One year after manager Joe Maddon spent his final season in Chicago as a lame duck, the Cubs appear on track to do the same with team president Theo Epstein.
Epstein spoke with reporters Monday in his first press conference since the Cubs were swept by the Miami Marlins in the Wild Card round over the weekend. The architect of the Cubs’ once-vaunted core that broke the franchise’s 108-year World Series drought indicated he’s likely to move on after his contract expires at the end of the 2021 season.
“My expectation is that I’ll be here [in 2021],” Epstein said, as quoted by 670 The Score. “And my expectation is also that I’m going to do whatever is best for the Cubs every day. That means being thoughtful about a transition, whenever that may come. But I’m focused on the 2021 Cubs and how to position ourselves for long-term success.”
However, NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan reported Saturday that “one of the possible scenarios that will be discussed is Epstein exiting now rather than waiting to complete the final year of his contract…if that better positions the Cubs for their future.”
Epstein and owner Tom Ricketts are expected to meet next week to discuss his future in Chicago.
If the Cubs do decide to let Epstein walk, one natural fit for his services would be the Philadelphia Phillies. Coming off a ninth consecutive season without a winning record, the Phillies demoted GM Matt Klentak after five years with him at the helm. Owner John Middleton told reporters that the decision centered around the lack of success the team has had over the last few seasons.
“I think the reality is I’ve just been looking, over time, at what we’re doing and the progress we’ve made and I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve made progress but we haven’t made progress fast enough,” John Middleton said, as quoted by the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I looked at what we’d be doing a year or two from now and I said, ‘You know what, I’m not sure I see that it’s going to necessarily lead to the things I want to see.’ So I made the decision to move on.”
Epstein took over as Cubs president after the 2011 season. The team was coming off back-to-back last place finishes in the NL Central and he convinced ownership to commit to a rebuild. Epstein then spent three years building up Chicago’s farm system until 2015, when it won 97 games and reached the NLCS. It won the World Series the next year, but the team has failed to meet expectations ever since.
The Cubs lost in the NLCS in 2017, the NLDS in 2018 and missed the playoffs altogether last season. They returned to the playoffs as division champions this year but scored just one run off Marlins pitching in the quick, best-of-three series. Even with a group of young hitters that came up together in Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs haven’t been able to establish the dynasty they thought they had the pieces for in 2016.
That’s not a concern for the Phillies, who are looking to get back into the playoffs after undergoing a rebuild that didn’t produce as much homegrown talent as hoped. Philadelphia, tied into big contracts for Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler, likely won’t want to hit the reset button again. But Epstein makes sense as a potential team president who could build around the Phillies’ core.
Philadelphia likely wouldn’t be the only team interested in Epstein. The Los Angeles Angels are also in the market for a new GM after they fired Billy Eppler. They’re looking to get back into the playoffs while Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani all still in their primes.
It’s going to be a long offseason, with plenty of time for other front office candidates to emerge. (Come on down, Dave Dombrowski.) The Cubs still have to figure out what they want to do with Epstein, but it’s a situation that the Phillies should follow closely.