In October 2011, when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were hired to run baseball operations for the Cubs, and again three years later when they added Joe Maddon as field manager, one of their stated goals was to change the losing culture that had surrounded the Cubs for decades. It permeated every level of the organization, from baseball ops to business ops to the clubhouse.
Those three men reached that goal in only a few years. I’m not just talking about winning the 2016 World Series; it seemed that the influence of Maddon, in particular, had bounced the “lovable losers” image from the Cubs clubhouse forever.
But with Epstein’s departure and less than three years after Maddon left, a lot of that “lovable losers” feeling appears to be creeping back into the Cubs clubhouse, except without the “lovable” part. Not everything Maddon did with the Cubs was perfect — no manager is — and there are plenty of things he can be criticized for, up to and including bullpen use in the last two games of the World Series.
But it worked. They won. And now, there seems to be a conscious choice to dump some of the things that made Epstein and Maddon successful, and I do not understand why.
Let me give you some examples of how I believe Cubs front office and clubhouse culture have changed for the worse over the last couple of years.
I have quoted this article in The Athletic before. The relevant passage is about how Hoyer’s front office operates:
... this front office has adopted an analytical, unemotional philosophy toward team-building.
Again, let me make it clear: There’s nothing wrong with using analytics in evaluating baseball players. Where that falls short is if you take emotion and scouting completely out of the picture, as this front office appears to have done. Would Hoyer’s front office have completed a trade for Jake Arrieta on a scout’s recommendation, as Epstein’s did? I doubt it, not with Arrieta performing the way he was at the time of the deal. The scout — who Theo praised by name on radio after the World Series, so I can name him too, Jake Ciarrachi — thought there was something the Cubs could fix with Arrieta, and indeed that’s exactly what happened.
In another recent article in The Athletic, a reader asked why the Cubs can’t do what the smaller-market Cardinals have done and be consistently good over time. The answer, in part:
The point is the Cardinals are a really strong organization filled with strong decision-makers — there’s not a significant amount of turnover in the front office either — and tremendous scouts at every level.
There’s that scouting thing again. The Cubs have let quite a number of scouts go over the last couple of years, and it’s showing in the types of players the team has signed. No other team was interested in Andrelton Simmons, but the Cubs paid him $4 million. Why they didn’t just offer him a minor-league deal with a NRI to Spring Training and $1 million if he made the team is beyond me. They purchased Harold Ramirez from the Guardians and were going to pay him $1.6 million, but traded him to the Rays for a guy who is likely never going to play a game in a Cubs uniform. Ramirez has been productive in Tampa Bay (.308/.358/.414, three HR in 59 games), and instead the Cubs rostered Clint Frazier and... well, you know how that’s going.
They paid Jonathan Villar $6 million, basically wasted after his DFA last week (and also had a $10 million mutual option for next year, which obviously won’t be exercised) — again, for someone no one else wanted. They’re paying Drew Smyly $4.25 million — add all that up and maybe a starting pitcher like Corey Kluber (who got $8 million from the Rays) could have been signed. Surely Ildemaro Vargas could have done what Simmons and/or Villar have done, for a lot less money.
This all speaks to poor player evaluation and poor “intelligent spending” (as Hoyer claimed the Cubs would do), and I haven’t even gotten to guys in the relief corps like Daniel Norris ($1.75 million) and Mark Leiter Jr., and yes there were better pitchers available for around the same money. Here, let me name some: Brad Boxberger ($1.75 million), Tyler Clippard (minor-league deal), Steve Cishek ($1.75 million), Joe Smith ($2.5 million), Jason Adam ($900,000), Sean Doolittle ($1.5 million), Ross Detwiler (minor-league deal) and Trevor Megill (minor-league deal).
All of those pitchers are having better years than Norris and Leiter and... oh, yes, four of them are former Cubs. So what is this? Ignoring guys you used to have because ... why? Because they were part of the past and couldn’t be part of the future? More tossing away the past just because?
Instead, we also got Steven Brault, signed to a MLB deal that had to be re-worked into a minor-league deal because... he was injured at the time he was signed. Brault hasn’t thrown a single pitch in a Cubs uniform, even on a rehab assignment, but he’s sure keeping himself busy!
Tomorrow, co-host Steven Brault returns to the Chris Rose Rotation! pic.twitter.com/BX4IR3aILF— The Chris Rose Rotation (@RoseRotation) June 15, 2022
So there’s the talent evaluation part of this front office, not doing well. At all. Further, we learned from Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney on Friday that Hoyer didn’t spend all the money he was budgeted for 2022. Could that money have produced a better team this year? We’ll never know, nor will we know whether the “savings” can be spent on the 2023 Cubs.
Then, there are some on-field things. You surely remember these days in Chicago a couple of weeks ago:
(1/2) What a toasty past couple days.— NWS Chicago (@NWSChicago) June 16, 2022
For Chicago, the official climate site of O'Hare Airport reached 98°, the warmest since 2012 and the earliest in the year since 1987.
Midway Airport hit 100° back-to-back days, the first time since 2012.https://t.co/28Xbrq9PmR #ILwx #INwx pic.twitter.com/OuPFYoGsmb
What did the Cubs do those two days? Why, they took pre-game batting practice on the field when it was nearly 100 degrees:
Their opponent those days, the Padres, took the opportunity to tell their players to show up a bit later — I personally saw their team buses arrive at Wrigley about an hour later than they usually do — and not to take BP outdoors.
And what happened in the games those two days? The Cubs lost 12-5 and 19-5. They did not score a run after the fifth inning in the first of those games, and only one after the second inning in the second one.
The only conclusion I can draw is that the team was exhausted after BP in that heat. Joe Maddon used to cancel BP from time to time, or make it voluntary (remember “American Legion Week”?), or have guys hit in the indoor cages if they wanted to. There was method to that seeming madness — it’s a long season, got to conserve energy for later in the year, and Maddon’s teams scored 800 or more runs in three of his five seasons. The 2022 Cubs are currently on pace to score 687 runs, which would be their lowest total since 2014, and don’t forget that includes a 21-0 shutout win in April. Even after that 14-run outburst in Pittsburgh last week, they’ve scored only 72 runs over their last 20 games (3.6 per game), which is a pace for... a lot less.
It seems as if they’ve made a conscious choice to toss out anything related to Maddon. This is not good — because remember, Maddon was hired in part to change clubhouse culture, and he accomplished that. Why would you want to go back to what was done before? A lot of what’s going on now feels headed that way.
Then there’s the curious decision to bring Nelson Velázquez to the major leagues and sit him on the bench a fair amount of the time. This is ridiculous. These games don’t mean anything, it’s clear the team is in a rebuild, what on Earth is the point of playing Rafael Ortega ahead of Velázquez? Maybe the rookie outfielder won’t make it. But we’ll never know if he doesn’t play.
Let me make it clear — other than the BP sessions, I don’t think any of this is on David Ross. This appears to me to all come from the front office. Some might advocate firing Ross, which I wouldn’t. I think I’ve had enough of Tommy Hottovy, though.
Let’s now talk about the rebuild that Hoyer isn’t ready to admit is a rebuild, per this Gordon Wittenmyer article:
So when Hoyer got pushback Thursday from a visibly irritated veteran baseball writer about suggesting that the team had played well until the losing streak and that this rebuild won’t be a long process, Hoyer said:
“I didn’t say that at all. I said I don’t have a sense — I have a sense of how to build the next great [Cubs] team and where we want to go. I didn’t give you any sense of timing. In fact, I don’t have a feel for that.”
“I don’t have a feel for that,” Hoyer said of a rebuild, which is ongoing even if he doesn’t want to admit it. Isn’t that literally his job? To have a “feel” for how to rebuild a team?
Hoyer hasn’t been upfront with the fanbase. Now, I don’t expect him to lay out exactly what the FO’s plan is, of course you don’t do that, you don’t tell your competitors publicly how you’re approaching building your team.
But at least be honest with the fanbase that a rebuild is indeed happening. Yes, they did spend money on Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki this past offseason and both have been injured and have underperformed. That wasn’t predictable.
But once injuries and poor performance have taken away any real chance of even marginal contention for a wild-card spot, why not tell the truth? Hoyer was even more disingenuous in a recent radio interview:
“As far as the timing, I do feel like that’s such an area where I have to have some humility,” Hoyer told the Mully & Haugh Show on Monday morning. “As cliché as it is sometimes, you try to build it brick by brick and create that great foundation of young talent. You try to keep as much powder dry financially as you can so that when those (prospects) are here, you can really maximize that.”
So let me get this straight. The Cubs do have some good prospects, but most of them are playing A ball in 2022, perhaps two or three years away from being “here,” as Hoyer put it. So does that mean 2024 or 2025 before they will spend money?
Again, I want to be clear: Spending doesn’t always produce the results you want. This year’s Rangers and Phillies are prime examples. Both spent tons of money on free agents. The Rangers are under .500 and nowhere near a postseason spot. The Phillies have gone on a recent run, but I suspect their bullpen and defense (and the weekend injury to Bryce Harper) will keep them a .500 team this year. Meanwhile, the Guardians, whose $63 million payroll is the third-lowest in baseball, are contenders, just two games out of first place in the AL Central. It’s about talent evaluation, not just money — and Hoyer’s front office doesn’t seem to be good at it.
I am over 1,800 words into this article and I haven’t gotten to the statement made in the headline yet, so let me say it now: For all the things described above, I no longer think Jed Hoyer is the right man to lead the Cubs’ baseball operations department and Tom Ricketts should relieve him of his duties.
Yes, I am aware Hoyer was given a five-year deal in November 2020 and thus has about three and a half years remaining on that contract, and I know Tom Ricketts likely doesn’t want to eat that money. For the good of the franchise, though, I think he needs to.
I promised you above the name of the person I think should replace Hoyer. One of the things I’ve been critical of Hoyer about is the over-reliance on analytics by his baseball ops department. With the shift of Randy Bush from assistant general manager to special assistant, there’s no one in the front office on a daily basis who played major league baseball. I do think that’s meaningful; it helps to have that perspective to balance the analytics, which are important.
There’s someone who not only has that background, but who also has an analytics-based mind as well as front office experience.
The Cubs should hire Sam Fuld to be President of Baseball Operations. Now, wait, this isn’t as silly as it might sound at first glance. Fuld is highly qualified, read on.
All of you know Fuld from his time with the Cubs in 2007 and 2009-10. He was traded to the Rays in the Matt Garza deal, and had good years there as a backup outfielder, as well as time in Oakland and Minnesota. Fuld, who has an economics degree from Stanford, was named major league information coordinator for the Phillies in November 2017 and was noted as a possible managerial candidate after that, listed here as a possible successor to Maddon in September 2019. Instead, he stayed in the Philadelphia front office and was named their general manager in November 2020.
I think Fuld has the requisite experience, both on and off the field, to run a baseball ops department. He’ll turn 41 in December. Originally drafted by the Cubs (10th round, 2004), he’s got a good appreciation for the Cubs organization, fanbase and culture, and has enough front office experience to take the next step in running a baseball ops department. The Phillies wouldn’t stand in his way for a promotion like this.
This article is now past 2,200 words so I suspect I’ve said all I can on this topic, at least for now. I don’t have any real hope of my suggestion happening, but I wanted to put it out there.
Let’s wrap this up by looking at a fantastic defensive play Sam Fuld made in just the 10th MLB game he played:
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