Theo Epstein has stepped down as the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, as per a team announcement. The move is effective as of November 20. General manager Jed Hoyer will step into Epstein’s role.
Epstein issued the following statement:
“For the rest of my life, I will cherish having been part of the great Chicago Cubs organization during this historic period. All of the things that have made this experience so special — the fans, the players, the managers and coaches, ownership, my front office colleagues, the uniqueness of the Wrigley experience, the history — make it so tough to leave the Cubs. But I believe this is the right decision for me even if it’s a difficult one. And now is the right time rather than a year from now. The organization faces a number of decisions this winter that carry long-term consequences; those types of decisions are best made by someone who will be here for a long period rather than just one more year. Jed has earned this opportunity and is absolutely the right person to take over this baseball operation at such an important time.”
“I am grateful to everyone with the Cubs: to the Ricketts family for this opportunity as well as for their loyalty; to the fans for their support and the depth of their emotional connection with the team; and to the players, coaches, staff and my front office colleagues for their friendship, excellence and dedication to helping us accomplish our initial goals of regular October baseball and a World Championship.”
There was widespread speculation that Epstein would leave the organization after the 2021 season, when his contract was up. (Epstein himself is on record as saying that remaining in one job for too long a period isn’t necessarily beneficial to either the employee or the team.) Today’s news jumpstarts that timeline and removes any lingering “lame duck” feeling over the Cubs’ decision-making process this offseason and throughout 2021.
Of course, the next round of speculation immediately turned towards whether or not Epstein could be turning towards another challenge — namely the open president/GM positions with the Mets or Phillies. According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, however, Epstein will not be immediately taking another job and will instead take 2021 off. Epstein confirmed the same in a letter to friends, ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan reports, saying that “Next summer will be my first in 30 years not clocking into work every day at a major league ballpark.…I do plan on having a third chapter leading a baseball organization someday, though I do not expect it to be next year.”
Since joining the Cubs in October 2011, Epstein oversaw an extensive, multi-year rebuilding process that delivered the most sustained run of success at Wrigley Field in over a century. Over the last six seasons, the Cubs have captured three NL Central titles, reached the postseason five times, and finally ended their World Series drought by capturing the championship in 2016.
Over nine seasons in Chicago and nine seasons as the Red Sox general manager, Epstein has long since booked his ticket into Cooperstown, with three World Series titles (and two broken curses) on his resume. Epstein is still over a month away from his 47th birthday, so there is plenty of time for him to add further chapters to his already legendary career. As The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark wrote in a piece this morning, that next step could be a CEO role with a team rather than working as a president of baseball operations, perhaps looking “to form an ownership group with like-minded people and/or longtime associates, then attempt to purchase a club.”
Hoyer’s contract was also rumored to be up after the 2021 season, but he and the Cubs are putting the finishing touches on an extension, The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma reports. Hoyer has been one of Epstein’s chief lieutenants for a total of 17 seasons in both Boston and Chicago, and he also has past experience running a baseball ops department when he was the Padres’ general manager in 2010-11.
With the baton officially passed, Hoyer will now be in charge of what could be a transformative offseason in Wrigleyville. As successful as the Cubs have been under Epstein, there is also some sense of underachievement, as the team hasn’t won a playoff series since 2017. The core group of the 2016 championship team has gotten older, more expensive through arbitration and, in some cases, less effective on the field.
The Cubs now seem open to trading from this veteran core in order to both save payroll space in the wake of pandemic-lowered revenues and to perhaps spark something of a rebuild on the fly. In the press release, both Hoyer and team chairman Tom Ricketts used the phrase “sustained success” to describe the Cubs’ next phase, and while this offseason’s moves will ultimately tell the tale, there isn’t yet any indication that the Cubs aren’t planning to contend in 2021.