Theo Epstein appears to be gearing up for one more go-round as the Chicago Cubs' president of baseball operations.
Epstein said Monday his expectation is the “status quo” when it comes to the team's leadership and he anticipates remaining on the job for at least one more season, with his contract set to expire in 2021.
“I'm a Cub,” Epstein said during an hourlong conference call. “I think the status quo right now is the most likely outcome."
Epstein's future figures to be a big point of discussion when he meets with chairman Tom Ricketts.
He has said repeatedly he thinks executives have about a 10-year shelf life in a job. Next year will mark a decade for Epstein with the Cubs, and a contract extension seems like a long shot.
“For me, as an individual, I think there’s benefit to change after a significant amount of time on the job, I guess at about a decade,” Epstein said. “I have to keep that in mind without making any definitive statements. We will be definitive. We will have a transition plan. We will have a structure moving forward. It’s just we can’t figure that out with you guys, we haven’t gone through that process.”
Epstein has transformed the long-suffering Cubs. They've reached the NLCS three times in his nine seasons and won a World Series championship in 2016, ending a drought dating to 1908. This year, the won the NL Central at 34-26 under rookie manager David Ross.
But they got swept by Miami in their wild-card series, scoring one run over two games. They haven't advanced in the postseason since 2017. And that 10-year mark is approaching for Epstein.
“I’m not going to run away from those feelings," he said. "But I also am as invested in the Chicago Cubs as our leader in baseball operations today as I was at any point in the last nine years. I woke up this morning thinking about how we can improve for next year, position ourselves for long-term success. But given the things I’m on record with about the benefits of change at a certain point, it just means that you have to be smart in discussing the timing and nature of the transition because it’s inevitable at some point.”
General manager Jed Hoyer is the most obvious successor for Epstein.
The two worked together in Boston when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007 and reunited when Epstein took the job in Chicago in October 2011. In between, Hoyer led San Diego's baseball operations.
“We've only had general discussions about the potential transition, whenever that may be — nothing specific,” Epstein said. “Obviously, now's the time to be thoughtful about it. You do have to start getting more specific and making some more decisions. Jed is someone who's been a huge part of the success here at the Cubs and at the Red Sox before that."
Epstein didn't rule out big changes to the roster this offseason. The Cubs ranked among the worst in the majors with a .220 average.
Kris Bryant (.206, four homers, 11 RBIs), Javier Báez (.203, 8, 24), Anthony Rizzo (.222, 11, 24), Willson Contreras (.243, 7, 26) and Kyle Schwarber (.188, 11, 24) all struggled. The Cubs have an option on Rizzo, while Bryant, Báez and Schwarber are entering the final year of their contracts.
“Clearly, some change is warranted and necessary,” Epstein said. “We've not performed up to our expectations offensively, especially at the most important times of year, and simply hoping for a better outcome moving forward doesn't seem like a thoughtful approach.”
It's also possible Jon Lester has pitched his final game for Chicago. At 36, he posted a career-worst 5.16 ERA. The team holds a $25 million option with a $10 million buyout on the five-time All-Star, who signed a six-year, $155 million deal before the 2015 season.
“Whether he leaves or stays, this is an appropriate time just to acknowledge the profound impact that he had on our organization,” said Epstein, who plans to speak with Lester over the next few days. “It's rare when someone joins an organization with some clear goals in mind to win a World Series, to change a culture, to show up in October just about every year and pitch really well in big games, be a great teammate, to be someone our organization can be proud of, to make an impact on his teammates and in his community, and accomplish all those goals in such an admirable manner.”