If you add the players mentioned above to Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, and Nico Hoerner, plus Brennen Davis and Ed Howard IV, I’d say finding good, young talent has been a real strength.
They’ve done well in trades, too. There were a couple misses — trading DJ Lemahieu for Ian Stewart really stands out — but they’ve done well in acquiring Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, Kyle Hendricks, Mike Montgomery, Miguel Montero, and Cole Hamels. Even Addison Russell was thought to be a steal when Epstein acquired him from the A’s.
In free agency, the front office has hit on Yu Darvish, Jason Heyward, Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, and Ben Zobrist. They failed by signing Tyler Chatwood, Brandon Morrow, Daniel Descalso, and Edwin Jackson. The jury is still out on Craig Kimbrel.
It will be interesting to see how they build next season’s roster, but I’d say Epstein has earned a B+ at the very minimum. If Alzolay and Márquez become dominant starters, that pushes him up a notch. I’ve said it before, Cubs fans will miss Theo when he’s gone. If you are not in agreement, simply compare him to predecessors Jim Hendry, Andy McPhail, and Ed Lynch.
Cubs News & Notes
- Alzolay, who should be part of the rotation next season, will be the first homegrown major league starter of the current regime.
- You’ll need a subscription to The Athletic to access this story, but Márquez is being groomed to be the Cubs’ next great starter.
- Though the Cubs’ bullpen was one of the best in baseball this season, question marks remain, and there will be turnover.
- The 2021 draft order has been set and the Cubs will have the 21st selection of the first round.
- Epstein will start the process of reshaping next season’s roster as he begins this season’s exit interviews. “There are players on our roster who are part of the solution offensively, who are going to be part of the next really productive Cubs offense, including in October. And there are players from outside the organization who are, too. So we have to figure that out.”
Odds & Sods
I truly love this interview with Lester.
We were reminded by @BleacherNation that today is the anniversary of Wade Davis closing out the NLDS victory over Washington in 2017.
That means it’s also the anniversary of one of the greatest interviews in Cubs history with Jon Lester pic.twitter.com/mVxJw3s3VL
— Cubs Insider (@realcubsinsider) October 12, 2020
The Rays have been outhit by the Astros 19-10 in the ALCS, but Tampa Bay is now up 2-0 after yesterday’s 4-2 win. Manuel Margot had a three-run homer and a spectacular catch for the Rays and Charlie Morton extended his postseason record to 4-0 with a 0.90 ERA by thoroughly dismantling Houston hitters.
The Braves have been driven by excellent starting pitching in the postseason and last night was no exception. A stunning four-run rally in the 9th, which included a blast by Austin Riley, broke up a 1-1 pitching duel and propelled Atlanta a 5-1 win over the Dodgers. Max Fried started for the Braves and held Los Angeles to a run on four hits with nine strikeouts across six innings.
How About That!
Last night’s NLCS game was the first of the season to be attended by fans.
I was never much of a fan of Joe Morgan, and not because he’d dismiss Ryne Sandberg whenever he had the chance. I just couldn’t stand those mid-1970s Big Red Machine teams led by Sparky Anderson. The 1975 World Series was my favorite Fall Classic of the decade, and when the Reds beat the Red Sox, despite the heroics of Carlton Fisk, Bernie Carbo, et al, I just started hating Cincinnati. That said, Morgan certainly deserved to be a Hall of Famer.
Morgan will be remembered as an example of all-around excellence as an athlete.
We mourn the passing of Joe Morgan, a Hall of Famer, two-time MVP and two-time World Series champion. He was 77. pic.twitter.com/8RTRiRCeGq
— MLB (@MLB) October 12, 2020
They Said It
- “Going into the year, we were hoping that Adbert [Alzolay] could develop into a major-league starter. Now we see one. He’s somebody that I think is primed to slide into the rotation.” – Theo Epstein
- “You’re just trying to reach [the majors], and to be the first guy is a big responsibility, too, because I think you have to share that with all those guys [in the minors], too.” – Adbert Alzolay
Tuesday Walk Up Song
Your Latest Trick by Dire Straits – As I’ve said, you’re going to miss Epstein after he leaves.