Fact: The 2019 Chicago Cubs wildly underachieved, finishing with an 84-78 record and finishing third in the NL's Central division. Fact: The Chicago Cubs didn't fail because they didn't spend enough money. The Cubs were 2nd in all of baseball in payroll finishing behind only the Boston Red Sox. Both of those teams failed to make baseball's postseason.
Fact: The Cubs front office has done a lousy job acquiring players since winning the 2016 World Series and they have done a poor job in developing quality, big league caliber pitching through their minor league system.
But, it is also a fact that former manager Joe Maddon allowed his comfort level with players interfere with how much he held them accountable and the result was a team that paid little attention to detail and spiraled out of contention. That's the mess Maddon left the Cubs.
The reasons the Cubs are struggling are not mutually exclusive. There is no singular reason why they have seen their window of contending for another World Series start to close. But, for people to blame everything on either a lack of spending by ownership or a lousy job by the front office misses a main factor in the Cubs decline.
Multiple sources told me the Cubs have had a lack of attention to detail over the past three years. One person in the organization said, "on the field we got fat and happy and that cannot be allowed to continue."
When I asked the front office about this perception, Theo Epstein and other members of the Cubs' front office praised Maddon. They have not taken any shots at their World Series winning manager, a first class move when it would be easy to make him the scapegoat.
"Sometimes it's just time. We're going through some transitions in various levels of the organization and think change will be good for this group," Epstein said at the end of the 2019 season.
So what does a lack of accountability mean? How does that get fixed?
It starts with every player coming into camp in better physical condition than they ever have been before. The vibe at the recent Cubs Convention is that players are working exceptionally hard and it happened in concert with the player development, strength and conditioning staff that the Cubs have spent the past six months upgrading. Anthony Rizzo for one looked like he is in the best shape I remember him being in since he came to the Cubs.
Yes, the Epstein and Jed Hoyer led front office have to be much better in upgrading the roster. Epstein can walk into any room and set his three World Series championship rings on the table and lay out his vision for the future and every owner in baseball would sign up for his plan.
But there is no short cut to fixing what ails the current edition of the Cubs. They have very little payroll flexibility and until the service time grievance of Kris Bryant is settled the Cubs cannot engage in substantive trade talks for him because they don't know if they are trading one year or two years of team control.
And ownership has made a philosophical decision to reset the team's luxury tax, so there is no magic pot of money Epstein and Hoyer can dip into to fix the multiple holes currently plaguing the roster.
New manager David Ross has to find a way to get more out of the roster than Joe Maddon did and that starts with holding his players far more accountable than Maddon did. When I questioned Maddon at the recent Winter Meetings about about dealing with his critics (most notably me) he said: "I am so self confident in what I do and how I do it, just because guys like you are wrong, I'm not gonna respond to that stuff when it happens."
I neglected to tell Maddon during that interview that while I may have been hard on him at times, my primary criticism was that he did not hold his players accountable far too often. Maddon says I was wrong.
The Cubs effectively fired him and now he's the manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Maybe I wasn't wrong. It sure seems like his bosses felt the same way.
Thank you for 2016 Joe. It was the thrill of a lifetime for all of Cubs Nation. It was time for a change too and that's okay to admit.
Now it's on Epstein, Hoyer and Ross to fix the Cubs without a bottomless pit of money. I hope they're up to the task.
MLB Source: Cubs 'got fat and happy' after World Series, culture must change originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago