Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein held a nearly-90 minute press conference on Monday, where he discussed the future moves of the organization.
Epstein's Cubs missed the playoffs for the first time in five years this season, and the president promised some significant changes both to the current constitution of the team, and to the way the team approaches the game.
Here are five takeaways from Epstein’s season-ending press conference:
1 Real Change is Coming to Wrigley Field
While the Cubs did make some moves and proceed with a “sense of urgency” both before and during the 2019 season, Epstein was sure to say that the team is adamant about working hard to reshape the roster next season and to prevent some of the mistakes that were made during this year’s campaign.
“We’re not blowing anything up, but we’re likely to see real change and real adjustments at most levels of our baseball operation,” he said. “You are likely to see change in this organization. This is a real opportunity when you fail to perform in the biggest moments as dramatically as we did. It provides a real opportunity as long as you’re honest with yourself and willing to take a hard look inside.”
With Kris Bryant potentially hitting free agency in two years and other players potentially drawing interest on the trade market, the Cubs are operating with an open mind about whether they would trade away some of the team’s top producers.
“We’re likely to engage players in discussions about contract extensions, and if that’s not possible, that might make you open-minded about trades,” Epstein said.
Epstein has consistently said that the team doesn’t have “untouchable” players, and he echoed those sentiments again Monday, saying that he expects to have a “lot of trade discussions.”
2 Theo Treaded Carefully When Discussing Why The Cubs Moved On From Joe Maddon
Epstein led off Monday’s press conference by praising Joe Maddon as a “Hall of Fame manager” who became the “best manager in Cubs history” with his run of success in Chicago.
Even as he was cautious not to criticize Maddon, asking media “not to take anything I say as any kind of critique of Joe,” there were obvious areas that he wanted to emphasize in the hunt for a new manager.
“It’s important to pick the right areas of emphasis that will help us meet our current challenges, not the challenges over the last five years. Work is going to be really important,” he said. “We need to find a way to create a culture and environment that compels every player to push themselves to become the very best version of themselves. We want that culture where that’s expected.
“Accountability is important. We were pretty mistake prone this season. This wasn’t just on the manager. This is organization-wide. There needs to be a sense that mental mistakes aren’t tolerated. We need to minimize mistakes like that,” he added.
Epstein also said that he doesn’t expect the front office to be more hands-on in their handling of day-to-day interactions with players.
Finally, Epstein conceded that he felt the team needed a bit of an adjustment in its attitude toward the importance of each game on the schedule.
“The last two Septembers prove you have to grind from the beginning (of the season),” he said. “It’s definitely a challenge.”
3 Managerial Candidates Were Discussed
The Cubs identified at least three candidates for the open managerial job, but only specifically named one.
That one was former catcher David Ross, whom Epstein confirmed is on the “broad list of candidates” that the Cubs are considering for the job.
The other two are at least one member of the team’s coaching staff, although they haven’t spoken with Epstein yet about their futures with the club. Epstein also said that at least one candidate is currently with a team in the postseason, so they may have to wait to speak to that candidate.
“We’re full-speed ahead,” he said. “We’re not going to drag this out, but we also want to be thorough. You don’t want the candidate that interviews the best. You want the one who will be the best manager.”
4 Theo Identified Areas of Improvement for the Cubs
There were several areas that Epstein promised to address in the offseason, including the lead-off hitter position, the team’s bullpen, and two specific positions: center field and second base.
Epstein said that he is unsure of where Nico Hoerner will start next season, although he will likely be a candidate for the starting second base job with the Cubs.
Epstein also had mixed reviews of the bullpen’s performance, praising it for having one of baseball’s best collective ERA’s while acknowledging that the group showed an “inability to pitch in high leverage moments,” and that those struggles haunted the club throughout the year.
In terms of the lead-off hitter, Epstein said that the team will likely look for a proven candidate for the role, but that they will also look for a variety of players who can get on base at a high rate to help solidify the position.
5 Odds and Ends
-Epstein promised that he doesn’t fear making tough decisions and big changes.
“If you ever make decisions based on perception or because you fear the ramifications of something that comes next isn’t as good as what you’ve had before, you’re doing a disservice to the Cubs,” he said. “I’m ready to build the next Cubs championship team. It means there will be some really hard decisions, embracing the future, and moving on from the past.”
-Epstein also said that the team would like to keep Nicholas Castellanos, who is set to become a free agent after the conclusion of the World Series.
“I would love to have him back, but it’s more complicated than just wanting him back,” he said. “He’s worked long and hard to get to free agency, and he deserves the right to take that into the free agent market.”