Jed Hoyer joined Jeff Joyce and Jim Bowden during Inside Pitch (MLB Network Radio) on Thursday afternoon. The Cubs’ general manager discussed the Masahiro Tanaka process, the fact they are looking to add “innings” to the rotation before Spring Training begins and the Cubs’ farm system.
Jed Hoyer confirmed the Cubs are looking to add at least one starting pitcher and did not shoot down the team’s possible interest in either Paul Maholm or Scott Baker. Hoyer reiterated Javier Baez will begin the season as Iowa’s shortstop and Kris Bryant is likely going to be a third for Double-A Tennessee on Opening Day.
The lead-in to the interview with Jed Hoyer was highlights from last season with the calls from the great Pat Hughes.
Jeff Joyce: Time to talk a little Chicago Cubs now with their General Manager, Jed Hoyer who joins us. Jed, Jeff Joyce and Jim Bowden here today, great to catch up with you.
Jed Hoyer: Hey guys, how are you doing?
Jim Bowden: We are doing great Jed. So, give us the scoop. How close were you to getting Tanaka?
JH: I don’t know all of the, all of the other offers but we were aggressive. We felt like given where we were it was the right thing to do. You know he is 25 years old and top of the rotation starter. So, we felt like it was a moment in time to be aggressive. Obviously we fell short of where the Yankees were and all we can kinda do is put our evaluation on the player and make the offer accordingly. But, I got the sense from talking with Casey that we were a serious consideration but obviously that doesn’t much matter. Obviously we fell short and he went to New York.
JJ: In the end, seven years and an opt-out clause. Were those deal breakers for this kind of a deal?
JH: For us the opt-out clause would have been a hard thing to put in. In part because we were trying to acquire a young pitcher to help build around. I think that we were pretty honest with him during the process that the first year that you are with us isn’t going to be the best year. We feel like with the young talent we have coming he would fit in great and could really lead that young group and hopefully be a part of that. And so to have a guy opt-out after four years, giving what we are trying build that is kind of the opposite of why we are trying to bring the guy in. So that would have been a hard thing for us. Never really got to that point with Casey to get a sense if that would have been a deal breaker if it had gone our direction. I’m not quite sure, but given this player and this circumstance that would have been hard for us to do.
JB: Jed, you said top of the rotation starter. Let me ask this, did you guys categorize him based on your scouting reports in the Kershaw, Hernandez, Jose Fernandez level, or did you put him a step below those guys?
JH: We didn’t. I mean those guys right now you just listed are some of the absolute best pitchers in the game. I think it is really hard to put any pitcher that has to make a transition in that category. We looked at him as a guy, I think that a comp we used a lot, that was possibly conservative, but would also been a really good pitcher and worth the money would have been Dan Haren in his prime …
JB: Yep …
JH: You know with the angle of his fastball and the split and the pitchability we felt like … Sometimes people think that if you are giving that kind of money you have to get Jose Fernandez-type performance and that would have been wonderful and maybe he does that for the Yankees. But at the same time I think that if he is delivering that 215-220 innings a year of really high quality that is worth a ton too. Obviously, I think that Dan Haren during those years certainly would have been well worth the money.
JJ: How much do you look back at past pitchers to come from the Japanese league or are they all just on an individual basis? Did guys like Darvish and Iwakuma the last couple of years, did that kind of bring the level of value back up for these guys after a Dice-K, we saw him sort of burn out after a couple of years?
JH: I think you look at all of them. You can’t just pick and choose which ones you look at. I think you have to look at all of the transitions. I think some of the transitions went more smoothly than others. It is certainly something that can be done. But I also do think that the transition that can’t be completely minimized as you think about the process. You go from pitching once a week to pitching on a five-man rotation and facing tougher lineups. So I think that the leverage of each pitch and probably the tiredness over the course of the season is probably magnified over here and I think you have to take that into account. Certainly one of the appealing things with Tanaka was the pitchability. All of our scouts felt like this guy really knew how to pitch and if the velocity was down a notch or two because of the five-man rotation everyone felt like he had the secondary stuff and the command to compete. Certainly he has the weapons or obviously we would not have been where we were in the bidding if we didn’t feel good about the transition that he can make.
JB: Jed, if everything plays out perfectly to the blueprint and we know it won’t because it never does in baseball. But …
JH: Right …
JB: If it does play out perfectly. In 2016, is it Rizzo at first, Castro at second, Baez at short, Bryant at third, Soler in right, Almora in center and Lake in left?
JH: I mean … Listen nothing, if everything plays out like that I am not sure who is playing what positions or whether we feel like at some point we need to add, we need to add a veteran bat or maybe get a little more left handed in that group. I think there is a lot of different questions that the names you listed bring to mind. I do think that what you just said, for me, we feel really good about our offense going forward. I think that we have a lot of power which is hard to find. I think that if things go right and guys continue to develop as we think I really feel good about our offense. I think that one of the reasons we were so willing to invest in Tanaka is that we know we have to balance things out. We know we have to find more pitching, more arms in our system, more guys like Tanaka that can come in and pitch for us at a young age. So, I think in some ways what you just listed off, I don’t know exactly how that will play out. No one does. But I think you can say we should have a pretty good offense someday. I think we do need to balance things out with pitching and that is a huge priority.
JJ: Talking to Jed Hoyer of the Chicago Cubs.
JJ: Obviously getting Tanaka would have been a big boost, kind of forwarding this rebuilding process a little bit. Now that didn’t happen, what direction do you guys go? Is this what until next year on the pitching market or will you still look this year for a potential long-term upgrade?
JH: Well, I think we are going to certainly go after some innings on the market over the next couple of weeks. We do have to, you know, find some pitching. With that said, to us really the free agent market, this year in general, we felt like Tanaka was the one player we thought made sense as a big investment for the Cubs given the age and the quality. He happen to go last so as a result there has been some talk that we shouldn’t have saved our money to go after a guy like Tanaka that we should have done other things with it. The honest answer is that this was by far the most appealing guy. While there are other really good, quality players that were free agents we didn’t think fit all that well with our long-term vision. So, we will definitely use that money going forward and spend it wisely, spend it on some guys that are here for a long time when we are good. We will use that money but I don’t think you will see us just take that chunk of money that we were saving for Tanaka and invest it all right now. I think we will save some of that money and kinda roll it forward.
JB: Yeah, I thought it made all of the sense in the world because Tanaka is 25 and he fits into what you are doing and why spend it now unless it is a Tanaka. Save it until you can get guys that can pitch when your young-prospects are ready. Let me ask this. When we get to next off-season and you are a year closer, we don’t know the date that you guys are going to be ready, but when you get a year closer, will you go back on the market? Let’s just say there is not a 25-year old Tanaka out there, but there is going to be a Max Scherzer possibly if he doesn’t sign with the Tigers. Lester could be out there. Homer Bailey. Justin Masterson. Can you see you guys a year from now chasing another pitcher, even if it’s not the ideal Tanaka-type, but maybe a guy that you can stick in your rotation long-term?
JH: I think that as every year you get closer to competing, I think that you focus less and less on the out years of that contract. You always want to make a good investment. But I think a part of the appeal of Tanaka was that we felt like he would still be around in those prime years, in a few years when all of our talent starts to arrive where some of the guys that are 30, 31 right now we didn’t necessarily feel that way about. So I think that as you get closer and hopefully when you are competing you are thinking a lot more about how this guy fits in our rotation right now more than you are thinking how he fits in our rotation, you know, two years from now. I think it does change the equation. It is exciting that there is a pretty good pitching class coming up. Obviously we will scout those guys heavily. If one or more of those guys makes a lot of sense for us we will certainly be involved.
JJ: Talking to Jed Hoyer of the Chicago Cubs.
JJ: I know the time is not now. At some point in the future, if it’s not easy to procure the pitching that you need do you then have to turn around and unfortunately look at some of great positional player, young depth that you have and use that to get pitching at some point in the future?
JH: Yeah, that’s another angle that we may have to take or we could do both in some ways. Look at the free agent market and look at those kinds of trades. I hope that we can get to that position where we feel so good about our depth on the offensive side that we can do that. The one thing I always try to remind myself is there is a lot more certainty with position-playing prospects than pitchers. So if we kinda had to be overloaded on one side, I certainly sleep better at night knowing that we are kind offense heavy because there is a little more confidence and security with those guys as opposed to, you know, the guys who make their living with their arm.
JB: Yeah, no doubt. Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Bronson Arroyo. Interest in any of those three? Or are they just dollar wise what makes sense where it is more Maholm, Baker?
JH: I don’t want to comment on the specific guys because we have had discussions with some of the guys you mentioned. But, we are looking for some innings obviously as I mentioned. I don’t think you are going to see us making a big splash. And like I said I think we look at those dollars as dollars that we can roll forward and hopefully have an impact with those dollars in the future.
JJ: We talk about some of the prospects. I guess a guy like Javier Baez may be the closest to being Major League ready right now. Odds of him at the Major League level at some point this season? Out of Spring Training? Later in the season? And what is the final piece to work on for him, is it the shortstop defense?
JH: He is going to be our shortstop in Iowa to start the season. He certainly can work hard on his defense. He did make a number of errors last year. It certainly got better and better as the year went on. We just hope he can continue that maturity as a defensive player. He’s got all of the tools you need to play shortstop. He just needs some of the careless, young-player errors, he just needs to get out of the system and I think he started to do that last year in Double-A and he certainly looked better. The plate discipline as well. Again, that also improved as the year went on last year but guys in the big leagues are going to expand the zone on him a little bit more and he knows he has to work on not chasing. He’s got a ton of talent, he’s a great kid and I hope we see him. That means he really dominated Triple-A and pushed us and if that’s the case that means he had a really good year.
JB: Kris Bryant, third base at Double-A or Triple-A to start the year and will he stay at third base?
JH: No final decision. Likely third base in Double-A for us to start the year. We would love to see him stay at third base. That is our goal. He has been working very hard on his defense. We want him to stay there and be a third baseman. We know and he knows if it doesn’t work out he can always go play in the outfield. He did that in college as well. But, I think keeping him at third is great. When you can get power out of third base, a lot of times third base isn’t as strong offensively as it was 20 years ago perhaps. And I think sometimes we always think of there being a ton of power at third base but that is not really the case at third base in today’s game. So if we can have a guy like Bryant hitting a ton of homers at third that would be a good thing. We will keep him there as long as we can.
JJ: Hey, one quick one Jed I just wanted to ask you and I appreciate the time. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews already about manager Rick Renteria. It sounds like he’s even gotten a chance to talk to a lot of the young kids there. Just thoughts on what he’s done already so far with the organization.
JH: We had Cubs Convention last week and we also had our rookie program last week. He did just a fantastic job presenting to the fans at the Cubs Convention and to the rookies at the rookie program and meeting with the big league players. I know him from San Diego and he’ll be fantastic. No question. He is a guy that is really positive, really upbeat and also has that edge. That is a hard thing to find. He will keep players in line. I think guys are going to really want to play for him and I think he will bring a really nice vibe to the team. We are thrilled to have him and really looking forward to getting to Arizona and have him really start to be part of this organization. It is hard when you hire a guy over the winter. He’s been in Chicago some and still back in California some. I’m looking forward to being with him full time.
JJ: Alright Jed, I appreciate the time as always. Best of luck coming up to you guys.
JH: Alright guys, thanks so much.