The Cubs failed to meet expectations this season. That much can be said for certain.
Despite holding MLB’s second-highest payroll and a roster oozing with talent, the Cubs struggled to stave off mediocrity in 2019. They stayed in the postseason race until the last week of the regular season – a testament to Joe Maddon and his team. Regardless, what matters most is that the Cubs failed to reach October for the first time since 2014.
With the failure to meet expectations comes change. And for the Cubs, change is already underway, as evidenced by the team parting ways with Maddon on Sunday. More moves will follow in the near future, though.
“You are likely to see change in this organization,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said at Monday’s end-of-season press conference. “I think this is a real opportunity. When you fall short of your goals and fail to perform at that biggest moments as dramatically as we did, it provides a real opportunity, if you’re willing to be honest with yourself and you’re willing to take a hard look inside.”
By no means does this mean that the Cubs are entering a full-scale rebuild, as they did upon Epstein’s arrival in October 2011. However, the front office will leave no stones unturned as it attempts to get the Cubs back to the top of baseball's mountain, where they were not so long ago.
According to Epstein, that means taking a hard look at every level of the organization, from the players, to the coaching staff, to the scouting staff and to the front office.
“We’re not blowing anything up, per se,” he said. “That’s not the goal, but we’re likely to see real change, real adjustments at various levels, most levels of our baseball operations in some form or another.
“With our [research and development] department, I think they do a fantastic job. They’re innovative and build out. I think we can utilize them a little bit better in certain areas, help them impact the major league team and decision making and scouting and player development a little bit more.”
Speaking of scouting and player development, before moving on from Maddon, the Cubs made a lowkey move with front office executive Jason McLeod. Formerly the Cubs senior vice president of amateur scouting and player development, McLeod was laterally moved to senior vice president of player personnel.
The Cubs have infamously struggled to develop impactful big-league pitching under Epstein’s watch. Whether that’s the reason for McLeod’s position change is uncertain, but the fact of the matter is that the team wasn’t producing in that regard. Thus, they made a change.
“I think this is a good opportunity to take a look at how would we set it up if we were building it from scratch,” Epstein said regarding the Cubs scouting and player development department. “How would we set it up not to adjust for the modern game, but to be centered around the modern game?
“We’ve already made some structural and leadership changes and we’ll continue to make more adjustments as well. You’re likely to see a director of hitting and a director of pitching join the organization to ensure that we are building these departments, teaching the game, evaluating players for where the game is now and where the game will be going [to] make sure we continue to be at the cutting edge.”
And, of course, the most obvious path of change coming to the Cubs is with their roster. The Cubs have close to $100 million coming off their payroll entering 2020. However, the likes of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and others are due for arbitration raises, not to mention the need to upgrade the bullpen, second base and center field production, and possibly re-sign Nick Castellanos.
When it comes to possibly trading players off the current roster, Epstein noted that it’s something the Cubs will certainly look at.
“We’re open-minded about this roster, and I expect to have a lot of trade discussions this winter,” he said. “I think a lot of the players on this year’s team are gonna be part of the next Cubs championship team, so we want to be mindful of that.
“But it’s also really hard to accomplish improvement and change in certain areas unless you’re extremely open-minded. As we have in previous offseasons, we’re very likely to engage certain players in discussions about long-term contracts and see if there’s a way to extend player’s windows as Cubs that way. And if that’s not possible, that might make you open-minded about trades.
“There’s more than one way to take full-advantage of a player’s value.”
The Cubs have a long offseason ahead of them. While the sting of missing out on the postseason won’t dissipate right away, the long layoff will give Epstein plenty of time to retool the organization that suddenly finds itself climbing the mountain rather than hanging out on top.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.