Theo Epstein Says He Wants to Improve the Cubs Roster, but ‘Obstacles’ in Way


Chicago Cubs Owner Tom Ricketts may not be aware of how disgruntled the fan base currently is, but President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein sure is. He understands how malcontent (and deservedly so) Cubs supporters are right now and he’s hoping to get something done between now and opening day that will make the fans feel better about what kind of team they’ll have in 2020.

Epstein, along with his long time business partner, Cubs Vice President and General Manager Jed Hoyer appeared at the first panel on the second day of Cubs Convention. During the session, two fans basically asked the same question, but in different wording, and it’s one of only two Q&As that actually matter right now. Why hasn’t the team done anything at all to improve the roster this offseason?

You already know what those “obstacles” are- Theo’s bosses. The Cubs are one of just two teams in Major League Baseball not to have signed anybody to a MLB deal this winter. Instead they’ve made a ton of minor league deal acquisitions. The answer is simple- Theo Epstein wants to close deals, and get new players in to beef up the roster and make the team more competitive, but Ricketts just won’t allocate the funding.

Epstein also added this:

“I know we haven’t given you much to cling on to this winter, other teams have made moves, we haven’t, but we’re working.”

“It’s not opening day yet there is still a chance of some changes, we hope there will be.”

On one hand, the Cubs had the third highest payroll in baseball and they went way over budget on the stadium upgrades and renovations.

On the other hand, the Cubs are raising ticket prices yet again, they just got their own TV network, which will extract more money from their fans/add another revenue stream and they’re the fourth most valuable franchise in baseball/among the most lucrative and powerful sports clubs in the world.

They’re basically printing money right now, and even if a lot of  that cash is going out the window, their astronomical valuation and brand value gives them endless leverage. That said, there is only so far the club can go in being transparent about their financial ledgers.

And no matter how aggressive, or passive, or anywhere in between that you’re approaching your offseason, it’s never a good idea to tip your hand on what you’re doing. No matter what free agents you’re pursuing, talking about it just drives up the price.

“Transparency is very important to us, we like to tell the truth and be open,” Epstein added, “but there are certain areas where we can’t be transparent. Payroll, budget..we have to be a little bit more ambiguous.”

While the off-season has been quiet, Jed mentioned the changes in coaching, scouting, we had a managerial switch and some shuffling in the business side/front office.

“I know those aren’t the transactions you guys want,” Hoyer said. “We pick up the paper everyday, but you’re going to see dividends.” 

And yes, the major objective of this session was to mollify Cubs fans who are upset about the crickets chirping and tumbleweeds of this off-season. “Maybe something will happen by opening day?” is the best thing (perhaps the only thing) that Theo Epstein can say right now. At least he was self-critical and showed some accountability.

“If we had done our jobs the past years, those (budgeting) problems would still be there, but they wouldn’t be as bad,” he said.

It would be great if his bosses could show a similar level of the need to be more responsible.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC and Chicago on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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