Why the Phillies Cannot Wait a Year for Theo Epstein

MLB: NOV 04 Chicago Cubs World Series Victory Parade
CHICAGO, IL – NOVEMBER 04: Chicago Cubs Theo Epstein talks during the Chicago Cubs World Series victory rally on November 4, 2016, at Grant Park in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)

Yesterday afternoon, it was announced that Theo Epstein will step down as President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs. While news regarding Epstein’s decision automatically brought hope into the hearts of Phillies fans everywhere, that hope was short-lived.

In a letter to his colleagues addressing the decision to step down, Epstein indicates that he is looking forward to taking a break from baseball in 2021 in order to spend more time with family and to work with several non-profits.

“I do plan on having a third chapter leading a baseball organization someday, though I do not expect it to be next year.” – Theo Epstein

via The Athletic – Jon Greenberg

While Epstein leaves the door open for his eventual return to baseball, it appears unlikely he will do so until after the 2021 season.

Since beginning his career as the youngest general manager in MLB history with the Boston Red Sox in 2002, Theo Epstein has won three World Series titles. In doing so, he broke long droughts for both the Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs. While some may argue against his methods (see Alex Carr’s tweet thread below), Epstein is highly respected as one of the best minds in baseball.

All signs had previously pointed towards the Phillies waiting to sign a new President of Baseball Operations until after the 2021 season, essentially saving the position for Epstein. Following the announcement, however, there is no guarantee that he will return to baseball right away.

Why the Phillies Should Not Wait for Theo Epstein

1. The NL East Isn’t Getting Any Easier

Taking a brief look around the NL East, you’ll notice something that hasn’t been said in years: everyone is in the race moving forward. The Nationals still retain young pieces following their 2019 World Series victory. The Braves own a young core and own three consecutive NL East titles.

The Mets were already on the rise, but now with Steve Cohen set to put more money into the team than the Steinbrenners, they will skyrocket in talent this offseason. The Marlins already surprised the world by making the playoffs in 2020. Now with one of the best GM signings in recent years in Kim Ng, Derek Jeter’s ownership group appear ready to field their first contendor.

There are no more “easy to beat” teams in the NL East. Every team has the makings to compete for the title for years to come.

2. Waiting Wastes Everyone’s Time

Waiting until after 2021 to get a new president, even if the Phillies get Epstein, wastes the entire 2021 season. Doing so would demoralize the Phillies’ fanbase even further. The Phandemic Krew came out in force during the 2020 season, supporting the team even through the bullpen collapse. Putting off a major direction change for another year indicates that the Phillies are content with mediocrity. To Phillies fans, that would be a complete waste of time.

Then there are the players. Wasting 2021 would waste Bryce Harper’s age 28 season. It would potentially derail Alec Bohm’s momentum following his Rookie of the Year-worthy season. Not signing a new president would further close the Phillies’ small window to compete before the current pool of players age out. And, of course, talent evaluation has been a problem in recent years, meaning there is a very weak farm system supporting the team.

It also wastes any potential opportunity for the Phillies to go after free agents this offseason. That means Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto, Didi Gregorious, and George Springer will all sign elsewhere. Francisco Lindor would be traded elsewhere. And while the Phillies are left in the dark, the rest of the NL East will flourish.

And, for what it’s worth, waiting also wastes Andy MacPhail’s time. MacPhail has claimed he would step aside if the Phillies bring in a new President. Not doing so wastes another year of MacPhail’s time when he admittedly will not return following the 2021 season. Not to mention Phillies fans want him gone.

3. There’s No Guarantee Theo Epstein Will Return Right Away

In this COVID-19 world, people are making increasing realizations that there are more important things than their profession. Theo Epstein is one of those people. In stepping away from the game, he is choosing to spend time with his family and to support multiple non-profits. These are good things. Epstein should be applauded for making this move.

For the Phillies, however, this decision leaves more questions than answers. Will he return after 2021? Cab the Phillies outbid other teams for him when he does? Will a blank check make him reconsider now? The Phillies are pursuing Epstein regardless, hoping he will reconsider.

But there is no guarantee. So while the Phillies should pursue Epstein, they will need to respect any decision he makes. In the meantime, the Phillies should also be pursuing other worthy candidates. Erik Neander of the Rays and Michael Hill are two qualified candidates that would be worth hiring right now. If the Phillies want to get the best of the lot, they will need to do so now as the Phillies are far from the only team looking for new leadership this offseason.

Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire