Chicago Cubs: Too much faith in the team’s young core
When you win your first World Series in over a century, it only makes sense that no matter who you are – Maddon, Epstein or a fan like myself, you’re likely to be a little too emotionally connected to the group of players who brought it all home.
"“Looking back at this group that we won with,” Epstein told the The Athletic (subscription required) at his end-of-year presser. “I had this belief that this group of players who won the World Series, many of them at 22 and 23 years old, were going to grow into an unstoppable set of players if we could continue to supplement them and show faith in them."
I can’t say Epstein was wrong to have such belief – at least not initially. Kris Bryant followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2015 by winning the National League MVP. Kyle Schwarber recovered from what was believed to be a season-ending knee injury to return in the World Series and casually bat .412 with a .971 OPS. That seems pretty hype-worthy to me.
Anthony Rizzo turned in another remarkable campaign – leading the offense and playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at first. Javier Baez earned co-NLCS MVP honors alongside workhorse Jon Lester and even Addison Russell turned in the best numbers of his career, driving in 96 runs.
Since then, though, things have trended in the wrong direction. Bryant has battled injuries, Russell has fallen out of favor for reasons both on and off the field and age has caught up with the starting rotation in a big way.
"“That (the core becoming an unstoppable force) hasn’t happened, and I’ve made decisions to pour a lot of resources — every available dollar — we’ve poured back into plugging holes in this group, trying to find pitching for this group, trying to elevate this group. We’ve traded a lot of prospects, a lot of young players who were blocked by members of this group. We’ve traded out of belief in this group."
Epstein’s steadfast faith in his young players now has the Cubs sitting at home in October for the first time since 2014 after the sporadic offense failed to deliver once again. As frustrating as the offensive performance has been from some of these guys, the organization’s failure to develop pitching looms even larger.