Jed Hoyer jumped on 670 The Score last Friday morning before the Cubs Convention and talked about his team with Matt Spiegel and Jason Goff (Spiegel & Goff Show).
The Cubs continue to have conversations with teams and would be willing to make another move or two this off-season if the front office thinks they can improve the roster. Javier Baez will continue to play center field in Spring Training. And the Cubs see Matt Szczur as an option off the bench.
Jed Hoyer also discussed the Cubs’ plans for Kyle Schwarber, Jake Arrieta and the pitching staff for Spring Training, the kids starting families and Hector Rondon closing games.
On if the Cubs are still having conversations with other teams about trades. If so, is the front office initiating any of those talks? Is the front office okay with where the roster currently stands?
“We’re definitely okay with where we are. We were obviously aggressive early in the off-season. We had a handful of guys that we really wanted to target and we did target those guys. Luckily those deals came together. Now we are at the point where we are certainly having conversations on a daily basis. If something comes together to make us better that’s wonderful and we’ll move on it. But we’re happy if we take this group to Mesa. Feb. 19 if this is the group we have then I think that’s great. I think it’s a good feeling to be, a good position to be in, a good feeling to have. We like our roster. If we can make it better we will do that. But if not, I think we’re really happy to move forward with these guys.”
On if the Cubs move forward with the current roster, Jason Heyward would be in center and if he needs to be replaced, would Kris Bryant step in or is Javier Baez a realistic option to backup center field?
“We have Matt Szczur as well. Matt has always been a really good centerfielder in the minor leagues. He’s a guy that we’ve been tough on. He’s been on the Iowa Shuttle for the last couple of years, up and back, never really having a chance to settle in. And we think he’s a guy that can certainly step in now and play center field if we need to. Great makeup, great kid. And Javy [Javier Baez] looked really good in Puerto Rico playing center field. Obviously, a small sample size and obviously he has things to work on but we’ll be experimenting with him in the outfield quite a bit. The more he can move around the diamond, the more he can help us. I see Heyward playing center field if we started the season right now, but certainly he’s going to get time in right field as we move guys around. I think if there’s one thing that we know from last year is that Joe [Maddon] is going to work with a lot of different combinations and I think we have a roster with [Ben] Zobrist and Javy and Heyward and some of the versatility that we have.”
On what improvements have to be made this season from a year ago in order for the Cubs to reach the ultimate goal
“One thing I think is clear in the addition of Zobrist, in the addition of Heyward. I feel like our contact rate was not good enough. I’m okay with some strikeouts because we have power but we definitely struck out too much last year. As a result with those strikeouts our situational hitting wasn’t very good. We struggled with runners on third and less than two outs and things like that. I think we need to get better and being able to push one run across, especially April and May in Chicago and then obviously hopefully we’re playing deep in October. Once it gets cold out and the three-run homers are a lesser part of the game we still need to be able to score and I think that was something we felt like with Heyward and with Zobrist, both guys that make contact, really tough outs, I think that adds a lot to our lineup. And then from a pitching standpoint, we really wanted to add depth and add versatility. I think sort of like we talked about with our position players. You look at a guy like Adam Warren. He’s been a very good starter and a very good reliever for the Yankees. We brought back Trevor Cahill who can certainly do both. Travis Wood can do both. Clayton Richard can do both. I think having guys that can pitch multiple innings, can get out righties and lefties, it does give us a lot of versatility in the bullpen.”
On Jake Arrieta running out of gas at the end of the post-season run, how will the Cubs address that in Spring Training? And how will the Joe Maddon and Chris Bosio handle his workload during the season?
“I think it actually goes for all of our guys. I thought all of our pitching was a little bit on fumes last year. We didn’t have a chance to rest guys in September because we were competing for a Wild Card spot and potentially a home game. We came within three games of the Cardinals and I think as a result we didn’t have a chance to really ease off the gas at all. I think you saw it with Kyle Hendricks in September and October and you saw that with Jason Hammel. It’s something we are going to talk about a lot. We’ve already had a lot of discussions with Chris Bosio but those will continue really through the rest of the winter and until we get to Spring Training. I think Spring Training is a good time to maybe ease off the gas a little bit. Don’t go quite as hard in Spring Training and get started a little bit later. But we do have to be aware of that. We want to play a seven month season. We want guys to be peaking at the right time. It was hard last year the way Jake pitched in the second half. It was a hard guy to ease off the gas as he’s leading us to a playoff spot as he’s going for a Cy Young. But that’s something we do have to be aware of going forward.”
On what the Cubs tell the other younger players like Javier Baez, Carl Edwards Jr. and Albert Almora that baseball is not supposed to be as easy as Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber made it look last season
“It’s challenging. We’ve had some guys like Javy, like Jorge Soler that have had their ups and downs in the big leagues. We’ve had other guys look like Kris Bryant. He had some downs but they were pretty minor downs. Addison Russell was able to really contribute so much with his glove last year that when he did slump, no one really cared that much because he was doing so much to help the team. I think that’s the biggest thing. When you look at the really great organizations when they bring up young players those young players their whole goal is to help the team win, right? If you can contribute to winning no one’s going to care what you’re hitting. All they care about is that you’re helping them win whether it’s baserunning, defense. I think in some ways it makes it easier. I think it was hard on Kris or Kyle [Schwarber] those guys are coming up to the big leagues and hitting in the middle of the lineup and we expected those guys to help us win games and be impact guys right away. So going forward whether, you mentioned [Albert] Almora, C.J. Edwards, Willson Contreras or any of these young guys coming up, now those guys can come up here and really they can be secondary pieces right away. They can be in the periphery more. They don’t have to worry about hitting in the middle of the lineup. They can just go out and play good defense, run the bases well and try to do everything they can to help us win games. I think that’s a big difference. One of the things we worried about a lot last year going into the season was the fact that we were leaning so heavily on the young guys. We don’t have to do that as much anymore and I think that will help these guys break into the big leagues a little bit easier.”
On seeing more from Javier Baez to this point of his career offensively and cutting down on the strikeouts, but if he is a good utility player during the upcoming season that plays both middle infield positions and center field as a backup, Baez would provide value to the Cubs especially considering his age
“There’s no doubt. Guys mature at different rates. Javy is going to play next year at 23 years old. He’s still very young. He’s still got a lot to learn. All guys mature at different rates. I think last year in the post-season when Addison [Russell] went down we were able to put Javy Baez at shortstop. There are not many teams that can replace an injured shortstop with a guy like Javy Baez. We are going to have injuries this year. We’ve kind of looked at this roster very carefully and we think that with those injuries we have some guys that can step in and really contribute and Javy is one of them. That’s why we are putting him in the outfield. That’s why he can move around the infield. When that inevitable injury happens, having a guy like Javy Baez that can come in, hit three-run homers and play great defense, that’s really valuable to a team. And it does come at a great value.”
On what the Cubs had Kyle Schwarber work on this off-season both offensively and defensively
“He knows and he says this, he has to get better defensively at both spots, both catching and outfield. We’ve told him we think he’s going to be our everyday left fielder next year and as a result try to get into really good shape. Lean out a little bit, make sure you’re running a lot and then come to Spring Training ready to really get better in the outfield. I felt bad for him. Last year I thought his two worst games defensively all year were the two home games against the Mets in the playoffs. Hopefully that lights a fire under him. I think he was better than that during the course of the rest of the season. We were somewhat unfair. We sort of threw him out there because of his bat and said figure it out. Now he’s got a Spring Training to really work with our coaching staff and work with our players on getting better out there. And I know he will. This guy’s makeup is off the charts. We love what he brings every day and he’s going to get better in the outfield and I think we all know he can flat out hit.”
On if the Cubs think Kyle Schwarber has a future as a big league catcher or is he pushing the Cubs to catch?
“Yea he can definitely catch. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. I think it’s something he has to continue to work on. We talked about this in the draft room when we drafted him. We knew his bat would be well ahead of his glove and that’s where we are right now. We are at the point where this guy’s bat can help us in the middle of the lineup every night. It’s hard to send him back to Iowa and tell him to go work on his catching for a while. That’s always going to be a challenge for us is how do we work on his catching in the right way while also trying to win games at the Major League level? I think that’s always going to be a challenge but I do think he can definitely catch in the big leagues. He wants to do it. He sits in on every catching meeting. He continues to work hard at it. The most important part is he wants to do it. I think when you want to squat behind the plate in the middle of the summer and take foul tips off the mask and all that stuff, there’s not a lot of guys that want to do that and Kyle definitely wants to and that’s a big part of it.”
On Hector Rondon being the Cubs closer
“First of all I think he did a great job for us last year. When you look at his numbers he had a totally dominant season. Guy is upper-90s with a really good slider. I don’t think the opposition looks at it that way. They certainly don’t like it when he’s in the game. Listen, I think he goes to Spring Training certainly with an upper-hand on that job. But I think as we’ve seen last year, we went through a bunch of different closers and I think that Joe has shown that he’s going to ride the hot hand. He’s tried coming in and out of that role a few times and done a great job. He has the upper hand on it but he’s obviously got to pitch well to stay in that role. Joe is going to use guys in different ways and I think Hector knows that and the rest of our bullpen knows that and they certainly embrace it.”
On Kris Bryant getting engaged and Addison Russell starting a family, the Cubs kids are growing up
“I know. I didn’t get married until I was 36. It makes me feel like I was doing something wrong you know. These guys are getting married so young. But it’s great. One of the best things about this group is that they are so mature, certainly far more mature than I was at 22 or 23. These guys are really focused. I think last year was just an unbelievable experience for those guys and something they’ll probably look back on in 20 years and think coming from the minor leagues up to the big leagues and then having the season that they did and getting married. That’s quite a 12 months for those guys. I think it will be great for them. I think it probably put their experience level in the microwave and cooked it up a lot faster than we probably thought and I think we’ll benefit from that this year.”
On the Cubs really spanking the Cardinals with the off-season moves
“We finished third last year so we got to make up some ground. Obviously the Cardinals are a great organization and so are the Pirates. So we’ve got a ways to go but it’s an exciting time for us for sure.”