Notes from Season Ticket Holder Conference Calls with Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

Len Kasper moderated two fan forum events on Thursday with the Cubs front office. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod answered questions from season ticket holders in a conference call format. The front office did not dodge any questions during both sessions as they discussed their first year with the Cubs, the present and the future of the organization.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were on hand for both sessions and Jason McLeod participated in the noon conference call. The CCO was able to listen in and take notes on both sessions (one began at noon, the other just after 6:00pm). Here are highlights from two information-filled hours:

Noon Session

  • Jed Hoyer: This time of year is really busy. The off-season really heats up right after the World Series. It is going to be a busy couple of months and what we hope are a really exciting couple of months.
  • Jason McLeod feels it was a solid season in the minors. McLeod thinks they had a good draft. The goal is trying to infuse the system with as much impact talent as possible. Theo Epstein added that they would like to have a big league team with as much homegrown talent as possible.
  • When asked about the pitching prospects in the system and Arodys Vizcaino, Jed Hoyer said the Cubs need more guys with Vizcaino’s stuff and ability in the system. The Cubs plan on Vizcaino being a starter and he will be on an innings limit next season.
  • Theo Epstein fielded the third base question during the noon session. Epstein said they feel great about third base in the system and admitted they have to find a solution for third base at the big league level for next season. Epstein rattled off the depth in the system at third: Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Christian Villanueva, Jeimer Candelario and Javier Baez. The Cubs are transitioning Junior Lake into a third baseman and Christian Villanueva will begin the year at the Double-A level. Josh Vitters is high on the Cubs’ list and Baez is developing at third base for a possible move down the line. The Cubs are looking for a short-term solution. Epstein admitted that the supply and demand of available third basemen (either free agents or trade) does not work in the Cubs favor. They are monitoring Ian Stewart’s health (Epstein and Hoyer went into a little more depth about this topic in the night session).
  • Jed Hoyer said the Cubs will be active this winter and in free agency. The Cubs have been talking to agents and teams about possible trades. Hoyer pointed out that the goal is to eventually use free agency to supplement a homebuilt core. Hoyer went onto explain that it is harder now to build a team with free agents because so many of the teams are locking up their young talent early and the players that hit the market are older.
  • Jason McLeod mentioned how proud they are of Darwin Barney winning the Gold Glove this year.
  • Jason McLeod talked about the depth in the system at second base and the multiple options that exist at second base. McLeod is happy with the depth behind Darwin Barney. Logan Watkins was named the minor league player of the year and after a slow start, Ronald Torreyes had a strong finish. The Cubs are very excited about Gioskar Amaya. McLeod pointed out that Amaya can hit, throw, field and was excellent during the recently completed instructs. The Cubs are also very high on Stephen Bruno and Zeke DeVoss.
  • As for leadership on the big league team, Theo Epstein pointed to Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus. DeJesus really helped Anthony Rizzo develop a routine. Epstein said Jeff Samardzija, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have potential to be team leaders.
  • The Cubs simply do not have enough pitching. Theo Epstein said there is not any impact pitching in the system and they wake up every morning trying to figure out ways to add pitching. Jed Hoyer added later that adding pitching is the number one, number two and number three priorities and that they spend a majority of their days trying to figure out ways to add pitching not only to the big league team but throughout the system
  • The Cubs are also in need for catching depth in the system. They are very excited about Welington Castillo.
  • Jed Hoyer is not sure yet how the new scheduling structure will impact how they build next year’s roster. Interleague games will be played every day throughout the season with 15 teams now in each league. Hoyer said they might have to add a bench player that is more capable of filling the designated hitter role.
  • The Cubs do not have any plans to move Javier Baez to third base exclusively. Jason McLeod said they thought that is what would end up happening (Baez moving to third) when they took over last year but that is no longer the case. It would be a great problem for the Cubs to have Baez develop and force them to make a decision on where he plays in the field.
  • Jason McLeod said that Kane County’s location was not the reason they moved their Low Class-A team from Peoria to Kane County … but the proximity does help. McLeod pointed out how good the facilities are there and Kane County should have a good team with a lot of good prospects next season based on the way Boise played at the end of last season. The Cubs plan on using Kane County for rehab assignments and there are numerous advantages to having a minor league team as close as Kane County. The Cubs are not planning on moving any of the other affiliates closer to Chicago.

Night Session

  • Theo Epstein began the night session by admitting it was a tough year at the big league level but it was a good season behind the scenes.
  • Jed Hoyer said they are talking to a lot of teams about possible trades as well as talking to a lot of agents about their clients.
  • When asked about the fundamentals of baseball, Jed Hoyer pointed out that Dale Sveum and his staff did a good job of stressing fundamentals in the spring and throughout the season. The talent on the field hurt the fundamentals and Hoyer admitted how sloppy the fundamentals became at the end of the season. The Cubs are emphasizing fundamentals throughout the system and at the big league level and improving the talent will help. Theo Epstein brought up the “absent minded baserunning” and stated they must make those type of mistakes the exception and not the rule.
  • Jed Hoyer said that grinding out at bats must be the focus … something Cubs teams have not done in the past. The Cubs need to find players that are tough outs that grind at bats.
  • The third base question was brought up in the second session and Jed Hoyer reiterated that they feel good about the depth at third base in the system and admitted that there is a hole to fill at the big league level. The Cubs like Josh Vitters and Hoyer pointed out the offensive season he had at the Triple-A level and the fact he struggles at first when he moves up a level. Junior Lake is moving to third base, Javier Baez has the ability to move to third base and the Cubs are very high on Jeimer Candelario. Hoyer said that Christian Villanueva will begin next season and the Double-A level and he thinks Villanueva is poised for a breakout season.
  • The Cubs are looking at possibly keeping Ian Stewart. Hoyer said he has a world of ability … left handed power, good defense. They have to figure out how much his injury has affected his performance over the last couple of years. Hoyer went onto to explain that they might have to get creative in order to find a third baseman for the upcoming season. They are spending a ton of time exploring possibilities.
  • Theo Epstein said that Tony Zych should factor into the Cubs’ pen for years to come.
  • If the Cubs are fortunate enough to be in the position to make a run at the playoffs next season, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will be able to add to the payroll. Epstein said the preferred route to the playoffs now is to win the division but they will not be picky. If they have a chance at one of the wild card spots they will go for it.
  • Jed Hoyer explained that they inherited a lot of good things from the previous regime but the pitching they inherited was subpar. Hoyer stressed the importance of the Cubs needing to develop pitching. The Cubs are going to develop Arodys Vizcaino as a starter and not a reliever. Vizcaino needs to work on a third pitch. Epstein said they feel he has a chance to be a very good starting pitcher at the big league level. At worst, Vizcaino is a slam dunk back end of the bullpen reliever.
  • Theo Epstein was very disappointed with the way the bullpen, as a whole, performed last year. Epstein said there were bright spots such as James Russell, Carlos Marmol and Alberto Cabrera. Marmol really worked with Chris Bosio and finished the season on a positive note. Cabrera showed poise and improvement this season and will be stretched out as a starter in Iowa when the season begins.
  • As for the payroll for the upcoming season, Theo Epstein said the payroll will look much different when additions are made than it does now. The Cubs are looking to add at least one outfielder, at least two starting pitchers, possibly a backup catcher and fill the hole at third base. Epstein pointed out that the Cubs payroll has appeared higher in recent years than it actually has because of all the deferred money on the books. Epstein mentioned the fact that Carlos Pena’s salary was spread out over multiple seasons and they actually paid him last year while he was wearing a Rays’ uniform. Epstein pointed out that they will be paying for past drafts out of next year’s budget and that is not the way the team will be run moving forward (note: Epstein did not mention other deferred payments to players such as the $1 million owed to Ryan Dempster next year).
  • Jed Hoyer said they were pleased with Dale Sveum and the 101 losses is not a reflection at all on him. Sveum did a good job with disciplining players as well as patting them on the back. Hoyer explained that the win-loss record is not on Sveum but was a product of the talent on the field and that is a reflection of Hoyer and Theo Epstein. The front office gave Sveum high marks and they are looking forward to working with him for a long time.
  • The Cubs are looking to get Matt Garza healthy and they see him as a part of the 2013 team. Hoyer said that the training staff is optimistic about him being ready to go when Spring Training begins.

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  • ChadAudio

    Great re-cap Neil!… very interesting stuff.

  • Dorasaga

    It’s always inspiring for a fan to know what a GM and his team has been trying to accomplish, and the reason behind. Using a team in Kane County, close to Chicago, for rehab assignments will be a plus. Health management and injury risk control had become so big and expensive with American sports nowadays, it’s time to find better ways to stay on the edge of this business.

    We as fans sometimes ignore how much work must be done for a pro baseball operation, and sometimes they aren’t done right. Logistics, approximation, location, mobility of players, those little things not directly related to talent evaluation must also be designed and managed with foresight. I’m just glad that the Cubs is no longer the smallest front office in baseball anymore.

  • Tony_Hall

    They certainly don’t dodge the tough questions and call it like they see it.

    Once again we have been told their off-season plans to add 2 SP’s, an OF, fill 3B and possibly a backup C.

    And hopefully everyone can see the difference in philosophy on adding FA’s and payroll structure. Paying Pena last year and still paying off debts from past years this coming year, is not the way to structure contracts. Castro’s deal is not back-loaded and more evenly spread out, and that a better way to do it. And FA is not how you build your roster, but how you supplement it, as teams are locking up their young talent and more and more FA’s are ending up on the wrong side of 30 now.

  • DWalker

    Its amazing how people don’t understand how badly some of those contracts were backloaded. A lot of tricks were used to “adjust” payroll and pay it off down the line,sooner or later it was going to come due, and part of the problem was a lot of the contracts were done this way to keep pushing the debt back. I can understand doing it in certain situations, but it seems like with hendry it was a matter of course. Thats why its good its being cleaned out in the down cycle of a rebuild rather then on the verge of contending when money will be tight to lock up FA’s. I wish I could say I thought Hendry planned it this way, but I’d be kidding myself if I thought that.
    A few interesting things in there, a lot of what you would expect. I still think the state of the farm system really did surprise them last year and it caused some miscues. One thing I noticed, Vitters was well mentioned, enough that either they do have confidence in him as a slow starter who will develop or they are building him up for a potential trade. I also noticed Jackson was not mentioned above.

  • Greg

    KC has dangled Wil Myers for a starter, discussing Jon Lester and James Shields. Why not Matt Garza?