Epstein to anxious Cubs fans: 'Bear with us'

Club president, GM Hoyer field questions at Cubs Convention

January 18th, 2020

CHICAGO -- Theo Epstein took the stage on Saturday at Cubs Convention, knowing that the fans in front of him were not all happy with the current state of the team. The World Series parade provided an unforgettable moment for the franchise four years ago, but frustration has followed in recent seasons.

Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations, and his front-office team have made only a series of complementary moves to date this winter, while Major League Baseball enjoyed a boon of free-agent spending. There has been talk of budget limitations and potentially trading from the core, creating an unsettling feeling for many fans.

"I know there hasn't been much for you guys to cling on to this winter," Epstein said in his opening remarks. "Other teams have been making moves and we haven't. But, I just want you to know that the work is there, the commitment is there, the desire to get deep into October every year is there and we're not going to be satisfied until you guys feel like you're on top again.

"So, bear with us, hang in there. I appreciate the support. I also appreciate the criticism and being held accountable when it's appropriate."

Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer fielded questions from Cubs fans for nearly an hour. Here are some of the highlights of that discussion:

On the Cubs' lack of major moves this offseason

"First of all, it's not Opening Day, yet. So, I think there's still a chance of some changes. We hope there will be. This is an offseason in which we've known it's more likely to be more active in trades than in free agency, but the bottom line is words don't matter, actions do." -- Epstein

On trying to make moves that balance 2020 with the future

"Right now, we've been struggling to find the types of transactions that can thread that needle, that can make us better in 2020 and improve our chances of winning the World Series in 2020, that at the same time, position us so that we don't run the risk of falling off a cliff after 2021, when a lot of our best players are scheduled to leave. And, that also can get us where we should be relative to the [luxury-tax threshold] and relative to budgets, to ensure a little bit healthier financial picture going forward in the future." -- Epstein

On the team's behind-the-scenes hires and changes

"So much of our job is taken up not only on Major League transactions, but also making sure that we have the right infrastructure to support everything in baseball. In some ways, this has probably been our most active winter that we've ever had. We looked at things and decided that the game is moving incredibly fast when it comes to player development, when it comes to research and development, and we made a lot of big changes. We thought it was time. This is our ninth Cubs Convention. We've been here a while and sometimes it's time for kind of a sweeping change." -- Hoyer

On potentially increasing salaries for Minor League players

"Toronto, I think to their credit, took a great progressive step last year. They essentially doubled the pay of their Minor League players, just out of fairness and also out of self-interest, too, to give their players a little bit more security, a little bit more comfort, they can feed themselves a little bit better, take care of themselves a little bit better.

"It was really, I think, something that was bold, because everyone in Major League Baseball essentially paid the same rate, and [Toronto] decided just to voluntarily double it. I can tell you that got our attention. It got [chairman Tom Ricketts'] attention. And stay tuned, because it's something that's important to Tom and we are working on. So, just keep your ear to the ground about a change in policy for the Cubs as well." -- Epstein

On the new three-batter minimum rule for pitchers

"That'll be, I think, a change for the better, but it also means that we really have to focus on relievers who can get out hitters from both sides of the plate. No longer can you look at the opposing lineup and you see Christian Yelich is up second, you let your righty go to the mound to start the inning, you bring in your lefty for Yelich and you go back to a righty. You have to trust your reliever to get through all three.

"So, I know it's been criticized as sort of changing strategy or taking strategy out of the game for managers, but it's really not. It's just creating a more multi-dimensional strategy now, where managers have to think ahead about what pitcher is best suited for what inning, what pocket of the lineup. It should be really entertaining and make the game faster and a little bit more enjoyable." -- Epstein

On the progress made in biometrics data and analysis

"We're almost over 20 [staffers] now and we just keep growing and growing. And that's probably one of the main areas -- I think with the amount of high-speed video that we have now -- I think the biometrics stuff becomes a real possibility. We just hired our first full-time biomechanist to work for us. It's amazing. He actually is a 20-year NASA employee that's going to come in and work for the Cubs, which is really wonderful." -- Hoyer

On the possibility of an electronic strike zone in MLB

"It feels like the electronic strike zone has become sort of an inevitability, but I don't think that's a knock on the umpires. I think they're actually really exceptional at what they do. I just think that the camera systems and the quality of the play has made their jobs incredibly difficult, and now we just happen to have the technology that probably allows us to make that automatic." -- Hoyer