The picture at the top of this story is screwing up our all-pitchers-throwing-at-one-another front page at Red Reporter, and for that I apologize. Heck, this isn’t even a story about the Cincinnati Reds...
Or, is it?
News broke quickly on Tuesday that Theo Epstein, head of baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs and the architect of the team that brought a World Series trophy back to the north side of Chicago after millenia, was stepping down from his role. Initially, it seemed as if he were just stepping away for a time, but as the Cubs themselves revealed with a statement (link below), his time with the club has officially ended as of today.
Statements from Tom Ricketts, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer: pic.twitter.com/rn1N3SdGT9— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) November 17, 2020
As Joel Sherman of the New York Post noted shortly after the announcement, the Cubs, as currently constructed, are on the cusp of a major transition from their World Series days, and it certainly would appear to be no coincidence that Epstein is choosing to depart now before having to deal with the rough, tough calls that will entail.
#Cubs about to undergo a big transition over next 12 months away from championship core without a strong farm system and with a sense in the game that ownership wants to slash payroll. So if you are looking to walk away from running baseball ops, not a bad time.— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) November 17, 2020
Key cogs like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, and Kyle Schwarber are all on the cusp of reaching free agency, with no huge contracts to keep them around on the horizon. Jon Lester, one of the first huge signings Epstein brought to the Cubs, just saw out his contract and reached free agency this fall. And with the pandemic-induced financial constraints already impacting most every club out there, the landscape has significantly altered from where Epstein, and all clubs, have operated for years.
Factor in the looming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations slated for what should be a tumultuous 2021, and it’s hard to blame any front office member from wanting to step aside for a bit, if able. Of course, there’s also the looming new ownership group of the New York Mets circling, and it’ll be fascinating to see just how quickly Epstein’s desire to step away from the game coincides with that new opportunity.
Either way, this presents an interesting scenario for the Reds, of course, who share the NL Central with the Cubs. Last winter saw a reorganization from the Milwaukee Brewers after a solid run of form, and while they’re far from rebuilding at the moment, they aren’t exactly out there actively going all-in to win in the near term. The Pittsburgh Pirates are deep into the early stages of a massive overhaul, too, meaning that the Reds might have their best window to challenge the St. Louis Cardinals for division superiority for the next couple of seasons if they commit themselves to continually adding to the roster they began augmenting this time a year ago.
That will take spending money, of course, something that we’re not at all sure the Reds are willing to do at the moment. Hell, Dick Williams already made a similar move to Epstein earlier this fall, stepping down in an oddly-timed move that many thought was a form of cost-cutting for the Reds in its own right.
Regardless, this is the end of a very fruitful, colorful era for the Central, one that brought the Cubs from Loveable Losers to the upper-echelon of franchises for the first time in a long, long time. Now, we get to see if that prompts the Reds to be more aggressive in its wake.