Cubs’ GM Jed Hoyer made the radio rounds the end of last week talking all things Cubs baseball before Spring Training officially gets underway.
Jed Hoyer’s first stop was Thursday on ESPN 1000 and a conversation with David Kaplan and Jeff Dickerson.
On the Cubs being tabbed as the No. 1 team in baseball by the prognosticators as Spring Training is set to begin, the fan base and media are not used to that. How do you handle the pressure of walking into a season with such high expectations to be the team that ends the drought?
“Well, I think we have the right manager for it. I think Joe [Maddon] has got a great touch. I know he’s thought all winter about his message to the team. It is a different spring than last year. Last year was his first year with us. He was getting to know the guys. I think everyone felt like last year was a transition year with a new manager and young players. Obviously we played great in the second half and so that coupled with off-season additions and people are excited. I think that ultimately the off-season prognosticators, the Vegas odds, the hype, it doesn’t mean anything once you start playing. Once you start playing and guys get hot, guys get cold, guys get injured and you play the whole season out, ultimately that pre-season stuff doesn’t mean anything. But you’re right it can’t impact our work in Spring Training. It can’t impact the mindset. I think we have to go out this spring and look at it like we are a third place team that has to prove that we can win a division.”
On sitting down as an organization after the Mets series last year and looking at what the front office had to do to make the team better in 2016, do you feel like those goals were accomplished this off-season?
“Yeah we did. The Mets series had very little to do with it in some ways. I think there is a real danger in hanging a hat on post-season failures. What happens in one series I think is not really a great indicator. I think some of our natural flaws came out in that series. We didn’t make enough contact last year that is something that we were focused on. We wanted to make sure that we bolstered the backend of our rotation and we think we did that. But all in all I think we felt like that Mets series they punched us in the mouth, we never really recovered and they played great. But using that, using those four games as to make our list for the off-season I think would be a real mistake. The thing is even with the best teams, teams that go to the playoffs every single year, look at the Cardinals they lose in the playoffs most of the time they go there, every year you can’t use a playoff loss as a barometer for what you are going to do in the off-season. I think you have to realize that in a short series things can happen. I think with the Mets they certainly exposed our weaknesses. I think we did a … I think we did address some of the things that were exposed in that series but those are the things we were going to look to address anyway.”
On when Jed and Theo worked in Boston they knew every day, every game was a big game, prior to last season that wasn’t the case for the Cubs. Now if the Cubs lose on Opening Day the fan base is going to freak out, that’s just the way it is. What do you tell your players, especially the young players, about how to handle the media and fans this season and take it just one game at a time?
“First of all I think we have a lot of good players and I think that sort of having that balance I think will help a lot of guys. I think that is any one player doesn’t have a big game in a particular game we have a lot of guys that can pick up the slack. I think that helps, we’re not sort of keeping the pile on a couple of guys’ shoulders. I think that makes a big difference. It’s nice, you know. For three or four years we focused on the minor league side. If our minor league guys had great games that night or if a couple of our young players played well in the big leagues but we lost the game we definitely didn’t drive home disappointed. Now it is, the focus is certainly on us. I think, as you said, every game is a big game. At the same time we are also not going to win 135 games next year and I think that’s an important thing to remember. If you win six out of 10 games all summer long you win 98 games. That’s an awesome season. You are going to go home disappointed four out of 10 nights even in your best season. You have to have that balance. You’re going to have three game losing streaks. You’re going to have times that you lose seven out of 10 and when that happens you can’t freak out about it. You have to realize that every time you win seven out of 10 you’re probably not going to … you’re probably going to have a down stretch at some point after that and keep a balance. I’ve said on this show many times. I think a baseball season is a lot like looking at your stock portfolio every day. I think that you can drive yourself crazy if like you have massive mood swings with every day you’re down three percent or up three percent. I think the most important thing is to have a really good team, have a good manager and have confidence that you’re going to be able to grind out six out of 10, grind out a series win after series win. I think that’s how ultimately you have a good summer.”
On the starting pitchers, the veterans that threw so many innings last year and worked deep into the post-season, how do you manage those guys this spring? Ease off of them a little bit? Will there be a different approach with the starting pitchers this year?
“I think we are going to start some of our guys a little bit later. I think some of the early starts in Spring Training probably won’t be by the guys who threw a ton of innings last year. We will probably get them started a little bit later. And realize that yes it’s a marathon. We need to have guys fresh at the end of the season. A big part of sort of building the pitching depth and bringing in relievers who are versatile is hopefully allowing us to back off those guys a little bit. It is a challenge. You do want to win every game you play in but you have to realize that you have to be careful. You can’t, sort of whip the horse the entire year and expect them to be fresh at the end and so I think that’s important to have that balance. Again, I think that we are aware of that in the front office and I know Joe and Chris Bosio are very aware of that. I think we’ll certainly keep an eye on the long term this spring as we get our guys ready.”
On when Theo took over in Boston he had to win right away and the Red Sox did. When you came to the Cubs it wasn’t you better win right now, you had to blow this thing up and build it the right way. Now the Cubs are built to where this is, would you say that the foundation that you’ve put in place is probably a better foundation throughout the organization than what you had in Boston because the Red Sox focus at the time was winning at the big league level?
“It’s hard to say. It’s a real good question that I don’t think we can … I don’t think prior to winning a couple of World Series that it’s fair to say the foundation is better. I think that’s going to be proven over time. I think we feel really good about it. The one difference I think from a young player standpoint we have more talented young players here than we did when we were in Boston. We had a lot of good ones but the difference there is that we had the [Manny] Ramirezs and the [David] Ortizs and [Josh] Becketts and those guys that were established star Major League players. We didn’t necessarily have that when we got here. That certainly makes a big difference when you think about the foundation. We had more veteran talent there to help build around. I think it’s a hard thing to answer. Like I said I think until we win here I think it’s hard to say but we certainly built it with the same thing in mind. We want to build something that’s sustainable. You want to build something that has upside ahead of us. I think one of the nice things about our club is that I do think we have a lot guys that have upside. Certainly some of the young players are unproven. They haven’t done it year after year but with that comes the possibility of real breakouts and I think that’s how you end up winning a ton of games.”
On when the Cubs would like to know who is playing where in the outfield
“I think that is what Spring Training is for. We are going to play a lot of games out here. We will have a lot of opportunity to see these guys in different spots. I think sometimes we get away from the fact that we can make decisions in Spring Training. It can be dangerous sometimes but I think in the outfield certainly we’ll get a chance to look at guys a lot and see how they are, seeing how the coaching staff work on the fundamentals and we can make those decisions a month and a half from now and there’s no reason to really make those right now.”
On Keith Law ranking the Cubs’ system the fourth best in baseball and Gleyber Torres as the 15th best prospect, how excited are you about having a guy like Torres? Kaplan said he would bet every phone call the Cubs received this winter as the front office worked on a possible deal for a pitcher centered on the other team asking for Gleyber Torres or Willson Contreras or Dylan Cease or other prospects from the organization in return.
“One of the things we are really happy about this winter is that we were able to make some of the moves we wanted to make and we were able to maintain our farm system. We haven’t made a big deal involving a lot of prospects yet. And yeah, tons of people asked about Torres and Contreras and those guys really are a testament to a very good International system. Gleyber Torres was a high-profile guy signed a few years ago and certainly he’s been outstanding since we got him. Our player development staff deserves a lot of credit for our ability to graduate the Bryants and the Schwarbers and Russells and Solers and Baezs of the world and still have a good farm system. We want to maintain that because ultimately if that well runs dry, not only do you lose currency in trade but also you lose the ability to be a deep team. I think part of being really good and really talented is having reinforcements behind them. We don’t want this wave of the guys I just mentioned to be our last wave of young players. We want more guys like Contreras and [Albert] Almora and Torres and those kind of guys to come up and help us in the future.”
On if it’s sunk in yet that Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey are Cubs, that Spring Training has started and game-on, the season is here
“Actually right now I’m looking over our weight room while we’re having this conversation and a lot of the guys are down there working out. I just think that it’s … this time of year our love of baseball really comes out. I think all of us just want to get started. It’s a long winter, longer for you guys that aren’t here certainly, and it’s nice to see these guys working out and I get excited. When you see the first workout you get excited. When you see the first game you get even more excited and it sort of builds throughout the spring. I guess we’re starting early with these guys and it’s great that they all want to come here and work out so much before the reporting date.”