On Tuesday, Theo Epstein announced that he'll step down from his post as the Chicago Cubs' president of baseball operations at the end of the week. The Cubs intend to fill Epstein's role by promoting general manager Jed Hoyer, a longtime Epstein friend and colleague. While that's fine and dandy, the more intriguing aspect of Epstein's resignation is not what it means for the Cubs -- though it appears things are about to get interesting there in their own way -- but what it entails for him and his future in baseball.
Epstein is, after all, one of the game's most successful and well-respected executives, having snapped World Series droughts with both the Cubs and the Boston Red Sox while ushering in new ideas about team-building.
Wherever Epstein goes, he's going to draw a crowd. That crowd just might be waiting for a little while before finding out his next move. According to ESPN's Jeff Passan, Epstein wrote in a letter addressed to his friends that said, "I do plan on having a third chapter leading a baseball organization someday, though I do not expect it to be next year."
We are nothing if not speculative. So, without further ado, we figured we'd examine five potential landing spots for Epstein come 2022. (Note these are not listed in any order.)
The natural assumption is that Epstein would have interest in joining either the Philadelphia Phillies or the New York Mets, two large-market teams in or nearing liminal spaces. The Phillies had their GM resign earlier this offseason, and may go the year without replacing him -- a hint that a full-scale overhaul could be coming. The Mets, meanwhile, just started their own reimagining under new owner Steve Cohen.
Epstein would probably fit well in both places. He has the polish to deal with a frenzied media market and fan base, and the vision to help turn either into a contender with enough opportunity and resources. The problem is the timing. Epstein seems willing, if not excited to sit out the 2021 season by his own account, meaning he might not factor into the Mets' calculus. The Phillies, conversely, could align better with Epstein's schedule. Would he want that?
There's no telling. It would be fair to assume that Epstein might want something more -- or, at least, something different -- from the next act of his baseball career than the traditional front-office experience he's already had with both the Red Sox and the Cubs.
With that in mind, let's move on to the next potential destination.
2. Expansion team
Major League Baseball is going to expand at some point, perhaps sooner than later as a means of recouping the money the league lost during the pandemic. Epstein might reason that Dave Dombrowski, who is part of Nashville's expansion efforts, might be onto something. In exchange for an ownership stake, Epstein too might attach himself to a city's efforts to land a club.
It would be a sensible partnership both ways. The expansion team group would add a well-liked, trusted public face with ample industry connections. Epstein, meanwhile, would get the joy of working and building in baseball without having to answer to the likes of the Ricketts.
Granted, expansion efforts require an absurd amount of work without any certainty of a payoff. If Epstein is willing to submit himself to a grueling, thankless task in pursuit of the promise of a better tomorrow, then maybe he'd consider one of the two following landing spots instead.
3/4. Commissioner's office/Political office
Some within the industry have speculated that Epstein could have his sights set on the commissioner's office. He would certainly be an upgrade over Rob Manfred in some respects, like how he's viewed by the public and even by those who populate front offices. He would give the game a fresh, more-trusted face who had more media training and polish, too -- something it may need if the league and the union are unable to avoid a labor stoppage heading into 2022.
You do have to wonder if Epstein would want the headaches that come with the job. If he found working for the Ricketts exhausting, well, that's understandable. But would he want to have to answer to and deal with all 30 owners instead of just one? Would that really leave Epstein doing all right at doing all right? It's hard to say.
As for the other office … whatever you know or think about Epstein's politics is unimportant. He might find them convincing in a way that motivates him to run for some kind of office, or, as baseball reporter Craig Mish suggested on Twitter, perhaps to join an existing cabinet.
Epstein, for what it's worth, said Tuesday he does not have any current plans to enter politics.
Moving right along to the last potential landing spot...
5. The field
The truth is nobody knows what's next for Epstein. He probably doesn't even know. Maybe, in the year off, he decides that he wants to try to win a championship with a small-market club. Or that he'd like to give managing a try. Or maybe he tries his hand at screenwriting (it runs in the family) and decides he has better things to do with his time than fret over third-catcher options. Whatever the case, Epstein's legacy in baseball is golden and unlikely to be forgotten.