Putting a wrap on the 2017 season, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein spoke with the media today (as covered by Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times and Patrick Mooney of NBC Sports Chicago, among others).
While the Cubs did not quite live up to expectations — the team won *only* 92 games and did not return to the World Series — Epstein suggests that any failure is only relative to the lofty standards the organization now carries. The team’s competitive window is still fully open, he argues, saying that the Cubs are “really well positioned for the future.”
That said, it’s tough to deny that the roster showed more weak points than had been anticipated — a subject also addressed today by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs. With several key pitchers heading to free agency, some bullpen failings, and questions in the outfield, it seems there could be an opening for relatively significant change this offseason.
Epstein hardly promised a shake-up, but did suggest a willingness to consider trading from a stock of players that may have been seen as mostly off-limits in the not-so-distant past:
“Sooner or later you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. We’re entering a phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”
That said, the approach doesn’t seem to be one where the Cubs will select a particular player and shop them around. Rather, Epstein suggested, the organization intends to take in a wide array of possibilities — “pursue all avenues to get better” — and consider each opportunity on its own merit. Generally, he said, the team is “prepared to make some tough choices” and is interested in exploring ways to address “obvious deficits” from those areas of “real surplus.”
It’s not to difficult to guess at some of the broad strokes here. Beyond the untouchable superstars, the team has a variety of talented young position players — Albert Almora, Ian Happ, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber, most prominently — that overlap to some degree with other members of the roster. And the Cubs believe they have more starting-caliber players than can receive regular time on one roster. Given the need to replace starters Jake Arrieta and John Lackey, as well as to find a new closer and add some “pure strike throwers” in the bullpen (as Epstein put it), the stage could be set for some interesting trade chatter over the winter.