Jed Hoyer joined Brian Hanley and David Haugh last Friday morning on the Mully and Hanley Show (670 The Score). Hoyer’s second radio appearance included discussions about Dexter Fowler, Jake Arrieta, Jason Heyward and the value the Cubs have placed on versatility.
The Cubs had conversations with Ben Zobrist about moving around the diamond that would have allowed the team to keep Starlin Castro. Zobrist’s mainly position will be second base, but it does sound like he could be used in the outfield for defensive purposes late in games.
Jed Hoyer also discussed Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr. and Kris Bryant swimming with sharks. The Cubs’ GM covered different topics on The Score than in his conversation with David Kaplan and Jeff Dickerson the day before.
On Dexter Fowler, are the Cubs in contact and is there any interest in re-signing him?
“I can’t really comment on Dex [Dexter Fowler] as a free agent just given the rules regarding free agents makes things kind of complicated. But I will say listen we had a great experience with Dex last year. Great teammate, great energy. I felt like he really thrived under the pressure of the playoffs and thrived playing in a big market which is great. We’ve had nothing but fond feelings about him and I guess we’ll probably find out fairly soon where he ends up. But I can’t really comment on whether we’re going to bring him back or not.”
On reaching an agreement with Jake Arrieta to avoid arbitration, how would you describe the process that led to the one-year, $10.7 million deal? How realistic is a long-term extension for Arrieta?
“I would say it was pretty difficult through the arbitration process. We had a pretty large spread of our two numbers but a big part of that was that both sides filed numbers that they could kind of negotiate off of after the exchange date. So, nothing unusual happened. There was no acrimony whatsoever. We’ve got a great relationship with Jake [Arrieta]. He’s been incredible for us. Obviously he’s kind of known nothing but success with the Cubs and I think that gives him really fond feelings towards our coaching staff and our front office and this city. It’s a great relationship. We’d love to extend it past the next two years. We’ve had some discussions about that. I’m sure we’ll have more. But really we’re just excited to get that arbitration behind us. I saw Jake yesterday in camp. He’s already here and ready to go. I think he feels strongly about backing up last year’s incredible season with another one. No one’s going to work harder to do that than Jake will.”
On Theo Epstein never going to arbitration with a player and deadlines motivating people when they are in negotiations, were you surprised that it came together on that Friday because it looked like if it was going to get done it would have before it did?
“I think sometimes … what’s the expression? Nothing gets done without a deadline? I think sometimes you need a deadline to sort of push people to maybe get more serious with their offers. I think that happens in arbitration all the time. The hearing was scheduled for Tuesday. I’ve had cases that you walk into the hearing room and settle when you’re already in the room. It was nice not to have to go through that kind of brinkmanship.”
On Jason Heyward already being in camp, how has the front office gotten to know him since signing him in December? How unusual is it for a veteran to report to Spring Training this early?
“As far as getting to know him, obviously we’ve had a number of conversations both through the signing process, Cubs Convention and seeing him now in Arizona. We really look forward to getting to know him a lot better. I love the fact that he came in early. I think he wants to make a great impression. I think we’ll probably emphasize to him just go out and do what you’ve always done, and that’s fantastic. I think that sometimes guys put a lot of pressure on themselves when they sign a big contract. It doesn’t really surprise me that a guy with his motivation would come in early. It’s great. I look around already and there are so many guys in camp. One of the things we hoped when we built the complex here in Mesa was that it would become a destination for our players. The weight room and all of the other facilities would be good enough that they would feel like they could work out there instead of working out at home. I think we’re really seeing that. Early February and there are tons of guys there. That’s exactly what we want. And frankly, we actually want these guys not to work too hard. It’s hopefully a seven month season. We’ve got a long way to go to even get to the starting line. We got to make sure we sort of take it easy and don’t get over excited about it.”
On the value Joe Maddon puts on versatility, Ben Zobrist being Mr. Versatility and Jason Heyward being asked about centerfield versus right field and where is he most comfortable. Javier Baez worked during the winter in center field, do you have any idea of how the outfield might wind up by Opening Day?
“I think we’ve sort of given Joe [Maddon] sort of a perfect roster for his manager’s style. I think that with guys like [Ben] Zobrist and Javy [Javier Baez] and Jason and obviously you look at our pitching staff is very versatile. A lot of guys … guys like Adam Warren and Trevor Cahill and Travis Wood and Clayton Richard, these guys can start and relieve. Joe’s creative and he wants to manage that way and we’ve tried to structure a roster … some of it was players we really liked and some of it was kind of pushing guys to their limits. I think with Javy we’ll do that. He’s a great infielder but we’ll push him out to the outfield and see how he looks. I think right now, the way things are setup I think that Jason is going to play a lot of center field. We have no doubt that he’ll be good out there. Ben, a big part of the signing process was he wanted to know where he was going to play. We talked about signing him without trading Starlin [Castro] and just kind of having him move around the diamond. But I think that at this stage of his career he’s perfectly willing to move to the outfield or move around the infield if we want him to. But I think he also wanted to feel like I have a position that I know I’m the second baseman. I know where I’m going to play most days. I think given his career I think he deserves that. So that was a big part of our thinking was getting him the position at second base. There will be days he doesn’t play there but I think he goes into camp knowing that’s his spot.”
On not being able to control what players do in the off-season, what was the reaction to Kris Bryant recently swimming with the sharks in Hawaii
“I was glad that I didn’t know about it beforehand. That would have made me more nervous. It was okay seeing the footage and knowing that all’s well that ends well. But you’re right, listen I think that it is hard. You see videos of stuff during the off-season, hear what guys are doing and the reality is these guys are adults and they’re going to enjoy themselves. Kris is what 23 years old? 24 years old? He’s going to go out and live his life. No one takes his career more seriously I think than Kris does. He’s very focused. I’m sure there was every safety precaution taken but not exactly what you love to see that’s for sure.”
On embracing the target, not having a ‘Plan B’ and sticking to the original four to five-year plan to rebuild the organization, does the idea now that everyone’s looking at the Cubs as the odds on favorite or at least one of the top three teams to contend for a World Series change how the front office goes about its job?
“No, this is a … really, frankly, where we always hoped to be. You want to build a really good team and you want to be a team that everyone thinks is really talented and really functional for a long time. I certainly hope that heading into 2016 isn’t the only time that people look at us as a World Series contender. Our hope was that we’d take the time to build it up and now we could stay at this level for a while. Listen, we had a really, really good second half of last season. The first half of the season I think we were seven over .500. We sort of kept our head above water well, but we didn’t really get too far above .500. And then obviously in the second half we took off. We’re kind of building off of a good half-season. I think that we have a long way to go to get to a place where we are sort of consistently looked at as one of those top two or three teams. That’s where we want to get and that was the goal all along. As far as changing our perspective on our jobs, no … I think that you’re probably in more of an aggressive mindset at the deadline. I think that’s probably one difference. Obviously we’ve done a lot of selling at the deadline I think now that you’re sort of in position to win … Theo said every season is sacred. I know that got thrown back a lot of times on him when we were losing, but it is true. When you have a chance to win and you’re in a season you’re going to put a lot of focus on that particular season. That’s really the only way it changes things. We’re just glad that things came together for us in the second half and we need to really keep that going.”
On the depth the Cubs have at catcher throughout the minor league system/organization and Kyle Schwarber’s future, he fit in well in the outfield last year considering the situation, how much time will he devote to working on his catching skills in Spring Training? And long-term does it make sense to continue to try to develop him at that role?
“You know it’s funny this is a problem that we really foresaw when we drafted him. We talked about it even in the draft room that we thought his bat was going to really come quickly to the big leagues. Not as quickly as it did, but we thought it would be really a short-time in the minor leagues with his bat. We knew the catching was something he needed more work on and we knew that it would be a challenge for us. At some point we would have a time when those two things were imbalanced. And it happened. I think that’s where we are now. Going back to your previous question, how does it change what you do? If we were in a more development time of our timeline, maybe you keep him in Triple-A and let him catch a lot. But this guy is a great hitter. He fits in our lineup really well. We have to be a little bit creative. I think he will work a lot at catcher in Spring Training. We’re certainly very far from giving up on him as a catcher. In fact we really believe he can do it. He believes he can do it. But 2016 season, I think he’s going to play a lot of outfield and we’ll just keep on working on his catching. I couldn’t tell you right now how many games he’s going to catch during the season or anything like that. I think that’s something we will work through during Spring Training.”
On so much talent coming through the Cubs’ pipeline and arriving on time, guys like Albert Almora Jr. and some of the other names the fans and media have been watching over the years, where do they fit in the team’s plans moving forward? How do you keep those players enthused and encouraged because there is room at the inn if they do their job?
“I think first of all these guys are really motivated and they’re foremost … obviously they want to be a Cub and they want to win with the Cubs but I also think they are very focused on their own careers and they know that playing well opens up doors for them all over the place. I think the best organizations they keep a young talent pipeline coming through the organization all the time. Maybe it’s not the full faucet that we’ve had the last couple of years, but you want to have that drip of young talent coming into the system every so often. You want to break in a young player every year or two into the organization. I think obviously young players … they have upside, they don’t get hurt as much. You want to bring in that enthusiasm all the time. I think we want to keep doing that and that’s where guys like Almora [Albert Almora Jr.] and [Willson] Contreras and lots of other guys fit in. You don’t want to just get to a point where you’re a contender and you 0start trading off all those guys and never break in any young players. I think there is a real danger in that. So, hopefully as an organization we can really continue to develop guys, continue to have those guys play in the big leagues for us and keep being a young team. I think having that kind of youthful enthusiasm is really important. We’ll definitely have that for a while but we have to maintain focus on breaking guys in.”