Rozner: Cubs' Epstein is unhappy, and knows the fans are, too

 
 
Updated 2/11/2019 5:15 PM
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  • Theo Epstein speaks during opening night of last month's Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand in Chicago.

    Theo Epstein speaks during opening night of last month's Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand in Chicago. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

Believe it or not, Theo Epstein and his guys were busy at work this winter.

To most Cub fans, it looked as if he sat on his hands and watched the Central Division go by, as if he was satisfied with what the Cubs have accomplished the last four years.

Absurd, of course, but what makes the Cubs president so different is he doesn't begrudge you the anger you might carry after an offseason in which the Cubs failed to land a big free agent, especially when there's been a citywide assumption the last few years that Bryce Harper was on his way to town.

"I completely understand," Epstein said. "From a fan's standpoint, all we can do in the winter -- we can't go out and play hard and win 10 in a row -- all we can do is add players or spend money.

"If we're not doing that at the level we have in previous offseasons, I completely expect there to be questions.

"The fans have expectations that have changed. They're upset after a 95-win season. They should be. I totally get it.

"They waited more than a century to get on top and they want to stay there. I welcome their scrutiny."

So you want answers.

You want to know why there has been no check written for a few hundred million this winter when the Cubs guaranteed Jon Lester $155 million after 2014, Jason Heyward $184 million and Ben Zobrist $56 million after 2015, and Yu Darvish $126 million and Tyler Chatwood $38 million after 2017.

While you take a moment to digest a few of those names, Epstein gives you his side of the story.

"We've been in the top six payrolls every year since we became competitive and we will continue to be," Epstein said. "But I think every team has to go into every offseason as nimble as they can be, with as much payroll flexibility as possible, with as many trade assets as possible, with as many guys coming off career years as possible, because it puts you in a better position.

"There are more possibilities out there to add players, make trades, sign free agents.

"We've had a lot of years where all those things have gone well and lined up. Those have been the offseasons where we've been more active and gotten a lot of credit for all our moves."

But, ya know, best laid plans and such.

"This year," Epstein continued, "because decisions we've made the last couple years haven't worked out, because a number of guys had down years, because we had a number of players not live up to expectations, because some of the contracts we have are not as movable as we expected them to be at this point, we are not in that position.

"We have nowhere near the flexibility we normally have, we're not as nimble as we normally are and the world of possibilities is much smaller than we're used to. That's just the reality.

"It's not going to be that way every year. That's the way it is right now.

"So if you cheered us when we had really aggressive offseasons and everyone thought we were doing everything right, then you should criticize us for being in this position now. That's the way baseball is.

"But it doesn't mean that we're a cheap organization. We have spent an awful lot of money on players."

And sometimes not well, which is the risk you take in free agency, the risk a couple teams are about to take with contracts that may reach or go beyond $300 million.

A single wrong step and that money is flushed.

Nevertheless, Epstein understands that Cubs Nation is at least restless, if not downright nervous about 2019.

"We're focused on the players that we have, the great talent that we do have, and all the adjustments that we need to make so we can be better than we were last season, collectively and individually," Epstein said. "This is a process of being honest with ourselves about what went wrong, being accountable for it, making adjustments, and then going out and fixing it with some urgency.

"In that space of the day to day, trying to build the best possible team and organization we can, we don't hear it.

"But I'm not deaf to it."

So take comfort in knowing that your president has had some sleepless nights, and that as players begin to trickle into camp, he will be vigilant.

His description of, essentially, tying his own hands because of so many things that went sideways last year is appropriate.

Theo Epstein is unhappy. And you don't have to tell him twice that you are, as well.

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