In a fitting and disappointing bit of finality to Theo Epstein’s tenure as the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, the organization has opted not to tender a contract to Albert Almora Jr. for the 2020 season. The 26-year-old outfielder who was selected sixth overall by Cubs in 2012 as the first pick the Epstein regime, but he is now a free agent following three disappointing seasons in Chicago.
Always viewed as an elite defensive player with serious potential at the plate, Almora was never able to develop offensively and actually regressed a great deal since 2016. He was always tinkering with his swing and never seemed to find a comfort level, as evidenced by the drop-off in his offensive production to the point that he became unplayable.
Though his problems began well before a foul ball off his bat struck and injured a young girl in Houston, the traumatic event appeared to have shaken Almora deeply. The numbers bear that out as well, dipping from merely disappointing to staggeringly bad in the wake of the incident. Whether and to what extent you buy that idea, the fact remains that Almora simply wasn’t providing the Cubs with value.
After posting 1.1 fWAR over just 323 plate appearances in 2017, he repeated that production across 479 PAs the following season. Not quite as efficient, but more than acceptable for a league-minimum salary. However, Almora dipped to -0.7 fWAR in 2019 and was optioned to Iowa to work through his issues. He then saw only 34 plate appearances in 2020 as his .223 wOBA and 35 wRC+ weren’t enough to hold down a roster spot.
Were this about his production alone, no one would bat an eye at Almora being non-tendered. But he’s a good dude and an excellent teammate whose glove would easily play provided he was hitting anywhere close to league average. Instead, he now becomes yet another example of the Cubs’ general failure to adequately develop talent.
The lack of pitching gets most of the attention, but the organization has also shown an inability to get any real impact from position players drafted outside the first round. And even with some of those players, it’s almost as though the development process was halted once they reached the majors. With the full understanding that recency bias may be clouding my perception, the Cubs seem to have taken a lot of player development for granted under the assumption that guys would just figure it out.
Here’s to hoping that complacency has been eliminated by the revamped hitting and pitching department, not to mention changes to the front office and on-field staff. And here’s to Almora landing on his feet and perhaps getting a new lease on his baseball life with a fresh perspective that allows him to achieve his potential.