If the Mets or Phillies call Theo Epstein about their open front office positions, the Cubs president of baseball operations will likely pick up the phone. He said he always does.
“I come from the school of never ruling anything out but having some firm ideas in my mind of what I think is best for me and best for my family,” Epstein said. “I do hope and expect to have a third chapter in baseball, but in no shape or form do I expect to do it right away.”
So, what do those firm ideas lay out for Epstein in the meantime, after he officially steps down from his post Friday? When Epstein addressed the media Tuesday, shortly after the Cubs announced he would be resigning and general manager Jed Hoyer taking his place, Epstein left his plans for the next year open-ended.
“I envision taking some time to pursue other pursuits, to spend with my family, and to do some things that have just been impossible when you're going to a ballpark every single day every summer for the last 29 years.”
Epstein did, however, say he’s confident that he’ll remain involved in the sport, in some shape or form.
“This is the best game in the world, by far, in my opinion,” Epstein said. “But we do face some very real challenges. There are some storm clouds on the horizon, and we have to find a way to navigate through that as an industry. I'm happiest when baseball drives the sports conversation in this country and is atop the perch as the true national pastime, hands down no questions asked.
“And there are a lot of threats to that with everything going on in the world and industry issues that we face over the next year or so. So, now that I'm not with a team, and I'm outside, maybe there's some way I could help or be of assistance.”
That could mean any number of things before Epstein’s eventual third chapter running a baseball organization.
In a farewell letter to his colleagues, obtained by several media outlets including The Athletic, Epstein mentioned working with non-profits including The Foundation to Be Named Later, the Cubs’ Careers as Sports Executives program and the Players Alliance.
What about a consulting role with the league office?
On Tuesday, Epstein didn’t rule out that option. He mentioned his ongoing dialogue through the years with commissioner Rob Manfred and executives Dan Halem, Morgan Sword and Chris Marinak.
“Maybe there's a way it could work out where I could assist them in all the great work that they're doing,” Epstein said. “But I'll leave that to another day. We'll see what happens. Whether I'm involved in some capacity or not, I have great dialogue with the folks in MLB and can always pick up the phone and contribute anything I have to offer or answer questions. But we're in great hands as we sit here today, as an industry, with everyone working in central baseball.”
The industry is also facing steep hurtles. The attendance decline of 2019 gave way to massive financial losses this season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Epstein, no matter how he decides to remain “engaged” in the game, comes with credentials to address both COVID-19 concerns and fan interest.
This year, Epstein’s Cubs were the only team to go from intake testing through the postseason without a player testing positive for COVID-19 or missing time with the virus.
As for the on-field product:
“I take some responsibility for that,” Epstein said. “Because the executives like me who have spent a lot of time using analytics and other measures to try to optimize individual and team performance have unwittingly had a negative impact on the aesthetic value of the game and the entertainment value of the game in some respects.”
Who better to give input on baseball’s climbing strikeout rate than one of the men who contributed to the trend?
So, what’s next for Epstein? The answer’s not that simple. But for now, when his phone rings, he’ll keep on answering.