No matter how the conversation between Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and team president Theo Epstein goes when they meet in the coming days to work out Epstein’s exit strategy, the two things we know we can count on:
First, there will be a peaceful transfer of power. Nobody’s getting fired, pushed aside or raising bile over the way it goes down.
Second, there will be a mess left behind for the next guy to clean up — especially if that transfer of power comes in the next few days or weeks instead of a year from now, when Epstein’s contract expires.
Hey, Jed, I’m taking off. Here’s a mop and a bulldozer.
That might be the biggest reason of all to think that Epstein sticks around for the final year of the five-year, $50 million extension he signed near the end of the 2016 season — even as anyone who has followed his career knows he never planned to stay in the job beyond the end of the deal.
It’s at least the $10 million question. As in, stepping away from the final $10 million on his contract to ease the team’s financial burden during a time of major revenue losses, if not to save any number of other jobs in the front office during a time of sweeping personnel cuts — or to put toward player payroll.
The Ricketts family remains supportive of Epstein and what he has built during his nine-year tenure, to the degree that right-hand man Jed Hoyer, the general manager, is positioned as the presumptive heir to the Cubs’ baseball operations throne.
But that throne’s going to feel more like one of a porcelain ilk to Hoyer — or whomever else it’s assigned — if Epstein walks now.
Another postseason face plant by a tight-knit core of homegrown hitters combined with payroll bloat and massive economic uncertainty screams fire sale, or at least payroll slashing through more nuanced roster turnover.
Consider that against the context of this six-year run of winning seasons and nine players who remain from the 2016 championship (plus a manager who was a teammate then), with all the emotional highs and lows, and all that public talk of “family” during what is by some measures the greatest run in franchise history.
Hey, Jed, I’m taking off. Give KB and Schwarbs my best before you ship them out, and tell Rizz and Kevin how much I love ‘em before you kick ‘em to the curb.
Of course, that’s not going to happen. The Cubs would never kick Anthony Rizzo’s dog, Kevin, to the curb.
The point is, as much as Epstein did to build winners at Wrigley Field, this mess the front office faces with its payroll challenges, hitting problems and even operating logistics as it plans for 2021 with COVID-19 still at large is a mess that very much belongs to him.
Hoyer certainly is capable of handling it. But this is no time for Epstein — who got a generous honeymoon period with fans during some ugly rebuild years — to abandon the processes and people who would otherwise be left to do the franchise’s heaviest front-office lifting in years.
It may seem noble and genuinely well intentioned to offer a $10 million rebate to the club by stepping aside a year early and clearing the path for Hoyer to run his own operation in Chicago.
And it’s a foregone conclusion Epstein won’t remain long enough in either case to oversee what is certain to be a multiyear process of retooling the roster into championship form. That was never in the works.
But this moment is big enough to stick around for. To lend a hand. To lead.
As much as Epstein has done the last nine years, the next one might be his year of reckoning in a lot of ways.
Hey, Jed, you want the mop or the bulldozer?