Jed Hoyer joined Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden during the Front Office (MLB Radio Network/XM Radio) on Sunday morning.
Jed Hoyer discussed the state of the Cubs going into Spring Training, the off-season moves, Kyuji Fujikawa, Alfonso Soriano, Matt Garza, Junior Lake, Brett Jackson and Javier Baez … plus the players Hoyer feels are core pieces for the Cubs moving forward.
Jim Duquette: Second hour here on the Front Office with Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette. Let’s welcome in our next guest. He is the General Manager of the Chicago Cubs, Jed Hoyer. Jed thanks for joining Jim and Jim. How are you this morning?
Jed Hoyer: I’m doing well. How are you guys doing?
Jim Bowden: Doing great Jed. Thanks for coming on. You’ve had a very busy off-season here. Let’s talk about some of these moves. Edwin Jackson, Scott Baker, Carlos Villanueva, Scott Hairston, Kyuji Fujikawa. If you could break it down. What you’ve accomplished?
JH: One of the biggest things we felt last year, obviously we had a completely unsuccessful season we lost 101 games, big part of that was the lack of pitching depth. We just didn’t have the depth in the organization or in the big leagues to withstand a whole season. So that was a big focus of the off-season. We went in right away and went out and got Feldman and Baker. That was really a focus. Let’s get two guys right away, early in the off-season, and after that we just focused on building up depth. We think we did a good job of it. We’ve still got a ways to go as an organization and that will take a lot of drafts. But we think at the big league level that we’ve added a lot of depth and I think that will help us get through a whole season.
JD: From that perspective, Jed you are always looking to upgrade and obviously the bullpen I am curious about because we don’t know an awful lot about Fujikawa but we’ve heard good things. What can you tells us from your reports, what you guys have seen on him? What kind of impact do you think he will have?
JH: Sure. Obviously you look at his numbers and he’s been completely dominate in Japan both as a setup guys and obviously a closer the last few years. One of the things we looked at careful was the conversion of Japanese relievers to the big leagues and really all of the different subsets you can look at. For Japanese players, relief pitchers have the best success. He throws strikes, he’s got a fastball and can get it up to 94 but it has good carry on it and seems to always miss barrels. And then he’s got a good split-finger fastball and he’s got a breaking ball he can throw in there for strikes. But it is always a different look for hitters. I think a lot of times you get used to seeing the sinker-slider relief pitchers. I think it is nice to have a guy with a four-seam fastball with a split. I think it will be a different look for hitters and we like the fact he attacks the zone. So, we are excited. We know there will be a transition phase but he’s had a lot of success over there and we were really impressed when we met him.
JB: We just got off the phone with Sandy Alderson, the Mets GM, who told us that he is still in on Michael Bourn and was just kinda curious if you guys are in on Bourn, if you’ve stayed in touch and have any interest in him or [Kyle] Lohse at this point?
JH: Yea, we are still in touch with a number of free agents but I think, I wouldn’t say we are done, you never know when something is going to happen that you feel you can’t turn your back on. But I think we are pretty likely to go to Spring Training with what we right have now. Never say never, but I think it is probably unlikely we do anything significant before we get to Spring Training.
JD: How about on the trade front there Jed? I mean, we know that can always change. Early on it looked like you might have traded him, know not so much, we are not really sure. What can you tell us? Is it likely he comes to Spring Training with you?
JD: Sori, yea.
JH: I think it is very likely. We had a couple of discussions this off-season. Obviously he had a really good year and teams had some interest but I always say since we got to Chicago all he’s done is hit 30 homers, driven in 100 and really improved his defense working with Dave McKay and been good in the clubhouse. So, certainly we are looking to get younger as an organization so we did entertain some discussions but nothing really ever got all that close. We are excited to have him playing left field and batting fourth for us.
JB: What great work ethic Soriano has. I love how hard he works in the weight room and on the field and how much he loves the game. We are talking to Jed Hoyer, he is the GM of the Cubs. Now, Jed I’ve got two or three of my tweetie friends, twitter friends, that want me to ask you a couple of questions so I’m going to throw them at you real quick and if you can just respond. I’m going to give you three here. They want to know about Junior Lake. They want to know your thoughts about Brett Jackson and do you envision the Cubs’ infield in time to be Rizzo, Barney, Castro and Baez?
JH: First of all on Junior Lake, he’s had a really good winter ball. He’s such a great athlete. He’s really physical. Obviously he can play short but we think he can play third and we think he can even play centerfield and a corner outfield. He’s got big power. He played this winter for Dave Jauss, who I’ve known for a long time, and he gave us great reports. He has some work to do still, plate discipline and things he needs to cover up but he’s going to be a good player. Brett Jackson, I think is also going to be a very good player. Really at this point the missing link for him is his contact. He knows that. The defense, the baserunning, the power is all there, the intangibles. He just needs to make more contact. He’s worked really hard at kinda revamping his swing a little bit this winter to try to get to some of the pitches he was missing. We are excited to see him in Mesa. The last thing you asked me about was the infield of the future and that sounds pretty good. I don’t wanna … Baez is the one guy in that group that really has some work. Rizzo and Barney and Castro have obviously really established themselves. With Baez he’s got a ways to go but he’s an exciting talent, incredible bat speed. Really he can play shortstop and if he ends up playing third it’s because we’ve got two good shortstops. He’s done a lot of good work this winter and we are excited to see him all spring.
JD: Speaking with Jed Hoyer of the Cubs. With Matt Garza, obviously timing for his injury last year was unfortunate. It sounded like, from everything that I was told, that he was coming along real good. What can you tell us more about his health and do you expect him to be ready to go right from the start of Spring Training?
JH: [Quickly] Yea, he should be ready to go. He’s excited about how he feels. He’s gotten total clearance the last couple of times he’s seen a doctor. So he’s ready to go. He should be full go going into Spring Training. You know we have a couple of guys. Baker who had Tommy John, he could be a little bit slower. Vizcaino, the same thing. But we expect Garza to be ready to go when we get there, get there to Mesa.
JB: And Matt Garza’s a free agent at the end of the year, so in this situation, how do you handle this? Do you get to spring, do you get him healthy, do you let him pitch ‘til July, do you try to sign him, do you try to trade him? How do you play out Garza?
JH: His focus now is on getting him healthy. He feels really good and we are excited about having him in the rotation. When he is on the mound, he can be dominate. He’s one of those guys that can throw a shutout anytime he’s out there. That’s a great asset to have. Right now the focus is on him being in our rotation. That could change. We don’t have him signed beyond this year and obviously we are focused on gathering assets and gathering talent for the future. But Matt has been really good for us. We are excited to get him to Mesa and get him healthy and then we are excited to have him in our rotation.
JD: When you look at your rotation there Jed. Obviously Samardzija, your saying Garza’s ready, Jackson, Baker may be slowed a little bit, so Feldman and, would you say Villanueva would be that guy or is it Wood? Who has the inside track there?
JH: Both Wood and Villanueva. Obviously Villanueva has pitched out of the bullpen more than Wood has in the past. The way I look at it right now is that we have seven guys that can be in our rotation. As you guys both well know it never ends up that way so it’s like one of those hypotheticals. It sounds good to talk about it in January but somehow someone will get hurt or something will happen and you’ll be really happy you have that depth. So that’s how we look at it. We didn’t have nearly enough pitching last year and hopefully this year we have enough to really be strong. When you look at the teams that are successful at the end of the year it’s usually the teams that miss the fewest starts and have the most depth in the pitching staff.
JB: Jed, let’s take a look at the Cubs before you got here and how they were viewed and where they are today. I know when you arrived you had Starlin Castro as a piece. Now, I think as we look and as time has gone on, I think it is fair to say that you’ve got Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney and Jeff Samardzija. I mean you’ve got some pieces that you’ve now added to that. Are you guys on track to where you guys to be? And what other pieces do you now have, whether it is in the farm system or at the big league level that can be part of the core to turn this franchise into a contender?
JH: That’s really exactly how we look at it. When we got here we felt like we had that one core piece in Starlin Castro. We are really happy that Jeff Samardzija really forced his way in to that. He wanted to be a starter and he proved a lot of us wrong. He certainly proved he can do it and we think he can be a big part of our future. Obviously, Darwin Barney still has some work to do with getting on base which he knows but he is such a good defender at second base, great makeup and he’s got great hand-eye coordination that is so good that once he, he is really one of those guys that puts the ball in play too much, once he lays off some more pitches he will be a really good player. We have some more core pieces adding Rizzo and in our system we are certainly hopeful that guys like Soler and Baez and Almora can be a big part of that. It is hard to say that yet, those guys still have a lot to prove in the minor leagues. Our goal is really to add a couple of pieces to that core every single year. I think when you do that you look up in a few years and you have like six, eight, ten guys that are good young players. That is what the best organizations have. When you look at the Braves or the Nationals or the Reds or the Cardinals those best team have those six, eight, ten really good young players and that is what we hope to accomplish.
JD: You guys obviously have the number two pick next year. I know you always want to take the best available. Do you have a sense of how strong the draft is, that spot is usually pretty good, but is it strong overall or is it a little bit weaker like we’ve heard?
JH: You know it is hard to tell. I think there are some good college pitchers for sure. I always feel like the high school pitchers can play in a high school class but it is hard to assess now. Inevitably a couple of guys come out of the woodwork and really mature as 18 year olds and those guys are really hard to assess right now. The way I see it looking historically at the second pick in the draft, teams have done really well and gotten core pieces there. We need to do that and we need to hit on a core piece there. Whether it is a college pitcher or a high school position player or a college pitcher, we don’t know yet. I think it is the wrong thing to do to sort of set your feet early and make a decision about exactly what subset that you are going to go after. I think when you do that you can probably walk away from some really good players you might have ignored. So, we are trying to keep an open mind. It is nice to be picking second. It means we can really do a lot of work on the guys we identify early. But it is hard to tell right now. I don’t think it is going to be one of the stronger draft classes but when you are picking second that really shouldn’t matter that much.
JB: Yea, you will get a top guy sitting right there. Let’s talk about the World Baseball Classic. This is the year that we go back to that. I would love to get your thoughts on it. How many Chicago Cubs players will be participating and how disruptive is that for you when you are trying to get a team ready for Opening Day?
JH: For better or for worse we don’t have a lot of guys involved. Rizzo is going to play for Team Italy. Beyond that I don’t think we are going to be all that disrupted by it. That’s kinda a double-edged sword. In some ways you want a lot of your guys being asked about and being talked about because it means that you’ve got a ton of talent. It is disruptive but I think it is a good thing for the game. As an industry we just have to look at it as if it improves the game over the next 10 or 15 years, one Spring Training is going to kills up if our guys are a little bit late or slow. I do think that, I am not unhappy that guys like Samardzija and Garza and those guys aren’t participating because I do think that your starting pitchers, really that’s face it, Spring Training is about getting your pitching ready to go. The hitters, those guys can figure it out in 30, 40, 50 at bats. I think if we had a bunch of position players I’d be fine with it. If we had a lot of pitchers involved I think that you would be a little more nervous.
JD: Jed, we always appreciate …
JB: Jed, let me follow up with you. Let me ask you a quick question before you go Jed because I have some of the fans on Twitter that keep wanting me to ask you questions. So, I want to get one more. I thought it was an interesting question. They wanted me to ask you about the professional working relationship between you and Theo. How much involved does Theo get in terms of your day-to-day operations as the GM? You know there are a lot of presidents and GM that do it differently. Whether it is Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti in Cleveland or John Schierholtz and Frank Wren in Atlanta. How does it work and how does it function the ideal way from your perspective?
JH: Well, I think it is always going to be evolving depending on where we are as an organization. I think when we got here we thought we had so much work to do in hiring and putting a team together and implementing things that in some ways we almost picked projects. He would do one and I would do the other. In some ways when it comes to free agents or trades, I talk to most teams. Maybe there are a couple of teams he will talk to more often because of the relationships. The same thing with agents. If he has a better relationship with an agent or I do, we will sort of take that player and take him on. So far we have really been able to divide up a lot of responsibilities and probably accomplish a lot more work. How that evolves in the future I’m not sure, but I really think that is the nice thing. When we talked about it, going back to last October, one of the things with Theo and with me is that we never really had to worry about the working relationships. We didn’t have to worry about being territorial about it and so I think that is nice. I don’t think that arrangement would work very well if you didn’t have that kind of trust. I think that if you look at Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn or look at Mark and Chris or Theo and me, I think that the common thread is really that trust that has been built over years and years. That is what allows us to work really well together without ever feeling like we are infringing on the other one’s territory.
JD: Jed, we always appreciate your time. Thanks and safe travels to Arizona we will catch up with you in the spring.
JH: Great, have a good Sunday guys.