In his end-of-season news conference Monday, Epstein was clear that he was entering the twilight of his tenure with the Cubs.
Theo Epstein has one year left on his five-year, $50 million contract as the Cubs’ president, and you have to figure he’ll honor that deal and then be gone.
This assumption is based on reading between the lines of what the masked-up Epstein said in a sort of state-of-the-Cubs address to the media Monday.
It’s also based on what we have seen and learned about Epstein since he came to town to fix the cursed Cubs nine years ago.
‘‘I think there’s benefits to change after a significant amount of time on the job — about a decade,’’ he said. ‘‘And I think I have to keep that in mind without making any definitive statements.’’
That’s kind of telling, don’t you think?
Ultimately, there’s a type of burnout anybody gets in any job, high-level or low-level. It comes with the territory. That is, a pressured CEO might not feel any more stress than a fellow pushing a broom for a decade on floors that become dirty as soon as they’re cleaned.
But Epstein is a different kind of guy. He’s tough, focused and very, very smart. That old gag among general managers — pick a room, any room, and Epstein is the smartest guy in it — has merit.
The curious part is that a fellow such as Epstein chose baseball, instead of hedge-fund management or professorship (like his father), for a career. There is a part of him that is adventurous and a bit impish.
He came to Chicago, remember, knowing full well that the Cubs hadn’t won a World Series in more than a century, that they had just finished in fifth place in the National League Central, that they had a lousy farm system and that they had left a trail of executives in their staggering path. He might have been ready to leave the Red Sox, but he didn’t have to come here.
And do you remember how he left the Red Sox after temporarily resigning his post as GM on Halloween afternoon in 2005? Yep, in a gorilla suit.
The suit was auctioned off for $11,000 for charity, Epstein came back to the Red Sox, won his second World Series there, then left them for the Cubs in 2011.
He has been here for close to a decade. By his own admission, that’s the time for any organization — and any man — to think about the need for change.
So it’s likely he’s in that lame-duck position in which a boss either tries to go for it all by risking the future or decides to work out a plan for his successor and carefully pave the way to better days.
It’s for sure the Cubs need better days. They might have won their division this season, but they got wiped out quickly by the Marlins in the wild-card round of the playoffs. The disconcerting part was that the 2016 World Series title standbys — Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber — seemed listless.
It wasn’t only them, though. The strangeness of this virus-affected, truncated, speeded-up season seemed to cast a pall on whatever the Cubs were clinging to.
Breaking up the old gang is always hard to do, but sometimes it must be done. The hard part is knowing when and how delicately to do it. That’s why you pay a president $10 million a year. Guys such as Epstein are supposed to know and perceive things the rest of us don’t.
Early on, he figured out how to tank, how to do the ‘‘Moneyball’’ thing, how to build with youth, how to appease starving Cubs fans by promising better days ahead.
I ran into his father, Leslie, by accident at an event in New York City one day in 2014 and asked him casually whether he thought his son was up to the job of re-creating the Cubs.
‘‘Just wait,’’ he said earnestly, passionately. ‘‘Just give him some time.’’
I think I chuckled, reminding him that waiting was all Cubs fans knew.
‘‘You just wait,’’ he said.
His dad knew. Epstein finally brought the World Series crown to the Cubs in 2016, after 108 years, just as he brought his first of two crowns to the Red Sox in 2004, after 86 years of waiting. The dude broke 194 years of combined misery for two teams. That’s impressive.
But he might be fried here with the Cubs. He might be out of ideas, going through the motions.
‘‘I have to be honest with myself, my own values, beliefs, strengths, limitations, and recognize that as I look at what is best for the Cubs,’’ he said.
Sounds like a rolling farewell to me.