One of the expectations of the near future is that Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein could leave his post after the 2021 season. That isn’t a certainty, but it seems likely. The long-time expectation has been that either Jed Hoyer or Jason McLeod would replace him. I was a willing participant in believing that mindset. Then, I changed my mind. What would be necessary for me to be willing to accept Hoyer or McLeod as a replacement for Epstein in a few years? McLeod, of course, has been “kicked upstairs” from his former position in charge of amateur scouting. Now he’s VP of player development.
In this recent article by Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney in The Athletic, they had some things to say about Theo’s future:
Trying to guess Theo Epstein’s next move — once his contract expires after the 2021 season — has been a fun game within baseball circles. After almost two decades as a general manager or president of baseball operations in two of baseball’s toughest markets, it’s easy to pick apart this trade or that free-agent deal when — in the big picture — Epstein raised the expectations at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field to winning multiple World Series titles.
However, Epstein’s immeasurable value to a franchise is during these moments of crisis. Whether it’s addressing the team or speaking to fans through the media, you know that he will come prepared, measure his words carefully and remember the real-world implications. In this case, he said the Cubs would listen to the scientists and be transparent with their players. He also called attention to the lack of coronavirus testing across the country.
If Epstein jumps to another team in the future, the implicit message to baseball fans in that city will be: We know what we’re doing here.
I initially bought into Team Theo, particularly over other regimes before. He strung together useful starting rotations in the lower minors, with a degree of depth. Depth ran up the flagpole. Eventually, the pitching tended to hit a barrier. Hitters, having been routinely been drafted in lower numbers to pitchers, haven’t progressed in depth, either. After the initial talent run, the second and third waves tended to be less than hoped. Toss in a few rather large free agency misfires, and the sanctity of the replacements was mitigated.
I wasn’t a fan of the Dodgers system in the 2013-2017 years. I wasn’t sold on the Astros approach to their system. I knew what I knew, or thought I did, through tracking games in the Cubs pipeline. One of the players that changed my mind on the Astros was outfielder Myles Straw. Selected in the 12th round from St. John’s River Community College in Palatka, Florida, he was far better than the standard Myrtle Beach Pelicans player in the season he was in the Carolina League. Absurdly quick, and solid defensively, his OPS in a pitcher’s league was just under .800, and he hit well in limited big-league time in 2019. If the Astros are divining players that are that good from colleges that I’m entirely unfamiliar with, when will the Cubs start to do the same?
With the Dodgers, Max Muncy put me over the top. Los Angeles was hitting on the early pick, and I already knew that. However, by picking a player up off the street (he signed with Los Angeles as a free agent in April 2018 after the Athletics released him) and turning him into a 4+ WAR player, I wanted that for the Cubs, as well.
Circling back to the original question, what will be necessary for me to want an in-house option to replace Epstein and Hoyer? It’s a bit simple to say, but much more difficult to figure out if the boxes are being checked. Much of the assessment of “is it being accomplished?” is based on the past. What Albert Almora Jr. should or shouldn’t be expected to produce (he’s perfectly acceptable for a sixth overall pick in the draft) shouldn’t be the question. Can the brass trade for a lead-off hitter? Similarly off-base. Any proven lead-off hitter isn’t likely not be swapped, regardless. Finding a lead-off man available would be a great addition, but it certainly wouldn’t be easily accomplished.
What would be necessary for me to want Door Number One or Two, instead of Door Three? Over the next 24 months, the major names in the pipeline would need to continue to develop. Brennen Davis and Brailyn Marquez had fantastic seasons in 2019. Nico Hoerner has been better than expected, when healthy. Miguel Amaya looks to be an MLB regular, so far. Ryan Jensen pitched around wildness in his first partial season.
Surprises need to be unearthed and polished. Robel Garcia qualifies as found money, as does Jack Patterson, a 32nd-round pick from Bryant College in Rhode Island. Free agent signing Kyle Ryan was quite useful in last season’s bullpen. Trade additions Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck appear to be current pluses. As players that internally answer the glaringly obvious needs the team has, Hoyer and McLeod become more useful as long-term retentions. As with player additions, a promise of a useful future should be prioritized of a history of degrees of success. Through draft picks, and guessing right in free agency.
Having a better system to produce results, regardless the methods (They all need to be utilized.), should be the bottom-line expectation. If Hoyer, McLeod, or both, are the best options for the years after Epstein leaves, if he does, they should be atop the preference list. If another organization is quite a bit better at it? Choose someone from the organization that would more likely best locate and develop talent, regardless the players’ age, for Cubs fans. Mine isn’t the only valid perception, but it’s the one I’m most comfortable with assessing.
When Theo Epstein’s contract is up after the 2021 season, the Cubs President of Baseball Operations going forward should be...
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