Cubs president Theo Epstein had almost forgotten how to do a post-mortem on a baseball season.
After all, there was nothing but life last year, when the Cubs won their first World Series title in 108 years.
But one day after the Cubs bowed out of the National League Championship Series at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Epstein met the media to look back and look ahead.
“I said, ‘Wait, I didn’t do this last year,’ ” Epstein said Friday at Wrigley Field. “I did it two years ago, I did it three years ago, four years ago, five years ago. This is some media setup job that you do one of these news conferences every year, except when you win the World Series. That would be the only time I’d want to do it.”
The Cubs lost the NLCS in five games, but it was their third straight trip to that series, and it completed a three-year run in which they won 292 regular-season games.
While the “ceiling” is the World Series every year, Epstein said the Cubs have done something just as important with the “floor.”
“We didn’t reach our ultimate goal, but there’s real value to getting back to October, to winning a series, to giving your fans thrilling baseball,” he said. “I think that’s important. The identity of this organization has changed in a lot of ways. If we’re being honest, there was a tinge of disappointment. To have disappointment in a year in which you reached the NLCS for the third straight year shows how much the expectations have been raised around here and how high the bar is, and that is a great thing. It doesn’t make this year a bust.
“We’re on our way. Mission not accomplished. We have done a lot of tremendous things, and thus far, it’s been a success. The whole goal is to get there as many times as you can over a long stretch. We’re really well positioned for the future. The goal is to create a really high ‘floor’ for this organization, where the ‘off’ years are years where you might win in the high-80s and sneak a division or a wild card or win 90 games and get in and find a way to win in October. And the great years you win 103 and win the whole thing.
“I think we’ve really raised the ‘floor’ and we’re on our way toward accomplishing that mission of being in there just about every year for a long period of time. The identity has changed, but by no means has the true ultimate goal been accomplished.”
Going forward, Epstein said the Cubs knew this would be a challenging offseason. They have several needs:
• Starting pitching, with the possible and likely departures of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey.
• Bullpen help, with closer Wade Davis’ impending free agency and a relief staff that lost its way to the plate in the postseason.
• A leadoff hitter, even though the Cubs led the National League in on-base percentage.
“The leadoff-hitter thing, I think, it’s always nice to have an established leadoff hitter and to have someone who can really get on base and set the tone,” Epstein said. “In certain situations, depending on the rest of your roster and your outlook and other things you have to do and the makeup of your club, it can start to slide toward luxury, not necessity. We’d rather have one, but I’m not going to sit here and say by Opening Day we’re going to have a designated leadoff hitter that’s going to be our guy and make things go.
“We scored the second-most runs in the league this year. We scored more runs than we did last year. We hit, almost exactly, our projection of how many runs we’d score during the regular season without a true leadoff hitter and bouncing guys around in that spot. More important than identifying one guy as the leadoff hitter, we have to continue on the arc that we’re all on together, especially our young hitters that are going to lead to a place where we have consistent, tough at-bats, team at-bats, grinding at-bats, where we perform well with situational hitting, perform well with runners in scoring position and where we have a dependable, consistent two-strike approach, where we’re no fun to pitch against.”
With the bullpen, Epstein said the Cubs need to get better in throwing strikes and not walking batters. He said the Cubs would like to have both Davis and Arrieta back but that players have earned the right to test the market as free agents.
Epstein said that the coaching-staff situation has not been finalized but that any coach that manager Joe Maddon wants back will be back.