Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein met with reporters Monday to discuss the team’s disappointing season, its upcoming winter and its newly launched search for a manager. Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, Jordan Bastian of MLB.com and Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune were among those on hand.
Just as previous manager Joe Maddon wasn’t safe after the Cubs sputtered to 84-78 finish, multiple stars on the team’s roster could be in danger of exiting the franchise. Specifically, Epstein seemingly isn’t slamming the door shut on potential trades involving third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant or shortstop Javier Baez.
“I think they’re both hugely important, and it’d be hard to see them out of a Cubs uniform, but we’re at a transition point, and we have to do whatever is best for the Cubs,” Epstein said. “I hope it includes both of those guys.”
As two of the finest players in the game, Bryant and Baez have been vital to the Cubs’ cause throughout their careers. However, the club’s control over them is waning. Both players are scheduled to enter arbitration for the second-last time during the winter, with the former NL MVP Bryant about to become especially expensive. Bryant earned $12.9MM this season, during which the 27-year-old posted star-caliber numbers yet again. Baez, 26, took home a more modest $5.2MM, and though injuries held him to 138 appearances, he enjoyed his second straight year of premier production for his position.
As of last February, the Cubs hadn’t discussed extensions with either Bryant or Baez. If the Cubs aren’t optimistic they can lock up either player, that could possibly persuade them to shop one or both. However, contending without Bryant and-or Baez would only be more difficult, and Epstein noted that winning “is a priority” in 2020 “because we’re now just two years away from a lot of our best players reaching the end of their period of control with the Cubs.”
Regardless of what happens with Bryant or Baez, Epstein revealed the Cubs are going to address center field and second base in the offseason. That suggests center fielder Albert Almora Jr., middle infielder Addison Russell, and utilitymen David Bote and maybe Ian Happ are “in flux,” Wittenmyer writes, who adds that the majority of the roster could be in play for trades (with the potential exceptions of catcher Willson Contreras, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and right-hander Kyle Hendricks).
As for who will be managing what could be a drastically different Chicago roster next season, former Cubs catcher and current special assistant David Ross has already thrown his hat in the ring. Epstein admitted there’s interest in hiring the fan favorite to take over for Joe Maddon, saying: “I think Rossy is an attractive candidate and will be evaluated on the merits of what he can bring to the table as a major-league manager. Given his skills, his experiences, his worldview, what he knows about winning, just as every other managerial candidate will be evaluated.”
Ross is part of a “broad list” of preliminary candidates, according to Epstein, with reports indicating it could also include bench coach Mark Loretta. The Cubs expect to start interviewing targets next week, and though hiring someone with previous managerial experience isn’t “a determining factor,” it is a “significant factor,” Epstein stated. “I have a greater comfort for someone handling the role before.”