Rozner: Cubs' odd winter finally nearing an end

  • Theo Epstein speaks during opening night Friday of the 2019 Chicago Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand in Chicago. It's been a strange winter for the Cubs, but how much of the madness really matters to the players?

    Theo Epstein speaks during opening night Friday of the 2019 Chicago Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand in Chicago. It's been a strange winter for the Cubs, but how much of the madness really matters to the players? Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

Updated 2/9/2019 5:53 PM

Theo Epstein has had worse offseasons.

Take, for instance, the winter of 2005-06, when the man who ended the Boston drought had to walk out on the Red Sox in a contract dispute amid front office politics, exiting Fenway in a gorilla suit on Halloween.


He returned 10 weeks later, having missed the most important period for building a baseball team, and later that year signed a new deal.

Talk about a miserable offseason for a man who had led the Red Sox to the Promised Land.

There has been no such hysteria in Chicago since the 2018 season ended in such disappointing fashion for Cubs fans, but wow, has this ever been a weird offseason for a team that won 95 games and is among the favorites to win the World Series in 2019.

Yeah, still true. Still one of the best teams in baseball.

As we sit here a few days before pitchers and catchers report, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remain on the market with the chance to seriously affect a team's championship hopes.

And where they sign may yet change the odds for the 2019 season, but at the moment the Yankees are favored to win the World Series at 6-1, which makes a lot of sense given their offseason moves.

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With the trade for James Paxton and the re-signing of J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia to go along with ace Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, the New York rotation should be among the best in the game, assuming health.

Even more impressive is the bullpen, which now features Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green and Jonathan Holder, to name most but not all of the considerable arms they have available.


Winning the winter is far from a guarantee of success, but there's talk the Yanks may not be done yet and there were rumors Saturday that they were in on Machado.

Trailing the Yanks are the defending champion Red Sox at 7-1, the Astros are at 8-1 and the only National League team ahead of the Cubs at the moment is the Dodgers at 9-1, coming off consecutive defeats in the Fall Classic.


And there the Cubs sit at 10-1. Not bad for team with seemingly all the problems in the world right now.

At least, that's the narrative, and that is what's made this winter such a strange one.

Sure, the Cubs have issues on the field, an offense that failed them down the stretch, and no concern looms larger than the bullpen.

But as pitchers and catchers begin arriving in Arizona, most of the madness involves off-the-field issues.

The latest was Joe Ricketts and his now infamous emails.

There have been the constant questions surrounding Addison Russell's future.

Tom Ricketts was bludgeoned for not seating an ownership panel at the Cubs Convention.

The owners' political fight with an alderman became a day of news at the Convention.

Kris Bryant, the cleanest of the clean, is in trouble with the entire city of St. Louis after some goofy remarks made during a conversation with Ryan Dempster at the Convention.

There were the ridiculous Bryant trade rumors.

Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were accused of firing hitting coach Chili Davis.

Joe Maddon can't walk 90 feet without being asked about managing the final year of his contract.

And, of course, everyone wants the club to spend a few hundred million on a free agent and the fan base is screaming about the team's projected $210 million payroll, which is the most in club history by at least $30 million.

The Cubs take pride in not having these distractions, in running a smooth operation, but these distractions … will they really affect the players charged with returning the club to glory?

No, not really.

As the most visible face of the franchise, however, Epstein will be asked about nearly all of these items when he gives his State of the Cubs address in Arizona.

Some of these have nothing to do with how he runs baseball operations, but he will remain polite through it all and answer with humility.

There will be little thought given, on that day, to the best stretch in the history of the franchise, these last four years as the Cubs have averaged 97 victories.

So he will be excited to get camp started, get through the questions, and watch the TV cameras disappear after a week, as the team settles in and gets down to business in Mesa.

For Epstein, that's when this winter will finally end. What a strange one it has been.

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