The Theo Epstein era is over.
The Cubs announced Tuesday that their president of baseball operations has resigned after nine years on the job and that executive vice president/general manager Jed Hoyer will assume the head role.
The move is a little surprising, considering Epstein had one year left on his contract and told reporters when the season ended that he expected the status quo heading into the 2021 season.
At the same time, Epstein talked about an executive having a shelf life of about a decade and said he expected to move on after his contract expired in 2021. But with the Cubs in a transition phase with their roster, he might have felt this was the best time to make the change and let Hoyer make the decisions that will affect the Cubs moving forward.
“We’re clearly entering an offseason that will require some critical decisions that will have long-term impacts for the organization, on the field and some off the field as well,” Epstein said Oct. 5. “Because of that, we’re just going to be open-minded and thoughtful about it and take our time, and if adjustments in structure or role or timing are necessary to put the Cubs in the best possible position going forward, that’s what I want.”
There’s little question Epstein is the most successful executive in Cubs history, or at least since 1908. They snapped the historic 108-year championship drought by winning the 2016 World Series and reached the playoffs in five of the past six years.
But the Cubs are facing a crossroads, with four key members of the World Series team – Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber – set to hit free agency after next season, followed by Willson Contreras a year later. Coupled with baseball’s massive loss of revenue because of the pandemic, tough decisions need to be made in the upcoming months.
It’s also a tough time for the organization. About 100 employees were let go at the end of the season. It’s possible there were financial considerations to Epstein’s early departure.
Hoyer, 46, was one of Epstein’s first hires when he joined the Cubs. The pair worked together with the Red Sox from 2002 to '09, and Hoyer already took on a role as head of baseball operations with San Diego in 2010. The Cubs had to trump up his job title in order to pry him away from the Padres a year later.
“Jed is someone who’s been a huge part of the success here at the Cubs and at the Red Sox before that,” Epstein said Oct. 5. “He’s also someone who’s already been a successful No. 1 in baseball operations when he served as general manager of the Padres. I recognize those qualities and everything that he brings to the table and how much he’s done for this organization, and Tom and the Ricketts family do too. We’re lucky to have Jed, and I think that’s universally recognized around here."
Hoyer is a native of Plymouth, New Hampshire, and was a pitcher and shortstop at Division III Wesleyan University.
“Theo and I have been communicating about this possible move for a couple of years, and we have been working together toward a transition that makes sense for the Cubs and for him,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “The timing is right for a number of reasons, and most importantly we are both thrilled that Jed is the person succeeding Theo.”
Even after presiding over successful rebuilds of the Cubs and Red Sox, Epstein is only 46. He was the youngest GM in baseball history to win a World Series with the Red Sox in 2004, and, according to the Cubs, he is one of five lead executives to win the World Series with multiple organizations.
It’s tough to say what might be next for Epstein, but taking on another rebuild or two seems plausible. When the season ended, he had some appropriate parting words.
“This is a special organization, and it's been that way for over a century,” he said Oct. 5. “There’s a unique connection between the fans and the players and the organization as a whole. That was the case long before any of us got here, and it will be the case long after any of us leave.
“Every person who comes to work at Wrigley Field, every player that puts on those pinstripes feels an obligation to further that connection with the fans, to continue to build the organization and improve on this dynamic culture that we have. Certainly since Tom Ricketts has taken over and since this group of players has been here, the culture of the organization, I think, has gone to even another level.
“I’m proud to have been a part of this, but it goes back a long way, and under the Ricketts’ leadership, it’s going to continue for a long time into the future too.”