Jed Hoyer was on Saturday’s Inside the Clubhouse (670 The Score) and discussed his team with Bruce Levine and Jordan Bernfield prior to the first on field work out of the spring.
The Cubs began the second Spring Training under Joe Maddon as the team a majority of the national publications are predicting to win the NL Central. Hoyer talked about embracing the target and how much more Maddon meant to the team last year than the front office envisioned when he was hired.
As the front office and Maddon said Friday, the Cubs’ pitching staff is rather unique with big league starters that figure to have a predominant role in the bullpen this year.
And with the numerous questions Friday about the lineup, Hoyer shared his thoughts on the order and which two players, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward, that will likely hit at the top of Maddon’s lineup early in the season.
On Joe Maddon beginning his second Spring Training with the team, has he meant more to the team than what the Cubs expected?
“Yeah, that’s probably fair to say. Theo [Epstein] and I interviewed Joe, along with Josh Byrnes. We interviewed him in the fall of 2003 before we hired Terry Francona. We just had a great interview, great dinner with him, really enjoyed it. It just felt like given our team in Boston we felt like we needed someone with previous experience. We really felt like he was going to be a great big league manager, it’s just the matter of finding the right opportunity. Obviously Andrew Friedman hired him and that was certainly the right opportunity for him in that market. Yeah, there’s no doubt. We were obviously thrilled to sit down and talk to him again last fall. But until you see a guy every single day at work it’s hard to get a feeling for what makes him tick or what he’s like under pressure. I think probably the most impressive thing for me, being around him all year, was that he just didn’t get down. He was the same person every single day which is exceptionally difficult. Even so far as to say that when we were at our bleakest or playing our worst he seemed almost more positive but not in a way that was at all fake. He had confidence in our team and he believed in his guys and it kept it loose. That’s such a hard thing to do over the course of this grind of a baseball season. It was amazingly impressive.”
On the Cubs beginning Spring Training coming off a 97-win season, a lot different from last spring when the team thought they could be good, how interested are you to see the way your guys respond to having the expectations placed on them now that would not have been there last year?
“That’s certainly the new challenge that we have. Last season was … every journey through a baseball season is different and last season’s journey was a team that was young. We kept bringing up new guys early in the season with Kris [Bryant] and Addison [Russell] and Kyle [Schwarber] but we were only, I think, seven games over .500 at the All-Star break. We really took off, I think winning 16 out of 17 in August. I think that was last year’s journey. This year’s journey is going to be totally different. I think that’s the biggest thing that we all have to get prepared for mentally going into this. There is no question that people believe we’re good. I don’t think we’re the only team answering those questions. The Mets, the Royals, the Astros there are plenty of teams out there who feel like they have a target on them. I think anytime you go a long way in the playoffs. Anytime you make off-season moves people … it raises expectations and that’s a good thing. I hope that last year will be the last year for a long time that we didn’t have expectations. Hopefully this is an annual thing, something we can get used to in that we come into Spring Training as one of the teams that has a chance to play in that last game. Hopefully for us it’s a process of getting used to that target as Joe said. But it is different … the different thing about this spring is that when we talk about winning now people don’t, you know, look at us funny. And hopefully that’s something that happens for a long time.”
On fortifying the starting pitching in the off-season, not just with signing John Lackey, but bringing back Trevor Cahill, retaining Travis Wood and Clayton Richard, and maybe the most under-reported, undervalued trade for Adam Warren. How do you guys feel about the fact that you do have these options?
“Depth was certainly something that we talked about all winter that we had to really increase our depth. We know we’re going to use it. You know last year we got 30-plus out of four guys and that’s not something that happens very often. You don’t know which guy is going to get hurt or which guy is going to underperform. But we all know going into the season the likelihood is that it’s going to be someone or multiple guys. Just try to prepare for every situation. I think with those guys that you mentioned I think we have some guys that can jump in the rotation. They’ve done it. You’re not relying on rookies to come up for the first time. When it comes to [Adam] Warren, he was a guy that we had targeted for a while. Just felt like he was a guy … he’s a good pitcher, a good reliever, a good starter. Commands the ball well. Has a nice starting pitching pitch-mix. We looked at it. We wanted to acquire [Ben] Zobrist. We knew there were some moving parts there. I think a lot of people focused on the Starlin [Castro] going part of the deal and Zobrist coming in, and that was obviously significant. But for us, we really did look at the Adam Warren acquisition as something that we’d been targeting for a while, someone that we really wanted to go after. We are excited to have him. I think he offers a lot of versatility. He offers almost the same kind of versatility as a pitcher that a guy like Ben Zobrist or a guy like Javy [Javier Baez] can offer to a position player.”
On looking at the way the Cubs have built the staff with pitchers like Clayton Richard, Travis Wood and Adam Warren that can pitch more than a couple of innings out of the bullpen, do you feel like there is a shift happening in baseball now where teams are looking at how to get 27 outs differently than they ever had in that guys don’t have to be as specialized anymore, you don’t need a guy to come in for one out and you could use a starter for three, four innings if you have to and then be armed with two or three relievers that might be able to go two innings apiece?
“Definitely people’s attitudes about bullpens and about pitching in general are changing. I think the biggest challenge is that what you can do in September or what you can do in the playoffs is very different than what you can do over 162 games. It’s easy to pull a starter after three and a third late in the season and just go with sort of a mix-and-match bullpen day, but to do that all season you’re going to burn through your bullpen really quickly and guys are going to be worn down. To me I think a lot of the pitching theory is wonderful but in practice it’s very hard. You have guys on your roster that are out of options so if they are tired and down for two days because they threw 55 pitches out of the bullpen well, all of a sudden you can’t make a roster move to replace that guy or bring someone else up. You are kind of pitching shorthanded for a couple of days. But I do think that the way we have to think about pitching we always have to evolve but at the same time we are sort of hemmed in a little bit by wanting to protect guys and wanting to … and roster construction and that does make things more difficult. There’s no question that bullpens have become more popular I guess. People are willing to spend more money on them as a whole because they want to make sure that they can lockdown the game. Listen, it’s been very successful late in the season and in October.”
On the legend of Kyle Schwarber … the broken windshield, the ball on the top of the scoreboard, the idea that Stan Zielinski and the front office had about Schwarber’s swing reminding them of Babe Ruth. These are lofty comparisons, but we might just be seeing the tip of the iceberg because Schwarber doesn’t shy away from the comparisons and is not afraid he will not be a great player.
“He’s a guy we put a lot on his plate this spring. I think Theo said that yesterday and we actually said the same thing to Kyle when we met with him one-on-one. Focusing him more on the outfield, still retaining the ability to catch with him, working on his catching to get better and better and then also probably hitting somewhere in the middle of our lineup. We are putting a lot on a guy that was in college less than two years ago. He’s got great makeup, you know. I don’t think we ever have any concerns about him makeup wise. He’s a competitor. He loves the spotlight. This guy can really hit. We’re excited to have him in whatever capacity it ends up being whether it’s left field, catching, wherever it is we know he’ll give way beyond 100 percent. He’s such a gamer and we also know that he’s a guy that no pitcher is going to want to face. I think he can hit home runs line-to-line and there are not a lot of guys that can really do that.”
On if the Cubs knew they were getting players with great makeup and possibly a bunch of team leaders before they drafted or traded for them
“I think the honest answer is with some ‘yes’ and with some ‘no.’ We certainly wanted to make makeup a major emphasis. I think especially when talking about having expectations and being a winning organization, I think we have a lot of confidence in our manager and the makeup of our team that they are going to continue to really compete. I think with Bryant, Schwarber and Rizzo we were able to really vest that makeup and it was a significant part of that pick. I think with a guy like Jake Arrieta, candidly we were probably somewhat fortunate. We dug as much as possible, as we could, but we were really excited to get his arm and his talent. His unbelievable makeup has been kind of a revelation to us a little bit. We weren’t aware just how hard a worker he was when we traded for him. Addison Russell, we had good reports on him but again it’s hard to know those kinds of things when a guy is in a different organization. We tried to make that a big emphasis. Obviously going out this winter and getting Heyward and Zobrist and [John] Lackey, those are three guys that we knew a lot about. Three guys that we really checked up a lot of the makeup, but with some of the trades I think you have to give somewhat … be somewhat fortunate. You can’t learn quite as much about those guys when they are young and in other peoples’ farm systems.”
On Joe Maddon talking to Jason Heyward about where he is going to bat in the lineup, when you guys signed Heyward where did you envision him hitting best in a batting order?
“I probably see him … probably top couple guys in the lineup. I think Joe will sit down and talk to him and get a feel for who hits at the top. I think he mentioned Zobrist, mentioned Heyward for those spots. I do agree with him that once you kind of figure out who is going to hit where at the top of the lineup the rest kind of falls in place if you go left-right with the rest of the guys. Personally, I would think that lineup construction is something I think people talk about so much. The fact is I think if you have your best hitters hitting the most often I think you will be in good shape. It’s only really the first hitter one time in a game. Hopefully we can get our best hitters to the plate as much as we can. I think Jason will probably take a whole lot of plate appearances at the top of the lineup over the course of the season.”