Long-term deal for Theo Epstein can wait with Cubs in playoff race


Long-term deal for Theo Epstein can wait with Cubs in playoff race

PITTSBURGH – Theo Epstein could be in position to reset the market for baseball executives as the Cubs potentially turn into a monster franchise.

But with one year left on his deal after this season, Epstein again confirmed that he hasn’t had any substantial talks with chairman Tom Ricketts about a long-term extension.

“Literally not even a thought in my mind,” Epstein said before Tuesday’s doubleheader showdown against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. “I think it’s just something that we’ll probably pick up when we’re done playing, whenever that is.

“I have no concerns or worries about it whatsoever. Tom and I see things the same way. We know this is a beginning for this organization. We all want to see it through.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs shouldn’t take their window to contend for granted]

While working within the franchise’s financial parameters, Epstein appreciates the way Ricketts lets him run the baseball-operations department without interference. Ricketts also has an interest in scouting and player development and a personal presence around the organization that does not go unnoticed by staffers.

Ricketts already extended president of business operations Crane Kenney – who is responsible for securing the team’s television future and overseeing the Wrigley Field renovations – through the 2019 season.

Andrew Friedman – another bright, young executive who views players as assets and still values old-school scouting – figures to be a reference point for Epstein. The Los Angeles Dodgers lured Friedman away from the Tampa Bay Rays last year with a reported five-year, $35 million contract.

Epstein doesn’t anticipate a major front-office shakeup, which would seemingly discount the possibility of Jason McLeod becoming a general manager somewhere else this offseason.

[MORE CUBS: Ready or not, Cubs will find out if bullpen is ready for October]

Epstein and McLeod have been tight since the early stages of their baseball careers, working for the San Diego Padres in the mid-1990s. McLeod – the senior vice president of scouting and player development – has been a strong voice for drafting first-round picks like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.

“We have a pretty tight-knit group,” Epstein said. “This is a great time to be a Chicago Cub, whether you’re in uniform or in the front office. I don’t really worry about losing people.

“But if we do, I think we have a really deep organization. There’s another layer ready to step up. We have some depth in the front office. We’re a great team in the front office. And I expect us to stay together for awhile.”

Epstein left the Boston Red Sox for a president’s title and a direct report to ownership in Chicago after an epic collapse at the end of the 2011 season. Those Red Sox of fried-chicken-and-beer fame had been 30 games over .500 on Sept. 3 – in second place in the American League East and nine games up on Joe Maddon’s Rays – and didn’t make the playoffs.

So while the postseason forecasts on Baseball Prospectus (98.4 percent) and FanGraphs (99.3 percent) projected the Cubs as locks before Tuesday’s doubleheader, Epstein said he isn’t working hard on the roster for a wild-card game yet.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“After living through 2011, I don’t take anything for granted,” Epstein said. “I’m well aware of how momentum in September can take on a life all its own and effect the standings.

“It’s important to just keep focused on that day’s game, keep knocking out your wins, storing them and things will be OK if you just take care of your own business.”

After writing off three major-league seasons (286 losses), firing three managers (Mike Quade, Dale Sveum, Rick Renteria) and planning so much around the future, Epstein is going to try to sit back and enjoy the moment.

“The nucleus of the team is in place now and going to be together for awhile,” Epstein said. “It’s obviously a process of many years to try to build the organization into a position to where we can have the requisite talent and depth and makeup – and the right people – to try to compete and play your best baseball at the time when it matters most.

“We’re partway along in that journey. And then the cool part is you get to all be together and write the next chapter.”

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason


Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

With the MLB offseason about to kick off, we run down the boldest predictions for the Cubs winter from around the NBC Sports Chicago Cubs content team. Topics include where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign, how much money they’ll get, what the Cardinals will do this winter, Cubs offseason trades and how Theo Epstein’s front office may add to the pitching staff.


One topic we could all agree on was David Ross' potential as Cubs bench coach if the incumbent Brandon Hyde ends up taking a job as manager for another team around the league.


Listen to the entire podcast here and check out all of our bold predictions below:



David Kaplan


—Anthony Rizzo and his new wife, Emily, will adopt Manny Machado, change his last name and see Manny Rizzo playing third base for the 2019 Cubs.

—Because of the Rizzo move, the Cubs will move Kris Bryant to a full-time outfielder.

—The Cubs will trade away Jose Quintana and sign Patrick Corbin.

—The Cubs will sign a pair of former Indians relievers for the back end of the bullpen in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

—The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber to the Royals for Whit Merrifield, who will start 155 games in the leadoff spot in the order.

—Joe Maddon will be a lot more consistent with the Cubs' lineup and batting order all season.


Kelly Crull


—Anthony and Emily Rizzo will receive more wedding gifts from Cubs fans than Kris and Jessica Bryan received.

—Anthony Rizzo will train this offseason so he will be able to sing — or play the piano — for the National Anthem at Wrigley in 2019.

—The Cubs will have no money left to remodel the media room at Wrigley Field.


Luke Stuckmeyer


—The Captain Morgan Club at Wrigley Field is going to be replaced by Kap's Kryo & Keto Korner.

—The Cubs will finally find a solution to the leadoff hitter issue.


Tony Andracki


—The Cubs sign Bryce Harper for less than $250 million. (He follows 23 people on Twitter)
—Manny Machado does not get a contract for more than $250 million, either.
—The Cardinals will sign Craig Kimbrel and either Machado or Josh Donaldson to play 3B. 


Rationale: St. Louis could really use the bat and closer and they have a sense of urgency in the division this winter we haven't seen from them in at least a decade. The Cubs and Brewers have clearly been better for two seasons now and look to have a better chance at contending than the Cardinals in 2019, as well. That can't be sitting well with the "Best Fans in Baseball." 


Jeff Nelson, producer


—The Cubs will trade 2 of the following players:  Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Addison Russell, Albert Almora Jr.

—The Cardinals will sign Manny Machado to play third base.

—Because of construction delays, the visitors’ clubhouse will not be ready for the home opener, forcing the Pirates to dress at their hotel and come to the ballpark in full uniform.

Mike Piff, social media manager

—Cubs sign Nick Markakis.
—Cubs sign Tyson Ross.

Eric Strobel, producer

—The Cubs 2019 saves leader is not currently on the roster.

Rationale: We saw what happened to the bullpen in Brandon Morrow's absence; it got the job done by and large, but was not longer truly feared. Deep 'pens are the norm in October now with lockdown relievers being counted on more and more. The front office knows they can't truly entrust that kind of workload to Morrow with his injury history - Theo admitted as much in his end-of-season press conference. While they probably will not make a big splash, a huge focus of the offseason will be to surround Morrow/Strop/Edwards/etc. with as many talented arms as possible. The Cubs could very well enter next season without a designated closer, but if they do, it will not be Brandon Morrow.

Scott Changnon, multi-platform producer

—The Cubs will sign Bryce Harper.

Rationale: "I dunno, maybe."

Nate Poppen, producer

—Cubs sign Andrew McCutchen, plug him into CF and make Almora a 4th OF (or expendable)
—Bryce Harper signs with Yankees.
—Manny Machado signs with Angels.

Matt Buckman, producer

Non-roster prediction: The Cubs will welcome Sammy Sosa back to Wrigley Field. Sammy turns 50 this winter, and fueled by our wonderful documentary on 1998, the Cubs will finally mend their broken bond with Sammy and bring him back to Wrigley.

Roster prediction: The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber for a leadoff hitter. Joe has had to get very creative with the top of his order since Dexter Fowler left. Though the front office has downplayed the importance of a lead-off hitter the last two off-seasons, they will look to add one for 2019 so that Joe doesn’t have to be so creative. They won’t have a place to play Schwarber after they sign Harper so they will swap his power for a new “you go, we go” guy. Look at KC or TB as AL teams that need to add power and also have guys who could potentially lead off for the Cubs. Mallex Smith (TB) or Whit Merrifield (KC) would be interesting options.

Cubs Talk Podcast


No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

Should the Cubs bring Jesse Chavez back for the 2019 bullpen?

This question shouldn't have anywhere near the polarizing effect the Daniel Murphy query had earlier this week, and for good reason.

It's hard to find any real downside for the Cubs working Chavez back into the fold next season. 

Sure, he's 35 and he'll turn 36 in August, but Chavez just had far and away the best season of his 11-year career and all signs point to it being legit.

He won't have a 1.15 ERA forever, of course, but he clearly found something with his mechanics that helped lead to the remarkable consistency he showed in a Cubs uniform (4 saves, 4 holds, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 42 Ks in 39 IP). 

The Cubs will be looking to add some reinforcements to their bullpen this winter and Chavez fits the bill in many areas.

When asked about how to address the bullpen this winter, Theo Epstein said his front office will be "looking for guys who can throw strikes and execute a gameplan and take the ball and pitch in big spots."

The Cubs have publicly placed an emphasis on "strike-throwers" out of the bullpen over the last two winters now and that is right up Chavez's alley.

He threw 68.5 percent first-pitch strikes while with the Cubs, which would've ranked near the top of the league in 2018, right up there with aces like Miles Mikolas, Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Justin Verlander. Among all relievers, Chavez ranked 5th in baseball in first-pitch strike percentage in the second half.

Expanding further (since the first pitch isn't the only one that matters): Chavez threw the fourth-most strikes in baseball among all MLB relievers after the All-Star Break. Since the day Chavez put on a Cubs uniform, Philadelphia's Tommy Hunter (70.5 percent) was the only reliever in baseball (minimum 30 innings) to throw a higher percentage of pitches for strikes than Chavez (69.8 percent).

If you want strikes, there's no better reliever on the market right now than Chavez.

He also shouldn't be all that expensive at age 35, even despite the breakout and high level of importance placed upon relievers these days. A similar deal to the one Brian Duensing got last winter - $7 million over 2 years - seems appropriate and would be a steal if Chavez can continue to find even a modicum of the success he had since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Speaking of the Cubs uniform, Chavez reportedly doesn't want to wear another logo in 2019, saying this after the NL Wild-Card Game:

That was an emotional time, but Chavez repeatedly raved about the Cubs clubhouse and culture throughout his time in Chicago and really appreciated the way his teammates made him feel comfortable from Day 1.

When the Cubs first acquired Chavez in that under-the-radar trade, they touted his versatility which has become a valuable asset, especially in today's game where relievers are often asked to pitch multiple innings. If necessary, he could also represent depth for the starting rotation, having made 70 starts over his MLB career. 

Unless there's a surprising market that develops for Chavez, bringing him back to the North Side of Chicago on a 1- or 2-year deal is a no-brainer.