Jamming solo: Epstein goes it alone in sharing his pearls

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs' President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein talks with the media during the team's annual convention Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, in Chicago.

    Chicago Cubs' President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein talks with the media during the team's annual convention Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, in Chicago.

 
 
Updated 1/19/2019 6:33 PM

It was Eddie Vedder without the rest of Pearl Jam.

Cubs president Theo Epstein ditched his backup band -- the other members of the Cubs front office -- and performed solo in front of the fans Saturday at the Cubs convention.

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In previous years, Epstein was flanked by a retinue of associates, but in wake of the Cubs' late-season flameout in 2018, he said he wanted to answer as many questions directly from fans as possible.

He got right to it in talking about the disappointing end to last season.

"It was the most honest and the most introspective and the most reflective that our players have been -- about their own performance, about things that we want to do differently as a team," he said. "You try to get better because when you fall 90 feet short, when you don't get where you want to be, you can be that open. You can see things you can't see otherwise.

"I always say winning is a great deodorant because it covers everything up. When you're winning 97 games a year and you're going to the championship series and going to the World Series, you're not going to look with as great microscope as you otherwise would. Some things need to be a little bit better."

Epstein took one question after another and noted that a major theme of the off-season has been "urgency." One of the criticisms of the Cubs last year was that the team seemed to lack a sense of urgency, despite finishing the season with 95 wins. A loss to the Brewers in Game 163 of the regular season and to the Colorado Rockies in the wild-card game threw a wet blanket on any good feeling that 95 wins might have produced.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Urgency is the opposite of complacency," he said. "I don't think that we've been overly complacent or anything, but if we're being honest with ourselves and taking accountability for it, we do need to make a little bit of an adjustment, and from Day 1 of the season, play with a little more urgency because this is a really competitive division (the National League Central)."

It took awhile in Saturday's session for fans to ask about the Cubs' unwillingness or inability to sign a big-name free agent, such as Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. What seemed to rankle fans is the Cubs needing to pinch pennies to upgrade the bullpen.

"Every team tries to enter the off-season as nimble as possible, with as much payroll flexibility as possible, with as many tradable assets as possible," Epstein said. "And there are offseasons when we've done that. We've been the team with the most flexibility, being the most nimble going into each winter. That is usually a sign of good strategy, good decision making, good fortune good long-term planning.

"That set of circumstances leads to winters where we can be really active, we can be aggressive, we can bring in a lot of good players. We got a lot of praise for that. That's not our situation this winter.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"When we do our jobs really artfully, you never notice the budget because we've created a lot of flexibility. We can get everything done that we want to get done. But we when haven't done our job and I haven't done my job as artfully or haven't gotten the outcomes that we expect, we're going to be in a situation that's not as flexible. The way the budget's being treated this year is not different than it's been treated in the past."

Epstein said the Cubs under the owning Ricketts family is a business.

"I don't go over budget," he said. "I can't go over budget. You've never noticed that in the past because we've done a pretty darn good job of creating that flexibility so we can be aggressive. We haven't put ourselves in that position in this moment in time so we have to fight through those obstacles. We're not going to get everything we want, but it doesn't mean it's going to be that way forever."

Epstein also revisited comments he made the day after the season ended when he said the offense had broken. He said there was a difference between being broken and being "permanently broken" and that the Cubs could improve by "getting the most from the talent we have."

He also addressed the status of manager Joe Maddon, who is entering the fifth and final season of his contract.

Asked if he plans to bring Maddon back for 2020, Epstein answered: "I sure hope so. Joe's been an instrumental, fundamental, essential part of the success that's happened here. But for Joe and the way he handled our young players in 2015 and 2016, there's no way we would have won a World Series."

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