Rozner: Tough decisions await Cubs' Jed Hoyer
One of the reasons Theo Epstein gave for walking away now was that he wanted Jed Hoyer to be in charge of all that comes next.
Rather than make the decisions this winter that will shape the next several years, Epstein made the choice to hand over the reins before those calls are made.
So, yeah, good luck with that.
"We face a new challenge imposed by the reality of our players' service time and the realities of our world in 2020," Hoyer said Monday during his Zoom conference. "As with all of the challenges we have faced here, we will study them, we will use our collective experience, and then we will move boldly to do what's in the best interests of our franchise."
The Cubs haven't won a postseason game since 2017, their last truly competitive postseason.
The 2018 season looked good for several months, but injuries and a lack of offense cost them the division in September, and they went out quickly after losing Game 163 and the wild card.
Then came 2019 and another ugly finish -- hampered again by their offense -- and Epstein wanted to begin making changes, but poor player performances and a strange marketplace made that difficult last winter.
"On the offensive side, we want to look and feel and perform differently than we have the last few years," Hoyer said, when asked if significant changes are coming. "I can't define significant. Do we need to look different as an offense? Absolutely."
The Cubs were essentially a .500 team in 2020, but won more than they lost and captured a division title because of a quick start and an easy schedule.
They were exposed against the Marlins and now much is up in the air.
Considering the weakening economic climate, with so much MLB uncertainty and plummeting revenues, it might again be difficult for the Cubs to move some of their high-paid players and that might also limit the kinds of structural roster changes they want to make.
More significant is that many of those players don't have the trade value they did two years ago.
"This is a challenging year from a budgeting standpoint, as it is for 30 teams and millions of businesses around America," Hoyer said. "We have questions about when the season's gonna start, how many games we're gonna play, and how many fans are gonna be in the stands. We have so many different questions about what life is gonna look like in the summer of '21.
"We have a (payroll) range that we've discussed, but we haven't nailed anything down."
As we sit here, after 2021 the Cubs will lose free agents Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Craig Kimbrel (team option). Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood are currently free agents.
If there's a positive it's that most MLB teams not named the Mets have the same payroll questions the Cubs have, and with revenue issues and a new CBA to be negotiated a year from now, some of these players are going to be in for a surprise after the 2021 season.
It's going to take many years for MLB to recover from this economic disaster and that's again without knowing what will take place next season.
"We've had an excellent team for six years, but with that run and the inability to get extensions on our guys, there are some realities," Hoyer said. "Ultimately, the goal every year is to give ourselves a chance and that's not gonna change.
"You always have one eye on the present and one eye on the future. The truth is given the service-time realities, we might be a little more focused on the future than usual, but that doesn't take away from the goal, which is always to make the playoffs and go deep into October."
But the road to Helena is paved with the careers of GMs who have tried to rebuild and win at the same time. Hoyer is well aware of the difficulties.
"There's always challenges in trying to do both and that's why you have to have your eye on both things," said Hoyer, who discounted the possibility of a complete rebuild. "You always debate it, but any time you make the playoffs you have a chance to win the World Series."
Asked if he would support a complete rebuild, as the Cubs did when Epstein arrived, owner Tom Ricketts was very clear about the direction of the club.
"I would always take Jed's recommendation on what to do, but I don't think anybody's tearing anything down," Ricketts said. "I think we have a good club and I think people are excited to see us back on the field next year."
It has been a heck of a run, but now comes the very tough work that Epstein knew was on the way several years ago. Poor player performances -- and a strange economic landscape -- have added unpredictable elements and made it all the more difficult.
Welcome to the job, Jed Hoyer.