Thankfully we've arrived at Year 2 of this decade, and with it we're going to peer ahead to the rest of the 2020s. Plenty of teams are weighed down by title droughts and/or utter dysfunction, and there's no better-known cure for that than ... Theo Epstein.
He's the baseball mind everyone seemingly wants a piece of, and SI's MLB experts are here to explain which franchise is most in need of his next 10 years after he left the Cubs in November.
Tom Verducci: Oakland A's
The best landing spot for Theo Epstein may be the New York Mets if Steve Cohen doesn’t like where the franchise is after one year of ownership. But let’s put Theo in a place with a new challenge, because if there’s something to scratch his itch it’s going to have to be something new: the Oakland A’s.
It’s not because Oakland has not won a World Series title in 32 years or that it has won one postseason series in the Wild Card era. It’s because Oakland needs a new ballpark. Oakland and Tampa Bay are the only teams that completely missed the ballpark building boom. Texas and Atlanta already are on their second new ballpark in this era.
The A’s have been trying for 15 years to get one. The latest plan is a ballpark near Jack London Square. But shovels never actually go into the ground.
Billy Beane appears to be leaving the A’s to join Boston owner John Henry in a business venture. Epstein most enjoys when a baseball team becomes woven into the fabric of a community and is an agent for social change. Oakland gives him the chance to create that kind of lasting legacy. And a title with the A’s would be monumental, too.
Those of you who enjoy Hollywood narratives would appreciate this, too: Epstein was hired by the Red Sox to be their GM after Beane, after first accepting Henry’s offer, changed his mind and turned it down.
Stephanie Apstein: Houston Astros
No offense to James Click, who is by all accounts good at his job, but I think the Astros would be a fit here. There's no curse to break, but this is a team in transition. All the winning they did last decade left them with, according to MLB.com, the fourth-worst farm system in the game, and now that we know they cheated to win those games, they can't even enjoy those memories. They are trying to move on emotionally from the worst baseball scandal in nearly a century, and they are about to move on literally from many of those players, as well. Outfielder Josh Reddick is gone, as is super-ultilityman Marwin González. Starting pitchers Justin Verlander, and Lance McCullers Jr.; shortstop Carlos Correa; and first baseman Yuli Gurriel will all hit free agency after this year.
Still the stain will likely remain: Recall the way opposing fans booed Houston's first spring training lineup this year, which consisted of exactly zero players who partook in the banging scheme. It would take a total rebranding to adjust people's view of this team. Not many executives have the individual star power to offer that. Theo Epstein does.
Emma Baccellieri: An Expansion Team
While expansion has clearly been on MLB's radar for a while now, it makes sense that a pandemic financial crunch would speed that timeline up, and if Theo is willing to stretch his "year off" into a few years, he'd be perfectly situated to lead a new franchise. It would be a new challenge—there's nothing else like it!—and it would allow him more latitude in the process of building a team and an institutional culture than he could find in an existing club. (And, of course, it would provide a logical way for him to satisfy his dreams of an ownership stake by getting in on the ground floor.)
Connor Grossman: MLB's Leadership Team
This answer is bending the rules here but, uh, this is truly the "team" most in need of Theo Epstein, who acknowledged on his way out of Chicago that baseball's analytical revolution–one he helped fuel–has had a negative effect on the game's "aesthetic value." This is not breaking news. But even the explicit acknowledgement that all is not well feels like progress.
Between MLB's on-field product and the non-existent relationship between the owners and players association, it's hard not to feel like there is a lot wrong with baseball right now. Theo Epstein, if nothing else, is the best problem solver available to baseball and MLB should reel him in. As for whether he'll be solving problems with commissioner Rob Manfred or in place of Manfred, well...
Will Laws: Los Angeles Angels
With all due respect to newly hired Angels GM Perry Minasian, we need to put Mike Trout's remaining years into the hands of a proven commodity. The allure of making Trout a winner in Los Angeles should be enough to attract Epstein, who carries the gravitas to get owner Arte Moreno out of baseball operations after years of ill-advised influence.
Matt Martell: Philadelphia Phillies
Bryce Harper is signed through the 2031 season, a timeframe that would coincide perfectly with a decade of Theo Epstein, beginning in 2022. The Phillies are a team caught in the middle, with enough financial resources to make a push but too many holes to give them a clear direction forward. Epstein has the vision to build a contender quickly while building a solid foundation to remain at the top for the rest of the Bryce Harper era.
As for the elephant in the room: Yes, Dave Dombrowski was just brought in to head baseball operations. But if Epstein was interested it's hard to imagine owner John Middleton saying no. Perhaps both longtime execs remain in the front office, combining Dombrowski's strength of assembling a short-term winner with Epstein's skills of creating a sustainable organization.
Nick Selbe: Seattle Mariners
Epstein secured his legacy by turning lovable losers with fervent fan bases into champions. In Seattle, he'd take over a franchise that matches the futility of pre-Epstein Boston and Chicago, without nearly the same level of expectations. The Mariners haven't made the postseason since 2001, the longest active playoff drought in American sports. It seems impossible for a club to undergo sustained ineptitude under Epstein's stewardship.
Michael Shapiro: Colorado Rockies
The Rockies don't come to mind as a truly cursed franchise, though their consistent ineptitude makes Theo Epstein a perfect man for the job. The former Cubs and Red Sox exec could finally solve the Mystery of Coors Field while the Dodgers and Padres spend the next several years battling for the NL West title (which Colorado has never won, by the way).
The Rockies face a difficult road in the next decade after Jeff Bridich's blunders. Epstein is more than capable of turning this franchise around.