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Thoughts on Theo Epstein’s last news conference with the Cubs

The Cubs President of Baseball Operations says he’s going to be a fan going forward, and he praised his successor, Jed Hoyer.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Theo Epstein joked during his news conference Tuesday afternoon from Wrigley Field that he’d probably “buy season tickets” going forward, and he thanked his family for their acceptance of sacrifices they needed to make so he could devote the hours necessary for doing his job as President of Baseball Operations for the Cubs. He said he’d look forward to taking his sons, Jack and Drew, to games at Wrigley Field, and specifically stated that Chicago is “home” for his family and they intend to stay for the long term.

This is a strong hint that Theo’s not going to take another job at his current level, at least not immediately, and that he and his family have become Chicagoans and intend to stay there, for now, at least. He told reporters when asked specifically about this that he intends to have a “third chapter” in baseball, but wants to spend time with his family and “other pursuits” and take some time off. I believe him; you won’t see him in an executive suite in 2021. He said he wants to “serve the game” in the near future but was noncommittal about that.

The other thing that is significant about what Epstein said in his remarks during the news conference is that he and Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts had been discussing Theo’s future with the organization for “a couple of years” given Theo’s stated preference to stay no more than 10 years in this sort of job.

You know, when Theo made that statement on his departure from the Red Sox, I thought it was just a way for him to cover the fact that there wasn’t really an amicable departure for Theo from Boston, his home town, and the fact that he’d worked (about) 10 years there was a convenient excuse for leaving.

It seems he was serious about the “10 years” comment; he now completes a bit more than nine years as Cubs GM, about the same length of time as his predecessor, Jim Hendry. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to change up things in an executive suite in baseball from time to time; processes can get stale and perhaps a fresh voice can be a catalyst for change.

Jed Hoyer is both that “fresh voice” and someone with quite a bit of experience in baseball in general and with the Cubs specifically. He’s been second-in-command for Theo Epstein for Theo’s entire time with the Cubs, as well as working under him for several years in Boston and also serving as general manager of the Padres in 2010 and 2011. Hoyer has been responsible for acquiring Anthony Rizzo twice. He brought Rizzo to San Diego in trade in December 2010, and then was part of Theo’s team who acquired him for the Cubs in January 2012. Incidentally, Hoyer and Epstein are almost exactly the same age. They were born within about three weeks of each other in December 1973.

We don’t know what approaches Hoyer will take that will either be the same or different than they were under Epstein, because Hoyer has pretty much been in the background the entire time of this front-office regime. It’s a pretty good assumption that the vast majority of the trade and free-agent signings made since October 2011 have been supervised by Epstein, though Theo did specifically give Hoyer credit, during the news conference, for pushing strongly for the acquisition of Pedro Strop as a “throw-in” in the Jake Arrieta deal.

What Theo did say about Jed is that both he and Tom Ricketts thought it would be good to have a successor who would be there for “a long time,” not just one year, and that, apparently, is happening:

This will give continuity as well as a different voice. Though Theo & Jed have been together for many years, they are different people. At this moment, we don’t know if Hoyer will hire someone to be “general manager” under him or whether he’ll simply combine the job functions. I would imagine that most, if not all, of the baseball ops people who remain after all of last month’s layoffs, will continue in their roles under Hoyer.

Theo also brought up the pandemic and the changes that have been wrought in both baseball and the world as things that have changed the game and the way it has to be approached. Reading between the lines a bit, to me that implies that he didn’t really want to deal with those changes going forward, at least not right now.

What’s clear is that the Cubs need to change a couple of organizational approaches. One is on the field, the lack of players who are contact hitters. There are far too many one-dimensional hitters in the Cubs lineup, guys who strike out way too much. That needs to change. Behind the scenes, perhaps the biggest failure of Theo’s regime is the complete absence of drafting and developing pitching, either starting pitching or relief. Hopefully, with Dan Kantrovitz in place as VP of Scouting, that will change going forward. Theo specifically called out Kantrovitz in his news conference as one of the key people added in recent years, and I could see Kantrovitz as a possible future GM under Hoyer. Tom Ricketts said he doesn’t get involved in that hiring, filling that position would be up to Jed.

Lastly, it was interesting that Theo was clearly in the interview room at Wrigley Field, but everyone else was on the news conference from home, Tom Ricketts as well as reporters. He wrapped things up when he was asked by Tribune columnist Paul Sullivan whether he’d write a book by saying that doing that is for “old people.”

I’ll have further thoughts about Theo Epstein, specifically about his nine years running baseball operations for the Cubs, tomorrow.