The Rundown: The Anti-Epstein Twilight Zone, Sox Troll Cubs, Bargain Shopping, Dodgers Dodge ‘Cheap’ Label

As far as I’m concerned, Cubs fans have really short memories. It seems odd that there is a what-have-you-done-lately attitude surrounding the front office, considering that the team’s most recent championship and the one before are separated by 108 years. The team has won 387 games over the last four seasons, including three NLCS berths, and that championship in 2016, yet the vibe exists that Theo Epstein and his staff have something to prove this season.

“Hi, this is Dominick from Franklin Park. Excuse the background noise, I’m hands-free on the Skyway and I just wanted to ask: Why are the Cubs sticking with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who have done nothing to improve this team this winter? I hope you’re gonna tell me that Theo’s lying in the weeds and is gonna pounce on Harper in the next week or two, otherwise, I say get rid of him.”

That was an actual call into MLB Radio last week, though I’m paraphrasing a little. Are we ready for front office changes if the Cubs fall short of a World Series victory this summer?

Have you ever watched the Twilight Zone? Let’s change up the episode “It’s a Good Life” just a bit to background this narrative. I’ll be Rod Serling.

“On a given morning not too long ago, the rest of the world disappeared and Peaksville was left all alone. Its inhabitants were never sure whether the world was destroyed with only Peaksville left untouched or whether the village had somehow been taken away. They were, on the other hand, sure of one thing: the cause. A monster had arrived in the village. Just by using his mind, he took away Peaksville’s confidence in itself and its leaders — because suddenly, and without reason, the monster was displeased. Now the monster has moved an entire community back into the dark ages of the previous 108 years.

Oh, I’d like to introduce you to some of the people in Peaksville. This is Jed Hoyer. It’s in his lack of performance that this monster strengthens. This is his boss, Mr. Epstein, who actually had more control over the monster in the beginning than almost anyone. In the beginning he kept a tight rein on Peaksville’s budget, but success came quickly and he amplified spending until he could spend no more.

Now, the monster became unhappy because of the lack of continued spending, so he turned Messrs. Hoyer and Epstein into the smiling, vacant beings you see this winter. And you’ll note that the people in Peaksville no longer smile. Instead, they hope the monster can wish Epstein and Hoyer away or change them into grotesque, walking horrors.

Oh yes, I did forget something, didn’t I? I forgot to introduce you to the monster. This is the monster. He is the Peaksville baseball team’s fanbase. He’s three years old, born the day after Peaksville’s last championship, and he sports a cute little-boy face and guileless eyes. But in those eyes is the power to destroy everything that’s been built over the course of the past eight years. This is Peaksville, and this is the Twilight Zone.”

Let’s pump the brakes for a second, Epstein’s stated goal as been to compete for a championship every season. I’d grade him at an A+ on that alone.

Yes, despite averaging 97 wins per season over the past four years, there is a growing contingent of Cubs fans that would like to see Tom Ricketts fire Epstein and his staff. It’s unfathomable to me that Cubs fans no longer share the vision of this front office. Sure, they’ve made mistakes in free agency, but nothing as egregious as what the Los Angeles Angels have done over the last six years.

But look at all of baseball’s whiff rate on $100 million free agent contracts. There’s a reason why front offices league-wide have been hesitant to spend, and Chris Davis of the Orioles is your poster boy there. From 1999-2013, there were 48 $100 million-plus contracts handed out by front offices, and the success rates were middling at best. Since 2016, there have been just five, with no contracts exceeding nine-figures signed in 2016-17.

Jeff Burdick wrote a piece over the weekend focusing on the draft failures of this front office. I somewhat agree with Jeff that the Cubs could have drafted better, but I think player development is more of an issue. The Cubs Way has lost its way in the deeper parts of the organization. The front office intends to fix that, and here’s hoping fans lighten up. I have little doubt that 2019 will grace us with another championship-caliber season.

Cubs News & Notes

Monday Stove

The Royals extended Whit Merrifield yesterday. The all-purpose super-utility player will be the centerpiece of Kansas City’s rebuild.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler wants to be “more Philly.” He could walk around dressed up like Ben Franklin, but if the Phillies fail to and on of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado he won’t feel a lot of Philadelphia affection.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is 25 pounds lighter and 100 percent ready for spring training. Jansen is off medication after having his second heart surgery this winter.

The Cardinals are hoping Paul Gosldchmidt will elevate their entire infield.

Mookie Betts will not accompany the rest of his Red Sox teammates when they visit the White House.

Drew Smyly is ready to join the Rangers’ rotation after a grueling recovery from Tommy John surgery.

A few prominent White Sox players delivered their pitch to Machado over the weekend.

You can add the Indians and Twins to the growing list of teams defending their payroll thriftiness.

Extra Innings

The Dodgers payroll has dropped by almost $100 million since 2015, but Stan Kasten says that doesn’t make Los Angeles cheap. Kasten dismissed the idea during the team’s annual FanFest on Saturday and called it “anecdotal” while answering questions from fans and media.

“You keep making this stuff up,” Kasten said.

Whether you believe it is collusion or something else, it’s getting harder and harder to deny that baseball front offices do not share a like-minded operational stance when it comes to free agency.

Monday Walk Up Song

Monster by Mumford & Sons.

38 Comments

  1. Michael, I, of course, cannot speak for others; but my disdain for Epstein has nothing to do with success; but rather his style of how he runs his operation.
    I’m tired of watching youngsters (right now, pitchers) being continually blocked from advancing up the system by cast-offs from other teams.
    That was understandable in 2 013-15, but now that they are successful, I want to see the organization rely on its own talent, trades, and an occasional free agent to fill a need here or there.
    If you are going to spend big money, do it by rewarding your own so that they will stay with the organization perhaps for an entire career.
    He just rubs me wrong with his continual statement sseeking self-promotion.
    Moreover, I doubt his commitment to stay and his playing around with all sorts of eccentric ideas — to me, at least.
    He loves bureaucracy protecting the “king of the hill” — not surprising given his politics.

    As far as being a Cubs fan, it’s going not to be there for much longer unless he moves on or radically changes his style.

    I marvel how successful the Cubs were last season given all the adversity including Epstein’s new player choices that didn’t work out, injuries, the extended no-off days streak, and off-field stuff.
    The Cubs had a successful season despite Theo and I give Maddon and the players and coaches — including Jiim Hickey and Chili Davis — credit.

    Epstein did his job in bringing a winner to Addison and Sheffield; but it’s time for him to take on his next rebuild job which likely will be successful again.

    For me, it’s philosophy and styyle — and, even if they won it all in ’19’, it won’t change my perspective.

    1. There haven’t been issues with pitchers being blocked by cast-offs. Do you really believe that if the Cubs felt their pitching prospects were ready, they’d keep them in the minors to sign random free agents?

    2. I don’t even know where to begin here, Mike. If the FO, who by the way has managed to do what no other FO of said team has done in 108 years, is the reason you stop being a Cubs fan then we don’t need you as a fan. Regarding, developing pitching, I think the FO would be the first to tell you that they’ve come up short, nobody’s perfect. However, it’s not like the Cubs had elite prospects to develop, having never even placed a pitcher in a top 100 prospects list. Sometimes it just takes elite talent to develop elite talent in the first place. Regarding the signings last off season, yes they swung and missed on Chatwood. Darvish will be fine, he always has been, it’s not like Epstein can predict the future. Morrow had warning signs with his past injury history, Epstein knew this and asked Maddon to use him very conservatively, then Maddon went back to back days with him, no suprise then, when he got hurt. And if winning multiple WS championships for a franchise that’s gone 3 generations without one doesn’t change your perspective, then no one can help you.

        1. Maddon would have ruined Mariano Rivera. Plus To serve man is a better twilight Zone episode to compare the Cubs and their fans. The Kannamits (front office) fattened up the fans then devoured them.

          1. I don’t know how you see it that way but whatever. I’ll take 95-win seasons year after year and be quite content.

      1. Nice contribution by the way. I think Darvish will be fine and I even have hope for Chatwood. If Montgomery has to spit start I think Chatwood will excel as a 3-4 inning swing man provided he is a little more consistent in the strike zone

    3. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion mike but I think this FO has done a great job of promoting young players up to the major leagues or trading those that are blocked by others. As far as young pitching, who could/should they promote? There’s nobody decent in the system and I don’t think a pitcher exists in this system that is ready to get major league batters out consistently.

      1. Guys who came up from the minors in ’18 to try and help the team, with varying degrees of success; Bote, Hancock, Underwood, Bass, Rosario, Mills, Norwood, Farrell. Everyday/roster players that came out of the farm system; Baez, Bryant, Almora, Schwarber, Happ, Contreras, Caratini. SO, I’m not sure how the assertion can be made that youngsters are “blocked”, or held back, from coming up and helping the big league squad.

        I have absolutely been critical of the Cubs front office this off-season, so call me part of the monster if you will. Although I have certainly never called for Theo/Jed’s dismissal – as I don’t know of anyone else I would want running the Cubs. I have stated on more than one occasion, that once a team is in “win now” mode every year, you are going to have misses. When it’s high-stakes, that’s the nature of the beast. So while I didn’t like the Smyly, La Stella, and Descalso deals (and hated the Quintana trade the day it happened), I think they will still put one heck of a team on the field this year, and that’s all we can really ask for, isn’t it?

        As someone else has already opined here in this comment section – as fans we can and should be discerning, critical of the moves our beloved team makes. There’s a big difference between that, and wanting to just throw out the baby, bathwater, and tub altogether.

        Great piece, Michael. Definitely needed to be said/put out there.

        1. I think fans all have to keep a realistic expectation of money being spent in the first place. The Cubs had the third highest payroll in baseball last year and are only going up this year, likely surpassing the luxury tax penalty. If the complaint is about not spending money, don’t blame Theo or the FO on that, billionaires don’t get to be being billionaires by spending lavishly. They get there by making sure every asset they’ve allocated are turning handsome products. If you want to blame anyone, blame the Ricketts family, though I’d probably even then dial it back on that. Honestly, the players on the roster already are enough to win a WS.

          1. Agreed. If the Cubs payroll was sitting at $190-$195 mil, then I think a more valid complaint by fans can be made. That’s not the case though, they are maxed out from a tax standpoint.

          2. Quoted you in my column today. Not sure if Evan will leave it in though. I don’t know company policy on that. But it’s the thought that counts.

          3. BTW – I liked the cliché caller “Nicky from Bridgeport” bit. Dead-on accurate. If you ever really want to (temporarily-too much will give you a headache) experience BAD callers and bad host response/interaction – listen to the Les Grobstien overnight show on the score. It’s a whole ‘nother level.

          4. I love how callers feel the need to background their calls with the boring minutae of their lives. Like I never would have noticed the b/g noise if he didn’t first mention it, but once he did, it was so obvious it existed. A caller this morning on MLB Radio said “Give Ian Happ 450 at bats and you have a player who is everything that Andrew Bennitendi is.” How many ABs did Happ have last year, and also, tell me who struck out more while you’re at it. I’ll sit down and wait for my answer.

          5. Thanks for the reference in today’s Rundown. Another great piece – and no, not because I was quoted in it!

            The wind is currently trying to blow my house over.

  2. Lots of narcissism on here. Generally FO thats are successful usually depart one way or the other, generally every 10 yrs. Does this mean Theo & Jed are soon to depart? No, not at all. Personally, I think TR will let them leave on their own after breaking the WS barrier. I feel they will leave when : they are bored & no longer feel challenged, or when they feel the resources are not there any more to meet the Cubs goals. 1 thing I am dissapointed about is the inability to draft and develop pitchers. Perhaps the new “positions” created can help bring that about. Wondering if guys like Sele, Benedict and similiar folks can help in that area?

    1. I agree – Epstein will step down the minute he becomes bored or feels unchallenged. I read somewhere over the weekend his next challenge may be putting an ownership group together to buy a team. Seems perfect for him. It won’t happen in Chicago, and I’m sure he will be missed.

  3. We all think “fan” means fanatic. It also can mean Fickle Ass Numbskulls haha!!

    I’m like your stuff, Michael..cheers!

  4. I’m a firm believer in staying away from extremes. The Cubs are never as good as some crazy optimists think, or as bad as the naysayers cry about…except for 1981, yes, that team was THAT bad. With solid starting pitching (likely), bullpen (more likely) and a productive lineup (extremely likely), this team will win the central this year.

    1. Ken Reitz at 3B and Pat Tabler at 2B? What could possibly have gone wrong? Didn’t the Cubs actually fire the GM mid season instead of the manager?

      1. Here’s an interesting stat about those ‘81 Cubs – Bill Buckner and Ivan DeJesus had 41 errors combined IN A 105-GAME SEASON.

        Holy mackerel.

        1. …and Buckner/Durham were the only decent offensive bright spots on that team. Steve Henderson relied upon to prove offense. That is offensive.

      2. Kennedy and Franks…ugh. Dallas came in with new ownership. That team was worse than most expansion offerings. I even hate the baseball cards that year.

  5. Meh. If you look at a five-year rolling average of front office accomplishments, I have no doubt that the current Cubs FO is by far the best in more than 100 years. But it does not follow that there is anything wrong with fans who choose to focus not on that kind of perspective, but instead on what is the team’s current situation and what kinds of moves need to be made to maximize success in that current situation. And if a front office fails to make those moves – or if previous moves have eliminated the flexibility to make needed moves without providing a commensurate performance payoff – then I think it is not the least bit Twilight Zone for fans to be critical.

    I’m not remotely suggesting I think the current FO should be dumped. That is a long-term decision that should only be made using a long-term perspective. But they should not be immune from criticism, nor should all critics be lumped in with those who go to excessive extremes.

    1. I don’t think Theo and Jed should not be subject to criticism, and I think Theo Epstein has said at times that the he should bear the burden of the team’s failures last season.

      But I’ve watched front office after front office run this team like a bunch of rodeo clowns since 1970. In my wildest dreams I never believed I would live through a time when 90+ wins is the new normal.

      Epstein and Hoyer have connected far more than they’ve missed and that’s the thing – too many people count the ‘16 series as a minimal success. I mean it was immortal if you think about it.

      I’d say they’re 60/40 on player acquisitions and though the biggest grenades are the Chapman and Quintana trades, flags fly forever and Jimenez/Cease still have to prove themselves in the big leagues.

      PS – I’d still reverse the Quintana trade if I could.

      1. I would have reversed it the day it occurred. That deal is easily the worst of this tenure, but everyone should get a break or two when a special flag waves in perpetuity.

      2. “In my wildest dreams I never believed I would live through a time when 90+ wins is the new normal.”
        I feel the same way. (I am a 52 year fan of the Cubs if anyone cares.)
        Something else I never would have believed: The Cubs are a 90+ win team and tied for the division title last season but many of their fans are complaining about the front office and seem to be implying that the upcoming season will be horrible.

  6. Michael I would never deny anybody their own opinion. Me personally, After watching years of horrible Cub teams I can’t just accept A 4 year run of playoffs including 1 World Series, getting swept out of 2 NLCS, and one 1st round exit as my lifetime pay off for being Cub fan. I will always be thankful to Theo Epstein For the championship. Unfortunately, As in Boston Theo got away from doing the smaller things for which he is brilliant at, And jumped primarily into the free agency. When he made mistakes he kept using free agency to buy out his mistakes. Now he is in the same spot he was in in Boston, ownership cuts him off of spending. As far as Jason McLeod goes, 3 out of 4 1st round Picks have questions. Plus little to nothing to show for 7 years. He ought to be thankful for his friendship with Theo Epstein and getting paid near a million dollars a year for being the steaming pile of hot garbage.

    1. Robert, if I would have asked you six years ago if you’d take two division championships, three NLCS berths, and a world title you’d have signed up without hesitation. Let’s be brutally honest here – none of us could have or should have imagined the run this team us on. The Cubs haven’t been this consistently good since 1905–1918.

      Also, in Boston, his decision to NOT spend in free agency was overridden by ownership and he left because they weren’t seeing eye to eye. You’ll notice, that without fault, every year, Tom Ricketts says he leaves all roster decisions to Epstein.

      Like I said, he’s about 60/40 and that’s pretty good considering that the success rates of minor league players is somewhere around 30-35% and that $100M free agent contracts have been historically a 50/50 proposition.

      I’ll agree with you on McLeod however.

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