Saturday’s second session was Meet Cubs Baseball Management. Josh Liss and Ron Coomer hosted the hour-long discussion with Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and assistant General Managers Randy Bush and Shiraz Rehman.
There was little interaction with the extremely large crowd as the front office spent a majority of the session answering questions from the hosts.
Theo Epstein joked that confidence is very high right now because the team is undefeated.
The Cubs really like Welington Castillo and the front office may decide to go with three catchers for a while to give depth to the position. The Cubs felt they couldn’t pass up on Miguel Montero and David Ross. Teams have reached out about Castillo, but they are not in a rush to move him.
When the Cubs called up Javier Baez last year, the front office thought he would have really big ups and really big downs. The Cubs really wanted to give him the two-month period last year to have those struggles, so they did not want him out of the lineup.
The Cubs thought Baez would learn from every at bat and that would give him what he needed to work on this winter.
Javier Baez is going to have to earn playing time. Jed Hoyer did not make it sound like it’s in the plan for Baez to start the year in Iowa, but he has to make adjustments in order to make more contact to stay in the big leagues.
Theo Epstein said he’s done tempering expectations. “You guys deserve to get excited. You’ve been through the long, cold winter with us for three years and it’s going to be a lot of fun. I don’t know how many game we’re going to win, hopefully we do win the NL Central, hopefully we win the World Series. We’re going to be real exciting, really fun to watch.”
“It’s baseball. There’s going to be ups and there’s going to be downs. So at a moment like this when you guys are all getting excited. We’re excited. Probably, most importantly the players themselves are giddy and working extremely hard this winter because they know they have a chance to be part of something special. Let’s let it ride and try to roll that momentum out to April and get off to a great start.”
“If we are going to be really good, it’s going to be because young players took a big step forward,” Epstein said. “We have some players that have a chance to break in at some point of the season. I’m sure we will see Kris Bryant. He’s another one of those young players that has a chance to be productive sooner rather than later.”
“We have to take a step forward offensively. We are getting really excited about the team. We are all optimistic, but we have such a long way to go offensively from where we were. We have to do a much better job getting on base. We have to have more balance in our lineup,” Epstein said. “There’s room for improvement offensively. I think we have some high ceiling guys it’s just a matter of how long it takes them to adjust.”
Ron Coomer began the hour by stating how pleased he is with the direction of the team and, “Baseball is a better game when the Cubs are relevant.” Theo Epstein received a huge ovation was he was introduced as the excitement built in the room for the session.
This year’s convention is what they hoped for three years ago … a packed convention, full of anticipation and excitement for the upcoming season. Jed Hoyer thanked the fan base for its patience. Theo Epstein tried to explain the convention to Jon Lester and Joe Maddon and said there is nothing like it. Even with World Series appearances and winning big games, Epstein said Lester and Maddon had the same wide eyes after Friday night that he and Hoyer had three years ago at their first convention.
As for what it’s like working for Epstein and Hoyer, Shiraz Rehman described the Cubs’ office as “a dynamic place to work every day.” Rehman thinks they’ve assembled quite a group in the front office over the last three years and it’s one of the most exciting places he’s ever worked. It was a long couple of years. Rehman feels the turning point happened last summer after the trade with Oakland. The Cubs had the No. 1 farm system then put the foot on the accelerator. And the additions that were made in the off-season have set the Cubs up for an exciting five years.
Randy Bush said it’s good to work in an environment full of energy. Building a winning organization is all about accumulating as much information as possible from scouts and statistics.
Responding as to how Theo and Jed found their way to an RV Park in Pensacola to meet Joe Maddon, Epstein said, “Google maps.” When the two got there they realized they were going to his house so Epstein and Hoyer stopped at a Publix (grocery store chain) across the street from park to pick-up a bottle of wine.
It was a sensitive situation but Epstein and Hoyer looked at hiring Maddon as a unique opportunity. While Hoyer was on his way to California to meet with Rick Renteria, Epstein was coordinating the meeting with Maddon and his agent, Alan Nero. The three men talked baseball for six hours on plastic chairs in the sand as the sun set. Epstein said Maddon is very easy and has a calming effect when you talk to him. Epstein was in his agent’s office two days later working on a contract.
Epstein agreed with Coomer that hiring Maddon was a “no brainer.” Epstein explained when you are around the game long enough and opportunities present themselves. Don’t over think it, just pounce. Perfect situation might be inconvenient or some collateral damage but sometimes one has to pounce on it. Epstein admitted he’s made mistakes in the past overthinking trades that looked too good to be true.
“When something is a great fit, you have to go for it and be aggressive,” Epstein said. “And figure out everything else later.”
The Cubs think Maddon is going to be a difference maker for the team because of the adversity he dealt with in Tampa and still won games. Maddon succeeded under long odds while handling a bad ballpark situation, low attendance and low payroll. Maddon had to figure out an edge to keep the team loose and winning games.
Hoyer said in some ways it’s different with the Cubs. Incredible fanbase and ballpark but there are challenges with the Cubs. The facilities at Wrigley are not ideal right now and “a long drought of winning.”
Hoyer has no doubt that Maddon will find a creative way to overcome the challenges of managing the Cubs. Hoyer thinks that one of the things Maddon loves about the job is figuring out a way to bring 25 guys together and produce on the field.
Randy Bush added something Maddon said on Friday night, “Players don’t need a manager when they are going good. They need you when they’re going bad.”
The front office is excited about the coaching staff that’s been assembled. Dave Martinez and Joe Maddon are very close. Maddon would not stop raving about Martinez and when he became available, Maddon wanted them to pounce on the opportunity. Maddon views Martinez as a difference maker in the clubhouse.
John Mallee has had a “ton of success with young hitters.” Mallee embraces working with young players and he had success in the past with right-handed power hitters. Mallee loves information like the front office and Hoyer thinks he will be a dynamic hitting coach for the team. Eric Hinske has a different personality than Mallee and already has a relationship with some of the players. Epstein and Hoyer think they will complement each other rather well.
Epstein is very happy that despite another manager change the pitching infrastructure stayed intact with Chris Bosio, Lester Strode, Mike Borzello and the scouts. The pitching performance last year, according to Epstein, speaks for itself and they know how to get the best of the Cubs’ pitchers.
Brandon Hyde moved out of the dugout to first base coach.
Theo Epstein thought Gary Jones had one of the best seasons for a third base coach he’s ever seen.
Epstein explained Bos (Chris Bosio) and Borz (Mike Borzello) work on the scouting reports, put together a game plan, or “road map” and the players are confident the information they are given put them in the best position to win.
“From top to bottom, our pitching infrastructure is something that we are all really proud of,” Epstein said.
When asked how he pulled off signing Jon Lester, Epstein said, “$155 million dollars didn’t hurt.” After the laughs subsided, Epstein explained Lester really wanted to sign with the Cubs and was up for the challenge. Lester believes in the direction the team is going in.
Epstein told the story when they went out to dinner with Lester and his wife, Jon kept saying, “They’re going to burn this city down again when we win the World Series.”
“Primary factor, he really wanted to be here,” Epstein said.
Jed Hoyer is hoping that signing Lester will help recruit other great players. And that in a couple of years it will be easier to sign players like Lester.
The Cubs were looking for on-base, left-handed bats for a position that wasn’t already filled. The front office views Miguel Montero as a great change of scenery guy and that he will be able to produce at the plate, plus he’s a very good pitch framer, defensive catcher and works well with pitchers. A really good fit for what the Cubs were looking to do.
Obviously Lester and David Ross have a lot of history. Hoyer said he’s been told by more people than he can count that Ross is the best teammate they’ve ever had and one of the best leaders. Ross can help teach the young players how to be big leaguers. Plus Ross is one of the best pitch framers in the game.
The Cubs really like Welington Castillo and Hoyer pointed to the improvements he’s made over the last couple of years. Hoyer thought Castillo was probably one of the best catchers in the National League in the second half of 2013. Hoyer said Castillo did not have the year he wanted last season.
Castillo is still on the Cubs roster and they may decide to go with three catchers for a while to give depth. The front office felt they couldn’t pass up on Montero and Ross.
Teams have reached out about Castillo, but they are not in a rush to move him. “Nothing has been compelling,” Hoyer said.
Junior Lake and Mike Olt lost playing time last year because of the way Chris Coghlan and Luis Valbuena were performing. Coghlan and Valbuena earned the playing time. Hoyer labeled Valbuena’s season “as great and underrated.”
On Kris Bryant starting the season in the majors, Epstein said a number of factors have to be balanced as to when a player is called up. And they are all baseball-driven factors. Those factors would be Bryant’s development, team needs, whom the Cubs have to play a certain position and roster implication.
Epstein said if the Cubs were just looking to protect a player’s service clock then they wouldn’t have called up Javier Baez or Jorge Soler last year. It was the right step in the development of both Baez and Soler and the right thing for the team.
“Once it’s the right thing for Kris’ development and the right thing for the team, he’ll be up,” Epstein said.
Theo Epstein ended the session by saying, “Please hold us accountable. We are trying to win at the big league level. We’re also continuing to try to grow the organization. That means we are going to be throwing a lot of young players out there. So we ask for your patience with them because it’s a process. Hold us accountable we’ve made a lot of promises the past three years. We’ve asked for a ton of patience from you guys, and as I just said, continued patience. We are working extremely hard to earn your trust and ultimately put a product on the field that will have you guys celebrating in October. Nothing would make us happier to see you guys happy in October and along the way your continued support is incredibly appreciated. Continue to hold us accountable. Make sure our actions match our words and our promises and let’s go have a lot of fun together.”
2015 Cubs Convention
- Day One of the 2015 Cubs Convention: Let’s Go! The Excitement and Optimism is Back
- Day Two of the 2015 Cubs Convention: Ricketts Family Forum