With the news official that manager Joe Maddon will not return for a sixth season with the Cubs -- news that surprised absolutely no one that follows the team -- the focus now turns to what the front office can do to get the Cubs back to the postseason.
But before the inevitable flurry of moves that will come this offseason, the Cubs have to look in the mirror and be honest with themselves: Changing managers, alone, will not solve the myriad of problems that this team must correct to be a legitimate World Series contender.
Since winning the title in 2016, the Cubs have taken on an air of arrogance, thinking and operating as if they’re smarter than most in the game and as if they have the best ‘process’ in baseball. But the problem with that thought is… They don’t. In recent years, the fact of the matter is that the Cubs have done a poor job drafting and developing talent, especially in the area of pitching. Since taking over in the fall of 2011, the Theo Epstein regime has drafted 131 pitching prospects (from the 2012-2017 MLB amateur drafts), and a grand total of eight have thrown even ONE PITCH in the big leagues. Of those eight, only four have thrown a single pitch as a member of the Cubs.
This failure to develop impactful major league pitching is why the Cubs had to dedicate $140 million of their 2019 payroll to their pitching staff. That can’t continue as the Cubs look to overhaul a roster with several holes to fill, chief among them the leadoff spot in the lineup, an area the front office has failed to address since losing Dexter Fowler after the 2016 season.
The issues, of course, don’t stop there. The Cubs are also one of the worst defensive teams in baseball and one of the worst base running teams in the game, as well. While these types of mistakes fall at the feet of the players who make them, it also points at a lack of accountability from manager Joe Maddon. Careless baserunning has become a pattern over the past two seasons, and too often there are little-to-no consequences for the offending parties. Further, in instances where the Cubs have run the bases wildly, fans and many members of the media have had a propensity to cheer the extra base taken or the additional run scored, despite the poor decision-making underpinning the situation. It should come as no surprise that scouts around baseball have become wont to chuckle at the Cubs’ reckless abandon on the base paths. This is an area that must be addressed by the team’s new manager.
The Cubs have made far too many mistakes in their personnel decisions over the past three offseasons, which means that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer also have to look at their own decision-making process to find out why things have not gone according to plan in both the trade market and in their free agent signings.
The Cubs decision to trade for Jose Quintana, for example, has not gone well, and a close examination of that trade shows that the thought process behind the deal was seriously flawed. The front office was so focused on Quintana’s team-friendly contract and controllable years that they overlooked his average skill set and lack of experience pitching in a pennant race. The fact of the matter is that the contract doesn’t go out to the mound to pitch, the player does, and in Quintana’s case the deal was not worth the exorbitant price the Cubs paid to acquire him.
That same flawed logic also went into the decision to reject a deal for then-Detroit Tigers star pitcher Justin Verlander, who, it should be noted, openly longed to pitch in Chicago at the time. The Cubs didn’t want to pay the money left on his contract ($56 million) and they didn’t have much left in their farm system to give up after using two of baseball’s best prospects in the Quintana deal. And, unlike the Houston Astros (who ended up acquiring Verlander), the Cubs did not believe he would return to form as a dominant, top-of-the-rotation starter. Since the 2017 trade, Verlander has compiled a 42-15 record with All-Star appearances in both 2018 and 2019. Imagine him in the Cubs’ rotation, and both Eloy Jimenez (31 HRs with the White Sox in 2019) and Dylan Cease (rotation member of the 2019 White Sox) also potentially on the current Cubs roster.
The need for a leadoff hitter is also an area that the Cubs erred in, as they consistently felt that the role was overrated and that they could fill the spot from within. They were wrong on both accounts. Filling this role has to be one of the most important things Epstein and Co. address this winter.
We can agree that manager Joe Maddon has had a great run here in Chicago. He has brought more success to the Chicago Cubs than any manager in their long history, and he did it with a flare that helped make the Cubs must-watch TV for the past five seasons.
We can also agree that it is time for a change in the manager’s seat. The Cubs need more structure, discipline and attention-to-detail. They need a new voice as they try to maximize the remaining two years of control of many of the team’s best players.
Will Theo Epstein follow the current trend of hiring an inexperienced manager who is paid much less than Maddon’s annual salary? Or will he hire an experienced man who is a proven winner and can work with the front office to get the Cubs back to the postseason? If the Cubs truly believe they can retool the roster and get back to the playoffs in 2020, then they need to consider an experienced voice no matter what the cost. The Chicago Cubs should never allow money to dictate who they hire as their manager.
The list of candidates will be long and impressive: From Joe Girardi, who spent 10 years as the manager of the New York Yankees, to former Cubs catcher David Ross, to former Cubs infielder Mark DeRosa, there will be much speculation as to who Epstein and Co. should choose.
I would choose Girardi, who survived 10 seasons in the pressure cooker of New York, and has multiple playoff appearances (and a World Series title) on his resume. He is a Northwestern graduate and a former Cubs player who was exceptionally popular during his time on the North Side. The Cubs tried hard to hire him after the 2013 season before he agreed to a new four year contract to stay with the Yankees, with Rick Renteria being Epstein’s fallback choice.
Whoever the Cubs choose will have his hands full. They will have to improve the team defensively, stress better baserunning and put a more consistent lineup on the field. But, before that happens, the day of reckoning that Epstein has talked about must happen. And that reckoning has to start with the front office. They took an organization that’s baseball philosophy was stuck in the dark ages and made it into a World Series champion, one of the most consistently respected clubs in baseball. But they have struggled mightily over the past three seasons since winning the World Series. They must be better moving forward, or the 2016 Chicago Cubs will be just like the 1985 Chicago Bears: A very talented team that only won the big one once. That would be exceptionally disappointing. Theo and Jed, be honest with yourselves. You know you are better than that. It’s your move.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.