Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein stood at the precipice of his 10th season with the club and he said he wouldn’t “run away” from his prior comments about seeing a benefit to change after a decade in one job.
Epstein had also referenced football legend Bill Walsh’s theory on the subject after joining the Cubs in 2011 and signing an extension five years later. Considering the timing, Epstein’s latest nod to that belief was the most notable.
“But I also am as invested in the Chicago Cubs as our leader in baseball operations today,” Epstein said Monday, “as I was at any point in the last nine years.”
Epstein and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts plan to meet soon, as NBC Sport Chicago’s David Kaplan reported over the weekend. Though Epstein downplayed the meeting as standard offseason procedure, the subject of Epstein’s eventual departure is sure to be more pressing than in years past.
“We’ve had talks over the years on a semi-regular basis about the future and what it looks like, the importance of being aware of potential transitions and planning for them,” Epstein said of the Cubs organization. “But now that the season's over, those discussions move to another phase where they're more concrete and we have to do an open, honest thorough accounting of where we are as an organization, what our individual features look like and how to best serve the Cubs.”
Epstein has one year left on his contract, after signing a five-year extension in 2016. At the same point in his Red Sox tenure, Epstein resigned to join the Cubs. But Epstein said he expects the 10th year of this contract to play out differently.
“My expectation is that I'll be here,” Epstein said. “And my expectation is also that I'm going to do whatever is best for the Cubs every day, and that means being thoughtful about a transition whenever that may come.”
According to Epstein, there is no firm succession plan ready for when he and the Cubs do part ways.
Even so, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer seems to be the natural candidate to take over. Hoyer has worked alongside Epstein for over a decade and a half, nine seasons in Chicago and seven in Boston. In between, Hoyer was the Padres GM for two years.
“Jed is someone who's been a huge part of the success here at the Cubs and at the Red Sox before that,” Epstein said. “He's also someone who's already been a successful No. 1 in baseball operations when he served as the general manager of the Padres. And I recognize those qualities and everything that he brings to the table and how much he's done for this organization, and Tom and the Ricketts family do too. So, that's obviously a factor when you start to set out and discuss what a transition might look like.”
When asked if his role would change next season to ease a possible transition, Epstein said he expects to continue with the “status quo.” But he acknowledged the unique circumstances ahead.
“We are clearly entering an offseason that will require some critical decisions that have long-term impacts for the organization on the field and some off the field as well,” Epstein said. “So, because of that we're just going to be open-minded and thoughtful about it and take our time. If adjustments in structure or role or timing are necessary to put the Cubs in the best possible position going forward, then that's what I want.”
Those critical decisions include evaluating an underperforming offensive core that was swept in a best-of-three Wild Card Series with the Marlins last week, and navigating uncertain terrain in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Some of the Cubs’ hitting woes can be attributed to this unprecedented 60-game season. But the Cubs also have faced postseason disappointment for three years straight, including missing the playoffs in 2019 and losing the NL Wild Card Game the year before.
“We have not performed up to our expectations offensively, and especially at the most important times a year,” Epstein said. “And simply hoping for a better outcome moving forward doesn't seem like a thoughtful approach. So, embracing some change, even significant changes, is warranted.”
As for the president of baseball operations, that change is coming eventually, just probably not this season.