Jed Hoyer joined Bruce Levine and Ben Finfer during the Score’s new ‘Hot Stove’ show on Saturday morning. The Cubs’ GM discussed a variety of topics with Levine and Finfer including the coaching staff, Bill Mueller, the team’s desire to keep Jeff Samardzija and the front office’s willingness to promote players if they dominate the level they are playing in without reaching the 500-at bat mark.
Jed Hoyer also reiterated the front office’s desire to add pitching this winter, specifically power arms, and the need to add players with the same offensive philosophy that can get on base.
Ben Finfer: We have a special guest on the line …
Bruce Levine: We do indeed Ben, the General Manager of the Chicago Cubs, Jed Hoyer joins us. Welcome to The Score Jed. It’s different for me to say. I know you’ve been on before.
Jed Hoyer: Thanks Bruce, I appreciate you having me.
BL: First and foremost, you completed your coaching staff yesterday. Well not actually, you still have a first base coach to go. For the most part you did and I guess the one thing that stands out for me is your hitting coach, Bill Mueller. Chris Bosio has obviously done a wonderful job for you guys and has been given an extension to continue that work. But hitting, on-base percentage and all of that good stuff that comes along with it, certainly a bone of contention for the Chicago Cubs. Where do you think Bill fits in with the Cubs’ plan for the future?
JH: First off on the whole staff, we have one more position to add. But we are very happy with where we are. We think we added a lot of impact people, a lot of people with great coaching experience. One of the most important things for us was making sure we could keep our pitching infrastructure in place with Chris Bosio and Lester Strode and Mike Borzello. I think those guys have done a really good job for us. We’ve made a lot of pitchers better and players love those guys. That was a big focus of our winter, making sure we could keep those guys and we did. As far as Bill Mueller goes, Theo and I have known Bill for a long time and we love the way Bill talks about hitting, the way he thought about hitting as a player and the way he worked at it. He was the interim hitting coach for a little while with the Dodgers, but he’s been doing a lot of scouting for the Dodgers and he’s a guy Theo has talked about for a long time as a guy who really talks about the approach to hitting very well and the thought process that we need. We’ve been very open. We simply HAVE NOT gotten on base enough. We haven’t been focused enough at the plate. That is a clear area where we are not going to get where we need to go if we continue to hit the way we’ve been hitting. We think Bill brings a different message and one that is really in line with what we want to teach our players to do.
BF: You guys also hired, or I should say, moved Brandon Hyde as Director of Player Development down to the dugout as the bench coach. Why the decision to go with him rather than someone who maybe has a little bit more experience in that dugout to sit next to Rick Renteria?
JH: A couple of reasons. First of all, Brandon is one of those impact employees who I think can do any job incredibly well. He was a bench coach for Jack McKeon of the Marlins. And Jack and the rest of that staff just raved about what he did for him. He knows all of young players coming up through and has great relationships with those guys. So that was a big part of it. Our biggest goal over the next couple of years, besides getting wins, is going to be making sure we have a smooth transition with our talent from the minor leagues up to the big leagues. Brandon can really help with that. He’s a guy that has done the job before and done it well, so we felt like that was not a hard decision. One of the nice things we had was, we have a lot of good talent that we’ve acquired in terms of scouts and player development people that we think we can replace Brandon with pretty seamlessly.
BL: This is Hot Stove Saturday. He’s Ben Finfer, I’m Bruce Levine. We are here for you every Saturday from 8-9 expanded in mid-February for more baseball talk here. Jed Hoyer, the General Manager of the Cubs joining us.
BL: Jed, you guys have made numerous attempts to sign Jeff Samardzija to a contract. You’ve almost stood on your head in some ways to get this thing done. You’ve identified him as an important pitcher, an improving pitcher, since you guys took over. No doubt about it, 200 innings and 200 strikeouts. Where does that stand in your mind and in Theo’s mind for the future? And, how much patience will you have with Jeff and his contract status if you can’t get something done here by the beginning of 2014?
JH: You know it is a hard question to answer because I feel like it is important to have confidentiality when you are dealing with contract negotiations. It is not fair to Jeff to talk about where we are during the process. I think everyone knows that we’ve been in contact with his agents and been in contact with Jeff about wanting to keep him, and that’s been well publicized, and for good reason. He’s a great competitor and I think a very good pitcher who has a chance to keep getting better. He has great stuff, great work ethic, so there are so many things about Jeff Samardzija are things that we want to represent here with the Cubs. We’ve obviously been in contact with him and I’m sure we will be going forward. But, I think as far as talking about where it is in the negotiations, I think that doesn’t show the right faith with their side if we do that.
BL: Yeah, understood. But, it’s kind of a time warp thing for both you and Jeff. He’s going to be 29. He’s going to be going into those years where he should be topping out of his ability. He wants to be on a winner. You want to identify players that in the long term are going to be part of a winner. Timing is almost everything here isn’t it, Jed?
JH: Well, it’s certainly a factor in our consideration and in his consideration. I think that we have to … both sides have to keep that in mind as they work through the process. So, like I said before, he’s a guy that we’ve really enjoyed getting to know over the last couple of years. We’ve had productive conversations with his agents and with him about staying. We will continue to keep those in house and continue working in that direction.
BF: You know a lot of people assumed, or thought, that when you guys were hired that the timetable would be 2015, that would be the year you would go for it. Is that still the case? Do you feel you can be a contender in the next couple of years? Or, have you guys moved the timetable back at all?
JH: I guess I would say this. First of all the concept of going for it, I think what we are trying to do is build an organization that’s built for the long haul. That can stand up against a team like the Cardinals. I think that is the most important thing. The Cardinals have been built in such a way where they don’t go for it. They are just well built. They add pieces every off-season to augment what they already have. That is ultimately the goal is to get to the point where we are that kind of organization. One of the things that I think helped us in Boston a lot is that we were going up against a Yankee team that was coming off of those late-90s team that were some of the best teams of all-time. I think it raises your game when you have to compete against that. So, that is what we are trying to build. As far as a timetable, I guess all I would say is that we are really happy with where we are as far as organizational talent. I think we’ve added a ton of talent over the last couple of years. We will continue to do that and when exactly that turns into that sustained winner I am not sure. But I will say that if you told me that we would have added this much talent to the organization in two years I think that I would have been real happy having this conversation at the end of 2011.
BF: Has there been any frustration or surprise at some of the financial restrictions that you guys have had putting your rosters together over the last couple of years? And going forward as well?
JH: No. I mean obviously the payroll has come down a bit. But right now I think we’ve been really focused on acquiring young assets and building through youth. We are very confident that when the players are ready, to augment that group with older players and some free agents, we are very confident we will have the money to do that. So, that certainly has not been a factor. I think that the only things that have really slowed us down, slowed down our progress, is some of the rules changes that were put in place I think have made free agency harder to build in because there are fewer good players now. Obviously the new CBA with the draft restrictions, and the international restrictions, kind of slowed things down a little bit. We’ve been open about that and that was something we didn’t expect. We’ve had to work around it, but the financial part is not something that’s slowed us down at all.
BL: I know for the fan base and for probably you and the rest of the front office, July has been the most rewarding and frustrating month of both of the first years that you’ve been around. Because those are the only two months, Jed, that you guys have had an above .500 record. And yet you’ve had to leave those positive situations and look toward the future by making deals. I wonder how difficult that second half, or last third of the season has been for you and Theo and the rest of the front office, even though you’ve made a lot of strides of getting some good players in that period of time.
JH: I think we will look back on those trade deadlines and realize that I think those deals will be a big part of our future going forward. But, to me August and September have been by far the most frustrating times. Both years having to make those trades and obviously our team hasn’t been nearly as good in August and September. It is hard to watch. I think our team has been non-competitive but at least the fans are continuing to come to the ballpark to support us. Our team has not been as good as it should be in those months. It has been hard. We know it is hard on the fans. If we didn’t feel like it was absolutely necessary to do, if there were other avenues we could take to acquire talent, we would do that. I think that, as you mentioned there are so many different periods of the year in which you can acquire talent and unfortunately that is one of them. Last year was more frustrating to us than the previous year because if you look at it, we felt like we were a much better team than our record last year in the first half. We didn’t close out games in the bullpen. We struggled with runners in scoring position. But you looked up in late July and our run differential was basically even. I think it may have actually been positive. We left like last year we were a better team than our record indicated and we were frustrated making those trades. We probably weren’t tearing down a team that should have been competing with the Reds and Pirates and Cardinals, but we felt like we were making trades off a team that probably should have been a lot closer to .500 and probably should have been making better strides than it was. But, that’s life and we are happy with the deals that we made and you have to move forward.
BL: All of that said, you guys have some wonderful young position players coming along. Baez had a sensational minor league season. Your number two pick, overall, in the draft, Kris Bryant had a great minor league year and, or last third, and of course a great Arizona Fall League. All that said we know that you guys have kind of a strict rule about getting 500 at bats at Triple-A before you are ready to make it to the majors. Could that change with Baez and Bryant and could we see them progress very quickly through the system and be a part of the 2014 team?
JH: That’s the one way we’ve ever considered speeding things up. We’ve talked about just purely dominating a level. I think if you’re doing things at a level that make it very obvious you don’t belong there any more, I think that does speed things up. Listen, I always hope that happens, I think that is the best case. I am very happy that we have a lot of young position playing talent in the minor leagues. We just want to make sure we don’t hinder those guys in calling them up too early and pushing them too fast. And end up them having their growing pains being maybe harder than need to be. So, I think that the 500-plate appearance rule, I think that is something that is important to adhere to. Obviously if a guy goes out and makes a mockery of a league you are going to reconsider it. And I hope those guys do it. And I think we have other players in the minor leagues that could do it at different levels as well. I think that our four top hitting prospects obviously get the most attention but I think that we have a lot of other guys in the minor leagues that have a chance to breakout next year. I think that you are only as good as your depth, when it comes to your prospects, and I think that is probably something we are as proud of as anything. I do think we are developing a reputation of having a pretty deep system as well.
BF: So, Winter Meetings are coming up in just a couple of weeks. You have the Rule 5 Draft. What kind of moves can we expect you guys to be making in the next few weeks? Or throughout the off-season really?
JH: Obviously pitching is an area we would like to fill. I think we have been really clear that we need to keep focusing on power arms and we really need to focus on the ability to get on base. We have to do that better. So, we will be focusing on a lot of players that do have the right approach for us. The last thing, at the Major League level, I think we are looking for is we do need to find some veteran leadership. One of the hardest parts of our trades that we’ve made, as we discussed earlier, is that we traded away some players that I think had a really good influence on the clubhouse. And we need to make sure we are always supplementing that because our young players have a very good coaching staff to work with, but they also need to have peers on the bench that can help them out as well. That’s something that we have to keep an eye on as we go forward that these guys have good mentors in the clubhouse with them.
BL: Jed, Ben and I appreciate your time today.