SAN DIEGO – There’s a time to acquire prospects in the building of a team, and if that works out, there is a moment to acquire high-priced talent. Eventually, it goes back the other way as those prospects soon look to get their major payday in Major League Baseball.
The last stage is where Theo Epstein is right now at a very interesting time in his tenure as the president of the Cubs.
After failing to make the playoffs in 2019, then making a managerial switch, and with a number of their stars due for new contracts in the next two years, Epstein is weighing his options when it comes to building the 2020 club.
Should the team use this season to retool for the future? Is this still a season to go after a World Series title like the franchise has since 2015?
“We have the makings of a very, very good team that’s currently under control on our roster and we have the chance to win a division. We do that, and you have a chance to have a great October. That’s not to be taken lightly,” said Epstein Monday at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. “At the same time, we can’t just pretend that we can keep putting off making some important decisions for the future if there is an opportunity to strike and help ensure a better future, we have to do that.
“But we also have to be very mindful of what’s on our roster right now, how we can complement it, and put ourselves in the best position for 2020.”
Indeed Epstein doesn’t have decisions on a lot of his core players quite yet, but that day is coming sooner than later. The main player in the talks this week is Kris Bryant, who is due to be a free agent after the 2021 season. Should he win a grievance case against the team that he filed four years ago for his delayed MLB call-up, he could be a free agent after this coming season.
Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo are also due to be free agents after the 2021 season with Willson Contreras slated to hit the market after the 2022 season. The Cubs may look to move some of these “core” players in an attempt to build back some of their prospect base lost during the last few years or to sign another free agent this offseason.
According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, other executives around baseball have used the words “manic” and “aggressive” to describe the Cubs’ desire to move a major player this offseason. As one might expect, Epstein dismissed the notion that the team’s desperate to part ways with a core contributor.
“I think we’re excited about the possibilities of trying to get better for this year ahead,” said Epstein when asked about the speculation that the Cubs were eager to make a deal. “We’re not happy about where we ended up last year after four really successful years. Last year didn’t meet our standards and we want to try to do better next year and we’re also at point where after five-consecutive years of charging straight ahead and pouring a lot of resources in terms of prospect capital and dollars into trying to win now, we’re also at a point where we have to really think ahead and secure our future as well and try to create sustained success over a long period of time.
“That’s a challenge but it’s exciting. It’s an opportunity to get better now and in the future.”
Which one takes priority is still to be determined.