Shortly before the Winter Meetings in December, when it was increasingly clear that the Cubs would not be major players in the free-agent marketplace, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said what has become the unofficial slogan for 2019 for his team."This year is really a reckoning in a lot
Shortly before the Winter Meetings in December, when it was increasingly clear that the Cubs would not be major players in the free-agent marketplace, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said what has become the unofficial slogan for 2019 for his team.
"This year is really a reckoning in a lot of ways," Epstein said at the Cubs' headquarters across the street from Wrigley Field.
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It was on the field within view of that December press conference where the Cubs lost a Game 163 division-clincher against the Brewers before dropping the National League Wild Card Game to the Rockies. It was an abrupt conclusion to a fatiguing stretch of 42 games in 43 days that left the 95-win Cubs sucking air and searching for answers.
The solutions will need to come from within.
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Rather than overhaul a roster already packed with talent, the Cubs' decision-makers spent the offseason spreading a message of urgency for the group in place. Behind the scenes, the front office, along with manager Joe Maddon and his coaching staff, discussed ways to improve communication across the board and went to work on dissecting what went wrong in 2018 and how to fix it.
There have been some small adjustments to the roster in place. After hammering home the notion that last year's team could have used a bit more veteran leadership -- like David Ross and Jon Jay brought in recent seasons -- Chicago signed utility man Daniel Descalso, who has a strong reputation in that regard. And to help a bullpen rife with question marks, the Cubs agreed to a deal with Brad Brach.
Epstein spent much of the offseason explaining that the Cubs were working with limited monetary resources for this year. Chicago boasts the largest payroll in franchise history (it projects to be over $210 million and even higher in terms of the luxury-tax estimates), leaving little wiggle room to pursue a blockbuster addition.
So it will be incumbent for the bulk of last year's roster to create in-house corrections.
"We really feel strongly and believe strongly in the guys that we do have," Maddon said last month. "We're just really trying to develop that plan to really extrapolate more out of the group that we do have. And, again, when I say that, if you really look at it, it's primarily from the offensive side of the ball."
Maddon will have his role to play in this year of reckoning, too.
Epstein made it clear early in the offseason that any talks of a contract extension for Maddon -- in the final year of his five-year deal -- will be delayed until later this year. In the meantime, Maddon and Epstein have discussed having the manager adopt a more hands-on approach in '19. That will go not only for the players, but for a coaching staff that has undergone significant changes.
"It's going to be really important to me to set the tone among the coaching staff," Maddon said, "and keeping us on task regarding each player. So we're trying to build in a system, or systems, that kind of overlap a little bit to make sure that we do stay on task with all this. And it's kind of a fun challenge, quite frankly."
That process began with plenty of offseason conversations. Epstein noted during Cubs Convention that he has probably spent more time talking to staff, coaches and players this winter than in any other offseason in his career as an executive. Part of that is self-evaluation, but a lot of it has also been game-planning about ways to get the most out of the Cubs' roster and to stave off complacency.
That process will begin to really take shape during Spring Training.
"Urgency is the opposite of complacency," Epstein said. "And I don't think we've been overly complacent or anything. But if we're being honest with ourself and taking accountability for it, we do need to make a little bit of an adjustment and from Day 1 of the season play with more urgency, because this is a really competitive division. And what an awful feeling that was at the end of last year."
Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.