This isn’t necessarily new information, just additional evidence of what’s been heavily hinted at already, so I’ll do my best to keep it brief. Theo Epstein resigned with a year left on his contract in large part because he knew the task at hand could not be accomplished over the time he had remaining, particularly under the financial restrictions imposed by what is almost certainly a drastically reduced baseball operations budget.
“First, the organization faces many decisions this winter that carry long-term consequences; those types of decisions are best made by someone who will be here for a long period rather than for just one more year,” Epstein explained in a letter to friends and colleagues. “Second…we must face the immediate challenge of how to allocate our temporarily reduced resources in a way that allows us to move forward and to succeed.”
Epstein also knew that heading up baseball ops in 2021 would mean making some very difficult decisions, ones that should be made by someone who’d be around long enough to work through their ramifications. Knowing Jed Hoyer was ready — and presumably willing — to do just that, Epstein went ahead and bounced ahead of what may end up being a gut-wrenching period. To that end, it might be helpful for Hoyer to fill the GM void with someone from the outside who’s got little to no emotional investment in the process.
A previous report from ESPN’s Buster Olney said the word around the league was that the Cubs would be willing to move almost anyone, “signaling there will be significant turnover on the roster.” Mark Feinsand of MLB.com expressed nearly the same sentiment on Wednesday, writing that the Cubs have essentially been advertising to other teams since the season ended that they are open for business.
One rival exec told Feinsand the Cubs “seem to think a heavy restart could be in order,” which a different exec believes will mean moving at least two of their top seven players. We’re talking about a group that includes Kris Bryant and Javier Báez, the two names most often mentioned in trade speculation, along with Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Kyle Hendricks, and Yu Darvish.
While an argument could be made that the roster will still be competitive sans the right combination of two losses from that group, the Cubs would really have to thread the needle for that to happen. And I’m talking about threading it with a camel, which I understand is easier than a rich man successfully operating an organization located in baseball heaven. Can you imagine what this team would look like without Javy and Darvish? Or with the Bryzzo Souvenir Company relocated?
And if you’re preparing for a “Well actually” argument centered around restocking the farm system, you can save it. Other than Hendricks, these players all either make too much or have too little control to fetch a big prospect haul in baseball’s current economic environment. Just like we are seeing with the business side’s Marquee Sports Network struggles, poor development and worse timing have conspired to paint the Cubs into a corner in terms of their plans.
When these hitters’ contracts matured, there were supposed to be waves of young pitching and another position player or two coming up to restock the roster and balance the salary scales. That obviously never happened, nor did those big-league hitters develop in a manner that would have allowed the Cubs to maximize their trade return. Interestingly enough, that might be what prevents the Cubs from doing anything major this winter outside of pure salary dumps.
Unless they opt to non-tender Bryant and/or Schwarber, which is a non-zero chance even if it seems unfathomable, they may have to let these players show and prove before moving or extending them. The latter would still be my preference in nearly every case, but that’s simply not realistic given what we know about ownership’s willingness or ability to spend.
Sounds like the only wheelbarrows of money being dumped into the Cubs’ baseball budget this season will come from unloading contracts onto other teams, a far cry from what fans had been promised.