Jason McLeod

Theo Epstein shoots down rumors that he might return to Red Sox

Theo Epstein shoots down rumors that he might return to Red Sox

PITTSBURGH — We don't yet know what kind of changes will take place for the Cubs this winter, but Theo Epstein made one thing certain Wednesday evening — he's not going anywhere.

The Boston Globe's Alex Speier made headlines this week when he linked Epstein to his former team, the Red Sox, as a potential name to keep an eye on to fill the club's president of baseball operations role. The Red Sox fired Dave Dombrowski earlier this month, less than a year after a 108-win season and a World Series championship.

As he sat in the visiting dugout at PNC Park Wednesday evening and gave a little preview of his "State of the Cubs" address, Epstein was asked about the Red Sox link.

"Yeah, I saw that. There's nothing to that story," he said. "I'm here. We have a lot we need to work on to get back to the level we're accustomed to. I'm invested in that. That's what I'm focused on, so yeah, there's nothing to that. 

"I will say, I have really good relationships with a lot of people there. I certainly wish them the best. It's just, there's nothing to the story."

Epstein also said it's "still true" that Cubs GM Jed Hoyer and senior vice president Jason McLeod are also not packing up and heading back to Boston.

The three front office executives worked together with the Red Sox before Hoyer and McLeod left to go to the San Diego Padres. Epstein left Boston after the 2011 season to tackle a new challenge with the Cubs and is wrapping up his eighth season in Chicago.

Epstein did concede the final month of this 2019 season reminds him of the 2011 Red Sox, who held a nine-game division lead on Sept. 3 and wound up missing the playoffs altogether by going 6-18 down the stretch.

"They're different, but in terms of pain in September, yeah," Epstein said. "In my mind, I think there's some similarities as far as worst possible outcomes given where you were at a moment in time, sure."

Epstein pointed to the fact that the 2011 Red Sox were one of the best teams in baseball for most of that season, while the 2019 Cubs never really found their groove or built up any separation in the division.

Still, the expectations were sky-high for both clubs — World Series or bust.

"As far as what could've been and what was, yeah," Epstein said. "They were different teams, obviously, and this [Cubs] club had some real flaws I'm responsible for. But I do feel like we left a lot on the table. Depending on how the next few games go, we might be only the second 100-run differential team ever to not make the playoffs in this modern Wild-Card era.

"Run differential is not everything and there are well-documented reasons for why ours is potentially a little bit misleading, but it is the number that correlates best to wins out of any out there. You give me one number and ask how many games a team should win, I'll take run differential. I think it just shows what could've been. I think we're all beating ourselves up for that in some way."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Theo's take on his struggling team

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: Theo's take on his struggling team

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Luke Stuckmeyer, David Kaplan, David Dejesus, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki react to Theo Epstein's comments about his club, changes in the scouting department and struggles at the leadoff spot.

01:30 - Latest odds to win the NL Central after the Yelich injury

03:00 - Brewers make up 5 games in the standing in 6 day

04:00 - Reaction to Theo's comments on defensive struggles

08:00 - How do players change the narrative of the season?

10:00 - Was 2016 the outlier year for the Cubs?

12:00 - Jason McLeod's new title with the team and a new look in the scouting department

16:00 - Struggles at the leadoff spot

19:30 - Who is the player who runs the clubhouse?

21:00 - Since 2017 did the Cubs believe they could turn it on when they had to?

24:00 - Cubs broadcast bumped for "Bachelor in Paradise"

27:00 - Darvish bounces back to be their best starting pitcher this season

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Theo Epstein speaks for all Cubs fans as he sums up the frustrating season to date

Theo Epstein speaks for all Cubs fans as he sums up the frustrating season to date

If you were listening to 670 The Score Thursday morning, nobody would blame you if you confused Theo Epstein for a random Cubs fan.

But that wasn't Bob from Berwyn chatting with David Haugh and Mike Mulligan about the infuriating 2019 season the Cubs have played to date — it was the president of baseball operations for the club, who told it like it is and pulled no punches.

Like usual, Epstein was measured in his response, but his frustration was palpable, as he explained how there are simply no excuses for the way the Cubs have played this year and especially lately. 

He did not point to the recent string of injuries as a reason or use any other potential excuse in the books to explain away the fact that this team woke up Thursday morning tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the second Wild-Card spot. 

When asked which area of the Cubs' game has been inconsistent, Epstein offered his take:

"I just think our failure to play up to our ability, play up to our potential," Epstein said. "We just lost two games in a row to a team that I think we're more talented than (we have a 150-run differential better than), we were just caught from behind by a team that our run differential is over 100 runs better than. But they're playing better ball — the Brewers. And they just beat us five out of seven in huge games and we put them back in the race. 

"It's just the inability to show up and play winning baseball, for the whole to be as good as the sum of the parts. It's not right now. I think our guys said it [Wednesday] night — we're not playing good baseball. We're playing bad baseball. We [have the] second-most errors in the league, most outs on the bases in the league — those things chip away at your margin for error. When you do those things, you can't just roll out and have your talent win games and that's the reality of where we are at this point. Those are some of the attributes that have marked our play this year. 

"The only good news is we are very fortunate that we have a chance with a few weeks left to change that script. If we finally start playing good baseball on a consistent basis and show up every night and win a bunch of games, we can change the script of what the 2019 Cubs will be known for. That's an opportunity that should not be taken lightly because at this point in the season, I don't think any of us associated with this team are going to be proud of what our identity is here for the 2019 Cubs, what we're going for — those things we just talked about. 

"We're the only ones who can get ourselves out of this. All we have to do is play really good baseball for a couple weeks, so we should relish that opportunity to change the script here."

After the Cubs closed the gap in the division to only a 4-game deficit with a win Monday night in Nico Hoerner's debut against the Padres, the Cardinals lost back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday night. Yet the Cubs couldn't draw any closer, losing a pair of games to a Padres team that has been well out of the playoff race for weeks. 

Meanwhile, the Brewers lost Christian Yelich for the season, yet they won both games Tuesday and Wednesday night, moving into a tie with the Cubs for the final playoff spot in the NL. This is the same Brewers team that looked to be falling out of it as the calendar moved into September, but — as Epstein said — the Cubs let them back into it with subpar showings on back-to-back weekends.

This season, the Cubs have essentially had just one good stretch, where they went 22-6 from mid-April to mid-May. But since then, they've gone 52-54 and that includes the addition of Nicholas Castellanos and Craig Kimbrel:

Epstein's 19-minute interview was jam-packed with interesting tidbits from the leader of the Cubs baseball department, but the overall point was apparent — he is frustrated by the way this team has underachieved for over a calendar year now. 

Even in talking about Jason McLeod and his lateral move from overseeing player development and amateur scouting to senior vice president of player personnel, Epstein drove the same point home:

"Really, this is about the organization and getting some fresh perspective and some change," Epstein said. "Clearly, for over a year now, we haven't been getting the most out of our talent. We haven't been getting the most out of our big-league roster. So there's gotta be some small things that we can tweak, adjust, do a little bit differently short-term, medium-term, long-term to try to get more out of that. 

"Jason's a great baseball guy; he's a fresh set of eyes. If he's around the team more, it gives a new perspective that maybe he'll say something that helps a player or helps the front office or helps Joe [Maddon] or a coach just with a new set of eyes.

"We're taking a fresh look at every aspect of the organization."

That sounds like a man looking to make some major shake-ups with the Cubs this winter if they can't turn things around over the next two-and-a-half weeks.