Rozner: Why Theo Epstein will probably make some major changes to Cubs

  • Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein looks on during a spring training baseball workout in Mesa, Arizona.

    Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein looks on during a spring training baseball workout in Mesa, Arizona. Associated PRess/Feb. 12, 2020

 
 
Updated 10/3/2020 3:58 PM

Theo Epstein is not the type to drive a franchise off a cliff.

He could if he wanted to. He could simply play it out next season with the same roster, hope for the best and then let half the lineup walk as free agents.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But that's not his style.

Whether or not he stays beyond next season, Epstein doesn't want to leave the Cubs without a roster for 2022 and headed for the state in which he discovered this rotting corpse. It wasn't his intention to rebuild an entire organization, win a championship and then drop a bag of dread in the next GM's lap.

It will be 10 years for Epstein on the North Side in 2021 and in the past he has spoken of a decade being the length at which a front office needs a new voice -- and the execs within it a fresh start.

Those were generalities, not a promise, but without a contract beyond 2021 it's fair to wonder if he might want to try a different team, a new type of job in baseball, another sport or even politics.

He would make an excellent commissioner, though he would also hate it. Epstein loves to compete and there's no winning in that job.

But as it stands, after 2021 the Cubs will lose free agents Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber. This winter, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood are free agents, and Jon Lester has a $25 million team option or a $10-million buyout.

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The guess here is the Cubs will pay him the buyout and then hope Lester -- 37 in January -- wants to remain at a reduced price.

Based on the ugly finish in 2018, followed by another in 2019, Epstein wanted to begin making changes last winter, but poor player performances and an odd marketplace made that difficult.

Considering the current economic climate with so much uncertainty and plummeting revenues, it's hard to predict what the appetite will be for Cubs players making decent money while unable to hit in 2020.

Beyond 2021, some of these players are going to be in for a surprise. It might take MLB five years to recover from the economic disaster that was this abbreviated season.

As for what just occurred with the Cubs and Marlins, there should be little surprise given what you witnessed over the previous month or two, so the word "shock" did not belong in the many headlines after the Marlins dispatched the Cubs in a pair of low-scoring games.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It's not shocking at all. The Cubs looked like a .500 team heading to Arizona and might not have made the playoffs had there been a full regular season.

Naturally, the players expressed sadness and dismay over losing, a result they didn't see coming and could not explain. They're players. They expect to win and can't explain losing.

But this group hasn't played like the 2016 champs since the 2017 postseason, when the staff was on fumes and Joe Maddon exacerbated the situation with more bizarre postseason managing.

They won 95 games in 2018, but when Baez cooled off in the final weeks, the offense evaporated and Milwaukee caught the Cubs with a remarkable September.

In 2019, they lost nine in a row in September when there was still a chance and let go of the rope as Maddon could only sit and watch it happen.

Now, that group is one year older and many a year closer to finding a new address, perhaps only a month or two from that fate unless some are willing to sign extensions for much less than they imagined.

But what a run it has been, with five playoff appearances, three NLCS and a World Series in six years, the best stretch for the franchise since 1908, and arguably the best in its history.

For many fans, it's all they could have ever hoped for, but for Epstein it is not what he expected, a young group that had so many good years in front of it, a group that has now hit a wall.

Three years without winning a playoff game. You don't need a bigger sample size.

If given the chance, and the market will determine that, Epstein will begin now to reshape the roster and break up a group that gave Cub fans the thrill of a lifetime.

It doesn't mean it won't hurt him to do it, but it's not his job to fall in love with his players. That's your job. His job is to keep the team contending for as long as possible.

This group hasn't done that since 2017. Change is necessary, sooner than later if the market allows.

Theo Epstein isn't going to drive this bus off a cliff and jump out the door before just before it leaves the ground. As he departs, he wants to make certain the team is still in a position to win.

Whenever that might be.

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