Jed Hoyer joined Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette during Front Office Friday on Power Alley (MLB Network Radio) and spent close to 20 minutes talking Cubs with the two former general managers.
The Cubs might be done making big moves this off-season, but there are ongoing conversations with other teams, including the Rays. The Cubs do have small moves left to make to round out the roster.
Hoyer said Friday the Cubs tried to trade for Jason Heyward while he was still with the Braves. The front office was not willing to meet the Braves’ asking price for Heyward.
Jed Hoyer also discussed Dexter Fowler, Javier Baez, the first year with Joe Maddon and what he thinks about the National League adopting the designated hitter.
On if the Cubs are done making moves this off-season
“Yeah, I think we probably are. We have a lot of conversations going with different teams and different agents. I think we’ll almost certainly have some small things left. Last week was our Convention and we sort of said this is probably the … roughly the team we’re going to go to Mesa with. I don’t see any big changes. I think some small stuff might happen, but as always we’re in touch with people. I think because the free agent market has developed sort of late, there is still some trade talks going on that might have already wrapped up if the free agent market had wrapped up already.”
On targeting Jason Heyward this off-season, was he No. 1 on the Cubs’ priority list? Does the Cubs interest in Heyward pre-date signing Jon Lester?
“Yeah, he had always been a guy that we really liked as a player. I think it’s so rare to have a chance to sign a guy who just played a 25-year old season. We felt like he fit really well with kind of the rest of our young guys. We signed a free agent but that free agent fits right in with our core of young players. I think that’s a hard thing to do. We targeted him. We actually had a lot of trade talks with Atlanta about him. Obviously the Cardinals made a better offer and got the player. But going back to him being in Atlanta we did have a lot of talks with them about trying to acquire him. We were just never able to come to a deal in part because we were kind of reluctant to break up that young core of hitters and it would have required one of those guys to trade for him.”
On is the plan right now for Jorge Soler to play right field, Jason Heyward to play center and Kyle Schwarber in left, or is there still a possibility that the Cubs could acquire a centerfielder and move Heyward to right? What are the Cubs thinking for the outfield?
“That’s definitely the plan (Schwarber in left, Heyward in center, Soler in right). We plan to move guys around a lot. Javy [Javier] Baez has been playing the outfield, was playing outfield in Puerto Rico, and he’s going to work hard in the outfield in Spring Training. He’s been really good out there. We know we can move [Kris] Bryant into the outfield if we want to do that from time to time. We know we can move [Ben] Zobrist into the outfield from time to time. We have Matt Szczur and Chris Coghlan is going to get playing time as well. One of the things we feel really good about is our depth. It’s been something we’ve been reluctant to part with this winter. I think that depth is one of those things that people don’t talk about enough in the winter. But when you get into the season it makes such a big difference. We’re going to have injuries. We’re going to have poor performance and we’re going to want to give guys rest. I think we can do that and keep a good player at the different positions when that happens.”
On any concern about Jason Heyward playing in center might take away from his offense
“We’ve talked about it. We certainly feel like he can be an above average centerfielder. I think the metrics show that he’s done that when he’s gone out there in the past. It’s not a huge sample size. I think he’s definitely going to play some right field as well. Like I said we will move guys around and obviously he’s such a fantastic right fielder that we’ll probably get him some time there as well. I think he’s excited about it. Obviously it’s a change and with change there does come, honestly risk, but uncertainty about exactly how he reacts to it. Like I said, he’s done it in the past. He started his career there and I think that as much as he’s played right field, I think he’ll adjust to it well. He’s a great athlete and I think it really allows us to stack our lineup quite a bit.”
On if the Cubs are open to trading one of their young players on the big league roster or some of the top prospects in the system for a starting pitcher
“That’s a good question. Obviously we’ve had discussions over the course of the winter about different positions, different pitchers and some of those involved prospects. In general, prospects … true prospects, guys that are in the minor leagues have less value in the winter than they do in-season. People in the winter are trying to put together the Major League team for the most part. I think that at some point … we have a lot of good prospects. We have young players at the Major League level. At some point there is going to come a time where we are going to trade some of those guys to improve the Major League team. I think that goes without saying. So, yeah if something makes sense we’ll obviously look at it. But I think realistically that’s probably not likely to happen this winter. It’s probably more likely to happen in-season.”
On the conversation Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden had with Matt Silverman a couple of weeks ago, Silverman said the two teams have had a lot of dialogue and he feels there could be a trade in the next two years. Have there been any recent conversations between the Cubs and Rays?
“Yeah, I talk to Matt quite a bit. He’s a great guy. He’s very smart, just in general very enjoyable to talk to. We talk quite a bit. I think there’s always probably a handful of teams in baseball that you look at and say to yourself that’s a really good match. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re looking to come together right away. People have been match-making us and the Mets forever. And there hasn’t been a deal there yet. I think whenever a team has a lot of good, young pitching and we have a lot of good, young hitting, people sort of thinks it makes sense. I do think that we do have potential matches with Tampa. Obviously nothing’s come together yet, but we’ll keep on talking and maybe they are a team at some point down the road something makes sense. There is certainly nothing imminent on that front right now.”
On the possibilities of making smaller moves, the Cubs have been linked to bringing Austin Jackson back, any discussions recently with him?
“In general we’ve had a bunch of conversations regarding some outfielders. I think this is the time of the winter where you start to look and see what pieces make sense. I think our starting lineup, sort of speak, I think is something we feel is set. But looking around at guys that can complement the roster well is something that just makes sense this time of year. There are really good players on the market that don’t have jobs. For various reasons they might not have found the fit they like yet either. This is definitely a busy time of year in that regard in trying to talk to agents and see if there is a fit with a guy that might have been out on the market a little longer than they probably thought.”
On Dexter Fowler, is there any chance the Cubs can squeeze him on the roster? Or has that ship sailed?
“I don’t want to talk directly about that … that match. I will say he was terrific for us. He’s great in the clubhouse and had a heck of a year for us. Really was a catalyst of our lineup. Whether it’s with us or someone else, I do wish him incredibly well because he was a really integral part of a very special season for all of us. I think he will certainly find a really good job and will help a team wherever he goes.”
On the reports the Cubs have received about Javier Baez’s play in the outfield
“He’s been doing well. We didn’t do that blind. He’s one of those guys … he’s just got great instincts for the game. People saw last year he can move him to short, second, third in the infield last year and he was very good at all three spots. He’s one of those guys who always goes out in the outfield and he’s terrific shagging flies in batting practice. He’s always out there running around. For a couple of years our guys always said, ‘Have you ever seen this guy in the outfield? He’s really good.’ I think he enjoys it. The reports were good. Obviously he’s got some mechanical, fundamental things he has to work on. It’s certainly a lot easier to run around in the outfield in batting practice. In a game it’s a little bit different. He has some things to clean up but I think the instincts are so good for the game that we’re pretty confident that the transition will work.”
On the reports that have suggested the Cubs are trying to sign Jake Arrieta to a multi-year contract, any updates on those conversations with Scott Boras?
“Not really. Obviously right now, we exchanged figures in arbitration. We’re hopeful to get something done on that front. We’ve always said this guy is sort of the model for what you want. He works harder than I can ever imagine anyone working. He’s just incredibly dedicated to his craft. He’s just a great competitor, a great guy. He’s been terrific for us. There is no way last year happens for us without that incredible second half. I’m actually sort of bummed. I was going to go to New York this weekend to see him get his Cy Young and I think that the weather is going to keep me away. It’s pretty gratifying to watch a guy put that kind of work in, get the hardware and know that’s going to be a part of his life forever that he won a Cy Young. But as far as extension talk, we’ll probably keep that internal. Suffice it to say he’s a guy that we love having here.”
On the first year with Joe Maddon, how was it?
“Eh, it was just okay. [Laughs] Joe is unbelievable. We had such an enjoyable year. I really felt like personally I learned a lot watching him, watching the way he interacted with the players, watching the way he thought through different issues. He has such a wonderful pulse of the team, on the team, what the team needs at that moment, when to push, when to pull. Our clubhouse dynamic last year was as good as I’ve ever seen and I think that’s such a direct compliment to Joe and to the guys we have. I just think he’s a perfect manager for this young group to grow up with. I don’t think it’s by accident. I think he did a great job with that young group in Tampa and when he got there I think he probably learned a lot from that. He was really the right guy for us at the right time. I can’t imagine a guy doing a better manager job than he did last year for us.”
On how does Joe Maddon get guys to buy in to playing different positions, moving around the field defensively
“It’s interesting. I think Kris Bryant, I want to say it was either the first or second week in the big leagues, he was playing out in center field. In a long game he put him out there. He thinks that guys really enjoy it, sort of brings them back to just playing baseball. You’re playing [American] Legion ball and they tell you to go out and play center field and you do it. You don’t worry about … you’re not nervous about it. You just go play. One of the things with him is that he really manages every game to win that game. He’s not afraid to pinch-run Travis Wood or put Kris Bryant in center field. He will do anything it might take to win that game. I think guys really get in to that. It’s refreshing that he’s willing to take those kinds of chances and he encourages guys not to be afraid to make mistakes, be willing to take risks and be okay with it. I just think that in general his personality allows for guys to feel like ‘Okay I can go out and be a little uncomfortable playing left field tonight but it is okay because I know if I make a mistake the manager is going to be okay with it.’ So, they do it in a relaxed way and I think it’s hard to go do something different if your tense and he really does a great job of taking that tension away.”
On where the Cubs stand with the bullpen, is it set?
“We’ll always look to improve. I feel like a bullpen is such a constantly evolving thing. We’ll always look to improve it. We feel good about it. If the season started today I think Adam Warren would probably be in the bullpen, which I think really helps us. He was a very good reliever for the Yankees. He might move back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. One thing we like about it, it is versatile like our team. We have guys like Travis Wood, like Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard. All of those guys can go multiple innings and they can get out lefties and righties. I think that gives us some versatility. I feel good about it but at the same time bullpens are the kind of thing where the minute you feel good about it you are making adjustments because guys get hurt or guys don’t perform as well as you’d hoped. I don’t feel like that’s an area of a team that you can ever take your eye off of. If there are ways you can improve it or ways you can stabilize it, we will always try to do that.”
On the National League possibly adopting the designated hitter
“In general, I think Theo joked about it the other day and I seconded it, certainly that decision is far, far above my pay grade. You know what’s interesting? There are parts of the National League game I love. I think that … we just talked about the bullpen. We talked about the bench earlier. I think you’ve got to have a much better bullpen and a better bench in the National League. I think from a team building standpoint, I think that’s a great thing that you sort of have to build a deeper, longer roster than you do in the AL just because you have to … There are more things in-game that you have to be willing to do. I like that part. I don’t like the fact that if you start a rally with a number five hitter that often times it just fizzles because you can pitch around the eighth hitter, you strikeout the pitcher and the next thing you know you have two outs even though the pitcher hasn’t even pitched that well. For me there’s definitely kind of a push and pull at those two elements. I think the strategy part is great but no one, no one, with the exception of five or six pitchers in the National League, like no one pays any money to go watch a guy get a bunt down poorly or to strikeout. I think if velocity continues to go up and pitching continues to be as good as it is and we continue to specialize with our relievers the way we are … run scoring is important. I think that one of the things that other sports do really well is they … if the offense and defense balance gets out of line I think that other sports are certainly willing to make some adjustments so get those inline. I think in baseball I think if velocity and pitching continues to be that dominant at some point you’re probably going to have to make some decisions in order to get the offense a little bit of help and get the run scoring a little back inline. I think that’s a challenge we’re all going to have to face and maybe it’s putting the DH in the National League or maybe it’s making some other adjustments. I do think that run scoring is only going to get more challenging and I think we are going to have to make some adjustments accordingly.”