The Chicago Cubs announced on Tuesday that its President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein, is stepping down from the position after nine years.
As a Cubs fan, I’m a massive admirer of Epstein and what he brought to the franchise.
When he joined the club in 2011, it was at the beginning of a complete rebuild after missing its opportunity to capture an elusive World Series title between 2007-09. All Epstein did was build a team that made the NLCS three straight seasons, made the playoffs five out of six years, and oh yeah, snapped the longest World Series drought in the history of the sport.
And he did it the right way.
He made several draft picks that panned out excellently (Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, etc.), got the better end of several trades for then-prospects (Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks, etc.), signed high-impact free agents (Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, Dexter Fowler, etc.) and brought in the right manager at the right time (Joe Maddon).
But the franchise is now in decline, and Epstein is largely to blame.
Almost every major signing or trade the Cubs brass has made since 2016 has put the organization in a bind.
Jason Heyward is a fine player, but his contract is perhaps the worst in franchise history. Trading Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease for Jose Quintana has already proven to be a massive victory for the Cubs crosstown rivals, the White Sox. Craig Kimbrel has been an expensive mistake as well, save for the last month of the shortened 2020 season.
The 2020 Cubs had a legitimate chance at contention with some key additions, but they couldn’t afford to sign even one player above the major league minimum if they wanted to remain under the luxury tax threshold. And they couldn’t trade for impact players because they traded away all of their top prospects for rental closer in 2016 and a mediocre starting pitcher in 2017, and the 2017, 2018 and 2019 draft classes have yet to show much promise.
Now, the Cubs are left with a host of talented players nearing the end of their contracts (Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras, to name a few), and there is no possible way to retain all of them. The organization’s upper minor league teams lack big-league -ready talent, and half of the talented core that won three division championships in the last five years underperformed in both 2019 and 2020.
It’s time to rebuild the franchise again, and it doesn’t make sense to put the man responsible for causing the rebuild in charge of it.
Epstein deserves all of the praise he receives for breaking baseball’s two longest title droughts in Boston and Chicago. He is one of the greatest executives in the history of the sport, and I have no doubts that he will impact another franchise positively in the near future.
But all good things must come to an end, and Theo Epstein’s relationship with the Chicago Cubs is no different.
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