Jed Hoyer joined Matt Spiegel and Laurence Holmes on Thursday morning during the McNeil and Spiegel Show (670 the Score). Hoyer discussed a variety of Cubs topics as well as adamantly denying he or Theo Epstein knew anything about the accusations that someone with the Red Sox organization approached Curt Schilling about the possibility of using PEDs in 2008.
Jed Hoyer also talked in detail about Starlin Castro while pointing out that he is younger than many of the top prospects in the game.
Matt Spiegel: Lots of questions have come to our minds and more this morning and we will ask them all to Jed Hoyer, the General Manager of the Chicago Cubs, who joins us right now on the Home Run Inn pizza hotline. (Home Run Inn commercial) Jed, how are you?
Jed Hoyer: I’m doing well. How are you guys doing?
MS: Very good. Thanks for your time, I appreciate it.
JH: No problem.
MS: How do you feel about the off-season? Specifically the pitching and I guess I want to ask you about Edwin Jackson because you have this wonderful opportunity for a patient, supportive fan base that has been provided. And you guys have done a lot of taking advantage of it, in a good way. A lot of the system rebuild that you’ve done and Scott Baker and Scott Feldman. I guess the only one which gave me a little pause was Edwin Jackson. So I would love for you to sort of talk about that in context with this off-season.
JH: Sure. It was a great question. Really if you look at every move we’ve made we’ve been really clear that we are really building for something that we want to be special in the future and try to be aware with that with every move. I think that Edwin Jackson actually fits into that context really well. He pitched last year at 28 years old. He’s had a really solid career. So far he’s had some stretches of being very good and had some other stretches where he’s probably been a league average starter. But you take the whole five years in general and for a guy that is only 28 years old he’s had a really good career so far. We felt like one of the challenges in building what we are trying to build is that you can’t just snap your fingers all at once and say … okay, now we are ready to compete. Now we are going to go out and sign three or four free agents all in the same time. You are going to have to do things in pieces. We felt like getting a chance to get a guy who is going to pitch on this contract 29 through 32, who has been really healthy, we think his best years might be a head of him. We felt like it was the right time and a big part of that was his age and a big part of that was the fact that you can’t do all of that at once.
Laurence Holmes: Jed, what are the landmarks that you at when you are trying to figure out progress? Is it what’s happening on the Major League level or is it what’s happening at the minor league level?
JH: You know it is both. I think last year there were some really good developments for us at the Major League level. Obviously we liked what we saw from Rizzo. He’s still got a lot of things left to prove but certainly we felt like he showed the signs of becoming a guy that can hit in the middle of the lineup for us and play at first base for a long time. We love what we saw from Jeff Samardzija. We think he can continue to develop and hopefully be a big part of our rotation for a long time. Obviously, Darwin Barney was outstanding on defense in the second year at second base. So there were some positive developments. Obviously a lot of that was masked by losing 101 games. The record was unacceptable, obviously, last year and the season was a disappointment but I think you have to look at multiple things when you are in this part of the process. You have to look at which players are emerging as guys we think can be a big part of our future both at the big league level and at the minor league level. So we spent a lot of time focusing on the minor league level, guys we can acquire from other organizations might be in that and then obviously looking at our own team. That is the biggest thing for us; you never lose sight of the Major League team. You can’t and that is why we do this. There are some silver linings. You can’t just say the season might not be a success because of the record, or missing the playoffs, but I don’t think that is the right brush to paint it with. You have to always look at what other things are happening and if we continue to have more core guys emerge I think that will bode really well for the future.
MS: You’ve got a fan base who has widened the focus. They have zoomed out a little bit. They like looking at prospect lists and looking at some of the rankings and some of them are so much better than they were a couple of years ago. I want to ask you about Kane County. Now that it is a Cubs’ affiliate in Single-A and not too far from Chicago, will you have some of the bigger name prospects there more than you might another Single-A stop? Lord knows I would. If I were in charge and I was thinking about it, because if Baez is there and Soler is there, if Almora is there, like I would almost want to have a rotation of guys out there. Because you are ensuring the possibility of Cubs’ fans being able to go out there and see some people.
JH: The good thing is for this first year is that it will happen really naturally. We had a very good team last year at Boise, just a really fun team to watch. Almost every player on the team was a prospect; I think that is going to be really nice and those guys will be naturally promoted to Kane County this year. So that is really nice for us. Baez is the only one on that list that won’t be there for sure. I’m not sure about the others but Baez already dominated that level, played great last year at Peoria. So he will be above that but any of the other guys might well be there. It should be a very, very fun team to watch. We are just excited to be in Kane County in general. Peoria was a good affiliate for us for a lot of years but the chance to have a minor league team right in our market like that is so exciting for us. It is a quick drive to watch it, both for our fans and for us. There are a lot of nice synergies that will develop that way.
LH: I know that you talked about the process and I feel like a lot of Cubs’ fans understand the process and are willing to give you a ton of time to do it. Do you ever worry about panic because of the brand of the Cubs and because people are so passionate about the team and what type of assurances have you gotten from Tom Ricketts that, look even if it is ugly still for another year or two, that he has faith in what you guys are trying to accomplish?
JH: The Ricketts family has been fantastic for us. They really believe in what we are trying to build. I think what we are trying to build is something that can compete every single year. I think that is something really that the Cubs have never had, certainly not since World War II. A team that every single year was in contention had a chance to make the playoffs almost every year or eight out of ten years. Teams that win World Series does not happen one time, it is teams that get in there every single year and eventually they have a hot October. They are certainly behind us. They are very patient. I think when it comes to patience no one wants to win more than Theo or me or the rest of the people on the staff. I don’t think you ever have to worry that we want to delay the gratification. We are trying to be patient and build things the right way and build it organically through the system. But we really want to win incredibly badly. For most of our careers we’ve been with wining organizations. So, I don’t think the fans need to worry about our competitiveness or the fact we want to extend things. We want to win as soon as possible. We just know that if we try to do it too quickly that it will kinda short-circuit what we are trying to do. We do not want to risk giving up a chance to have that good team year in and year out, just for a quick, short-term gain and I think that our fans are behind that.
MS: I think for the most part they are. We have those conversations a lot with people and some of them have begun to realize that it is not about their time on the couch, this year, you know or this past year, but eventually it will be. Jed Hoyer is with us, the General Manager of the Chicago Cubs here on 670 the Score.
MS: I have to ask you about Curt Schilling’s comments this morning. Have you caught wind of them yet, Jed?
JH: Yea, I saw them this, I am on the West Coast so I saw them probably a little bit later than other people did.
MS: Let me share it with the listeners just to get them up to speed real quick. Curt Schilling says that toward the end of his career in 2008 when he had gotten hurt, there was a conversation that I was involved in, in the Red Sox’s clubhouse. He goes on later to say in which it was brought to his attention that it was a potential path to use PEDs. He says that it was suggested to him by someone, he was asked who it was, he says former members of the organization that are no longer there but it was an incredibly uncomfortable conversation. It came up among a group of people. There were other people not in the conversation that could clearly hear it. There is more to it but he saying that he was encouraged to take PEDs by somebody who was in the organization who is not now. Obviously we know a couple of those people. You know, we are familiar with a couple of those people including you. Do you have any comment on that? Does it ring memorable to you at all?
JH: Well, the first I’d ever heard of that was this morning when I saw it. So, clearly no, it did not ring true to me at all. I can tell you it is preposterous that Theo or I would be involved in that. I can comment the two of us, obviously were not there. I do not know the story you are talking about so I can’t comment on the rest of it. I can tell you that certainly it was not Theo or me.
MS: Alright, because this is a persuasive problem in baseball and you wonder how high it goes. Is that something that you’ve had to consider as a General Manager and as an assistant in Boston? You’ve got guys who might be using, might be going their own avenues. It has been a factor in your mind to think about of course.
JH: Well it is a topic in baseball that’s discussed. It has to be. It gets talked about in the media every day. In my position going from going intern to baseball operations systems all the way to assistant GM and GM, it’s never something I’ve ever been confronted with, no. But it is something that is a constant discussion in baseball because whether the guy tests positive or there are suspicions, it is something that people talk about, that’s never something that I’ve never been directly confronted with.
LH: How do you fight the good fight against them? Especially in a leadership position now. What is the approach in trying to educate and get players to understand the dangers to themselves, their career and the credibility of the organization?
JH: Well I think Major League Baseball and the Union have really done a great job. I think we are well ahead of the other sports as far as testing. I think the most recent things, the HGH testing in season; I think they have really done a good job with that. They haven’t waited every single time until there is a new collective bargaining agreement. They have been ahead of it. The Union has been willing to add things to make it more stringent. I am really proud of what Major League Baseball has done. I mean it is hard you know. I don’t think you are going to ever create a net that catches every fish. But at the same time, I think the game is obviously a ton cleaner than it was prior to testing. I think that all you have to do is look at offensive numbers, 30 and 100 is back to being a great season the way it was when we were kids. There is no doubt that testing has been real successful. I think that Major League Baseball and the union have done a really great job with that and I hope it continues. The stricter it is the better. You want every kid to watch baseball and know that every player is clean. It seems like they are going to keep going until that it a success.
MS: It’s just such a damn shame, isn’t it Jed? I mean you are a baseball guy, you were a baseball fan. The damage that it has done to the conversations that we can have with our dads about baseball or looking around at the numbers. It used to make me angry, now it just kinda makes me tired, you know. How do you feel about the whole thing?
JH: I think that is a fair way of putting it. It is a shame and it is a shame every time a guy has a great year out of the blue or a guy really improves, it is part of the conversation. It is not that player’s fault; it is the fault of what happened before that those questions are asked. It is certainly not a problem that is unique to baseball. I think baseball has more history, more numeric records. It is probably easier to look at generation to generation than other sports are so in that way people focus on baseball. But, I think from the Olympics on down, I think it’s a problem in every sport. People are trying to get an edge and there is a lot of money to be made, so it is not unique to baseball. But what is unique to baseball is that we have so many numbers and records and things that are important. It is probably a more generational game than the rest of them.
MS: Now you are right and it’s more of an emotional connection than a lot of other sports. That’s absolutely true. Now, let me take you back to the game and the team on the field. I was looking at some Starlin Castro numbers from last year and it is interesting. It is a pretty even split … 53 games as the two-hitter, 56 games as the three-hitter, 50 games as the five-hitter, pretty even splits. Slugging percentage a little better at the two, OBP far better at the five, OPS and his OPS+, better at the five. With a prospect and a player like him, is having him as a five-hitter and acceptable outcome or do you still dream of a slot higher in the order for Starlin?
JH: Well, I think he is probably going to hit higher in the order later on down the road. I do think lineup spots can get into guy’s heads. They can try to do too much. Sometimes you put a guy higher in the order he puts more pressure on himself to do damage. Maybe in the five-spot he kinda let things come to him more often. A lot of times that is the kinda thing that year over year it does not make a difference. I was very impressed with Rizzo. Basically Dale put him in the three-hole and left him there and he didn’t put too much pressure on himself which is great. A lot of times a manager will move a guy around the order a little bit to find the right place for a guy that doesn’t press too much, doesn’t try too hard and feels natural. I think with Starlin I am really bullish on his future. I think there is a lot more power there. I do think he is going to get on base more. He may never be … I don’t think he’s ever going to be Wade Boggs but at the same time I do think he’s going to be a power hitting shortstop for a long time. I think his best years are ahead of him. The fact that he had a … I think people were expecting more from his season last year but what he did was still pretty impressive. I think there is a lot more in there and he will have some really special years in the future.
LH: It is interesting how generically the term prospect gets thrown around. Hearing you talk about it earlier, you are talking about something specific. So, I’d love to know what constitutes a prospect to you and how can a player on the lower levels catch your eye?
JH: One of the beauties of baseball is we have a video at every single game, we have game reports that are really thoughtful and thorough from our manager, our hitting coach and our pitching coach in the minor leagues, plus we’ve got a lot of stats. No one is ever going to slip through the cracks for sure. There are certain physical skills that you need to be able to play in the big leagues and as much as we look at performance quantitatively, you’ve got to be able to do certain things to succeed in the big leagues. It is a combination of scouting and numbers. Baseball is a great meritocracy. You always know the cream will rise to the top when it comes to prospects. I actually thought where you were going to go with that question, which I think is really valid, a guy like Starlin Castro he is younger than most of the guys on the top 100 list, still. I think that is one of the things that people forget with him. In some ways he is still a prospect. He just happened to have three years of big league time. In a lot of ways in terms of maturation and development, he should be considered a long with a lot of those prospects.
MS: Hey Jed, thanks for your time. We appreciate it and good luck with Spring Training and I am sure we will run into you in March in Arizona.
JH: Sounds good guys, take care.
Note: Curt Schilling explained why he decided to talk about the PED incident nearly five years after the fact to Rob Bradford … and said he was not trying to call any attention to himself. Major League Baseball issued a statement on the situation on Friday. MLB investigated the situation thoroughly at the time and said they did not find anything in 2008 and consider the matter closed.