Earlier Monday, the Cubs announced a five-year contract for the team’s new President of Baseball Operations, Jed Hoyer.
Hoyer and Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts had their first news conference together after Hoyer took over the position. In the course of listening to this 45-minute event it occurred to me that I probably heard more words from Hoyer Monday afternoon than I had heard in the entire nine previous years he’d been in the organization.
Ricketts led off the news conference by noting that the first person Theo Epstein wanted to hire when he was brought on board was Jed Hoyer. He then joked, “I don’t know anyone who has turned down more job interviews in baseball over the last few years than Jed Hoyer,” praising his loyalty and saying it was a good thing to promote from within for a job like this, “giving us continuity and a new leader all at once.”
Hoyer began his remarks by praising his predecessor — of course, you wouldn’t expect anything else — and noting how he and Theo were lucky enough to be able to design their offices both in Chicago and Mesa. He went “on and on,” in his words, about what he’d miss about being able to work with Theo on a daily basis.
He also praised the Ricketts family and his own family for all the support they’ve given him over his years in baseball. He called Chicago home and praised Wrigley Field, “this magical ballpark” and the Cubs fanbase: “The grass is not greener anywhere else.” He also singled out David Ross for praise; obviously, those two have worked together for many years in both Chicago and Boston.
Hoyer was then asked how he approached the “core four,” plus Craig Kimbrel. He said the Cubs did have a “great team” who won the division in 2020 and that’s the goal every year, to go deep into October.
He was noncommittal when asked about a general manager and noted there would be a “search”, though didn’t say whether that would be outside or inside the organization, and added that he does expect to fill that role for the 2021 season. He did say there would be announcements “in a couple days” about some promotions and said that continuity is important and praised the “great employees” already in the organization.
Hoyer was specifically asked whether Kris Bryant would be on the roster Opening Day, and whether there were extension talks going on for anyone. He deflected the question about Bryant and said there were no talks going on right now, but might pick those up in the future, and said things are likely going to go “a bit slower” this offseason.
The payroll question came up and Hoyer was asked if there was going to be any “hard limit” on payroll numbers. He deflected, again, saying this is a “challenging offseason” and said there were still uncertainties about the 2021 season and noting there was a “range” of payroll being discussed. This was about as noncommittal as anyone from management could get about this, but I don’t think we could have expected a specific answer to this question. Ricketts added, “We don’t know if we’re going to have fans or start on time, it’s still very fluid.”
That much, I agree with. The pandemic shows no signs of abating, and could very well get worse over the holidays. It’s entirely possible we wind up with a 2021 season of fewer than 162 games, in which case there’s almost certainly going to have to be owner/player negotiations about salaries.
One piece of news was announced in the coaching staff: Hoyer noted that Chris Valaika, who played for the Cubs in 2014 and who has been a minor-league coach and coordinator in the organization since 2018, will be the big-league team’s assistant hitting coach, replacing Terrmel Sledge, whose contract was not renewed. He also noted that there will be a search started to replace third-base coach Will Venable, who departed to become bench coach for the Red Sox.
Hoyer was asked about non-tendering players and he declined to comment, so we can continue to speculate about whether Kyle Schwarber will be non-tendered. I think it’s probably a given that Albert Almora Jr. and Jose Martinez won’t be tendered contracts — note, that’s strictly my opinion, though I suspect many share it.
He noted the deficiencies in the team drafting pitching and acknowledged the Cubs have to do better, as well as improve the performance of hitters at the major-league level. He also acknowledged the uncertainty regarding rules for 2021 such as the universal DH and roster limits and that they would basically just have to roll with them.
Tom Ricketts was asked about having fans back in the ballpark, and he also was noncommittal, saying he hoped they could get 20 or 30 percent capacity back fairly soon, but didn’t give any time frame for that. He also said he expects to put a good team on the field in 2021, without making any specific commitment about a salary level. (You didn’t really expect to hear that, did you?)
With the cuts made in baseball operations, Hoyer said they will have to work more “efficiently” with the personnel they have, but also noted that the Cubs are not alone in baseball in having those types of cuts.
Overall, this news conference was about what you’d have expected from someone who was promoted from within. It was both a statement of continuity and a statement of some changes that will have to be made going forward, but no major announcements were made and a lot of topics were glossed over.
As always, we await developments.