The Chicago Cubs are no longer the darlings of major league baseball. As teams within their own division quietly get better, the once dominate Cubs are simply stuck in limbo, thanks to Theo Epstein.
Anyone who believes the Chicago Cubs are still the team to beat in the NL Central should stop kidding themselves. That belief may have been true in recent years, but since winning the 2016 World Series, the Cubs have been seemingly stuck in reverse, unable to capitalize on sustaining the momentum that comes from being a champion.
The reality is that many teams across the league have shown more long-term promise than the Cubs as of late. The Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals, in particular, appear to be on the rise as championship contenders, rather than on the decline. The Cubs, unfortunately, are trending in the opposite direction as those two teams.
Theo Epstein deserves credit for helping deliver the Cubs’ first World Series championship in 108 years, but he also deserves just as much blame for his baffling roster moves that have stunted the team’s growth in recent seasons.
Signing Jason Heyward to a long-term deal has buyer’s remorse written all over it, given his struggles as a hitter since joining the organization back in 2016. Trading away two top prospects to their rival, the Chicago White Sox, in exchange for Jose Quintana continues to look worse with each passing day. Both OF Eloy Jimenez and SP Dylan Cease are showing way more promise than Quintana has with their new organization.
Taking a flyer on Yu Darvish was risky, and while that “bust” label in beginning to shine bright, it’s too early to conclude that Darvish was a mistake to bring in. He can still bounce back next season and beyond.
The same can’t be said regarding Tyler Chatwood. Bringing in a pitcher who can’t throw strikes better than guys who are stuck in the minors is as baffling as it gets. Especially when Epstein is paying him over $38 million over three seasons.
As it currently stands, the Cubs are the third best team in their division. The Brewers have already proven to be better than the Cubs by winning the NL Central this past season. They also outplayed the Cubs down the stretch, shutting the Cubs’ bats down just like everyone else did in the final month of the season.
That’s because the Cubs did much of their aggressive free agent pursuit last offseason, agreeing to multi-year deals with Darvish and Chatwood. Apparently Epstein didn’t get the memo that a better free agent class was lurking this offseason instead.
When reports are swirling that the White Sox, a team that hasn’t won meaningful games in multiple seasons, have a better shot at acquiring Harper than the Cubs who are used to winning consistently, that says it all.
The Cubs’ organization is simply in a tough bind right now. They don’t have enough spending money to make a splash in free agency when one could be used, given the current state of the under-achieving roster.
Furthermore, they now have no top-tier minor league prospects who give the team hope for the future. Even worse, young players who were supposed to be staples to the Cubs’ championship window, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, and Addison Russell, are all now being mentioned in potential trade talks. They wouldn’t be if they had performed better in recent seasons.
Lastly, going through constant shuffling of hitting coaches year-round won’t make much of a difference if the same group of players continue to under-whelm in big games.
Epstein has pushed many of the right buttons when constructing the roster since joining the Cubs back in 2011. But lately, he’s pushed some notable bad ones, displaying a sense of panic and desperation when determining which players and coaches to add and subtract.
This has the makings of a quicker-than-anticipated ending for the Cubs’ championship window. All because a once confident Epstein is looking like a shell of his former self.
Can Epstein get back to making notable moves that don’t hamstrung the team? Or will he continue to make irrational moves like he has as of late?
Only time will tell. But even time has a way of running out for some far quicker than expected.