Despite a morning report of possible tension between Cubs president of baseball ops Theo Epstein and manager Joe Maddon, Epstein said at today’s end-of-season press conference that Maddon’s “status remains unchanged” and firmly stated that he’s happy to have Maddon as his manager (video link via MLB.com). “I know there was a sort of high-profile report this morning,” said Epstein. “That was not accurate. … There were some claims that he and I had personal friction. Not true at all. We have a terrific working relationship. We don’t agree all the time about baseball issues, and that’s the way it should be. I don’t want a ’yes man’ as a manager, and I don’t want a ’yes man’ relationship working the other way, either. I think there should be discord and debate and healthy, trusting relationships where you can work together to make the organization better.”
Epstein added that the team’s loss in the Wild Card game was “not on [Maddon]” and left little to no doubt about his status, saying he looks forward to Maddon coming back in 2019. As for the rest of the coaching staff, the Cubs have not made any firm decisions (video link), but Epstein cautioned against making changes to the staff just for the sake of making changes, stressing the importance of continuity.
More from the press conference…
- Epstein was blunt in suggesting that the Cubs’ offense “broke” at some point in the season and will need to be addressed heading into 2019 (video link). The Cubs “should be” an offensive force with the talent on their roster, he said before adding, “It’s probably time to stop evaluating this in terms of talent and start evaluating it in terms of production.”
- ESPN’s Jesse Rogers has more from the press conference, including some quotes on how pleased the Cubs were with their acquisition of Cole Hamels, who was dominant following a move from Arlington to Chicago. Epstein called Hamels a “breath of fresh air” and indicated he’d love to have both him and righty Pedro Strop back in the mix. The Cubs have a $20MM club option on Hamels for next season that comes with a $6MM buyout, though the Rangers would be responsible for that buyout if that route is taken. If the Cubs exercise the option, they’d be responsible for the full $20MM sum. Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times tweets that Epstein called Hamels “absolutely someone we want to be part of the mix going forward,” though that vote of confidence is still a bit shy of definitively stating that the option will be exercised.
- Strop’s $6.25MM option seems like a more straightforward decision. On Strop, Epstein was extraordinarily complimentary of his longtime setup man (Twitter links via Wittenmyer), calling him “such a big part of the heartbeat of this team” and lauding the way in which he pitched through pain when returning from a “four to six week injury” in roughly half that time frame. As for injured closer Brandon Morrow, the Cubs are “very comfortable” with him as the team’s primary closer next season and will “commit again to a very structured role with him” in an effort to maintain his health.
- The status of Kris Bryant’s left shoulder has been a talking point among Cubs fans as the former MVP struggled through a down season (by his lofty standards), but Epstein doesn’t believe that Bryant will require surgery (Twitter link via Rogers). Shoulder woes limited Bryant to 102 games (including Game 163), and he posted a .272/.374/.460 slash with 13 homers, 28 doubles and three triples. For most players, that’d be a terrific season — it checked in about 19 percent better than league average, per OPS+, and about 25 percent better according to wRC+ — but each of those rate stats checked in well south of the .293/.397/.546 Bryant posted from 2016-17.