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4 big decisions facing the Chicago Cubs this off-season

Although Theo Epstein’s fingerprints are fading from the success the Boston Red Sox continue to enjoy, they’re still present.

Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are two young stars who helped the Red Sox win their fourth World Series title in 15 years, as part of a relentless offensive attack that overwhelmed the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games.

Both Betts and Bogaerts were procured — Betts via the amateur draft, Bogaerts via amateur free agent signing — while Epstein was still general manager of the Red Sox.

What the Red Sox have done, both with and without Epstein at the helm, is achieve sustained success. They’ve done so while weathering bumps along the way, including turmoil in 2011, Epstein’s last year on the job before he came to Chicago that autumn. They’ve gone through four managers during those 15 years as well as four GMs or heads of baseball operations.

The term “sustained success” is relevant here because it’s a term used from the beginning by Epstein and Jed Hoyer, the man Epstein brought in to be the Cubs GM.

Epstein has been hesitant to say that the Cubs have achieved sustained success, despite four straight postseason appearances, including a world championship in 2016.

But Epstein and Hoyer have built a team in Chicago that seems to have that opportunity in front of them for several more years to come.

The off-season for the Cubs and the rest of Major League Baseball began after the World Series ended Sunday night.

There’s plenty of work to do for the sustained-success train to keep on chugging toward its stated goal.

Here is a quick look at a few orders of business facing Epstein and Hoyer:

• Deciding to pick up the option on pitcher Cole Hamels. This should be a no-brainer. Hamels looked rejuvenated after the Cubs obtained him from the Texas Rangers in a July 27 trade.

With the Cubs, Hamels went 4-3 with a 2.36 ERA and a WHIP of 1.10. The Cubs hold a $20 million option on Hamels, or they can pay a $6 million buyout. Look for the Cubs to pick up the option and count on Hamels for their 2019 starting rotation.

• The free agent market. It’s certainly not a sure thing that the Cubs will wind up with one of the big-ticket free agents, including Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper and Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado.

The Cubs will have to concern themselves with going over MLB’s luxury tax, to say nothing of the glut of outfielders they already possess. Oddsmaker Bovada has the Philadelphia Phillies as 1 to 1 favorites to sign Harper. The Cubs are the second favorites at 3 to 1, while the Nats are 4 to 1 to retain Harper.

Several Cubs are free agents, including relief pitchers Jesse Chavez, Justin Wilson, Jorge De La Rosa and Jaime Garcia. Chavez appears to be the most attractive for the Cubs to keep.

Second baseman Daniel Murphy, obtained by the Cubs in August from Washington, also is a free agent. He may end up in the American League where he can DH and play second.

• Manager Joe Maddon’s status. Maddon is entering the fifth and final year of his contract in 2019, and Epstein said there is no rush to extend Maddon, despite the Cubs’ overwhelmingly winning record since Maddon has been with the Cubs. If Maddon is unsigned by the start of spring training in February, speculation will be rampant.

• The coaching staff. The Cubs fired hitting coach Chili Davis and replaced him with Anthony Iapoce, a disciple of John Mallee, the hitting coach the Cubs fired after the 2017 season. The Cubs say they’ll have an announcement on the remainder of the coaching staff soon. The lone hang-up appears to be the status of bench coach Brandon Hyde, who is still in play for the Rangers’ managerial job.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

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