Day two of the 2024 Cubs Convention kicked off with the baseball operations panel featuring Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer and General Manager Carter Hawkins. Like last year, the panel was moderated by Jon “Boog” Sciambi, which is a tribute to fans because he is far and away the toughest questioner among the Cubs moderators for these panels and after a slow start to the offseason for the Cubs tough questions were warranted for this panel.
It was a relatively candid conversation for a crew that doesn’t let a lot leak, as evidenced by the new manager of the Cubs, Craig Counsell.
The conversation began with discussion of the 2023 team. There were acknowledgements that the bullpen needed more depth and ran out of gas. Hoyer also noted that they used to be able to pencil in 950 to 1,000 innings from their starting rotation and that is just no longer true with the nature of bullpen usage and injuries.
Long-time Cubs fan and season ticket holder Paul Dzien, who most of you likely know better as Crawly, asked about Christopher Morel’s role on the 2024 Cubs team and in particular about the trade rumors that have been swirling around him. Jed Hoyer passed part of this conversation to Carter Hawkins, but cautioned that rumors this offseason should be taken with “a pound of salt.” In one of his more transparent moments he candidly stated that the many of the rumors connecting the Cubs to teams likely came from agents looking to connect their clients to a big market team rather than the Cubs front office. Hawkins noted that Cleveland was in a similar position with José Ramírez, who came up as a shortstop but was blocked there by Francisco Lindor. Hawkins raved about Morel’s bat and his raw tools before noted they needed to find a place for him to play, but the bat needed to be in the lineup minimally at designated hitter.
Longtime readers of Bleed Cubbie Blue know how much I love Christopher Morel, so hearing him compared to a player like Ramírez, who has been one of the best hitters in baseball for years by Hawkins gave me some peace of mind that even if Morel is moved at some point, the front office knows the return would need to be massive.
The next question came from a fan who wanted to know where things stand with Cody Bellinger and if there was any way to make the offseason a bit easier on fans. Jed noted that the Shōta Imanaga deal likely came together because of the deadline of the posting window from Japan, and offered that if there was a signing deadline he’d sign that petition first. Carter joked their wives would approve as well. Jed Hoyer then circled back to Bellinger and offered the self-described non-answer of “we loved having him and we’ll see.”
In case anyone was unsatisfied with that non-answer another young fan immediately followed up with a question about whether the Cubs would sign Matt Chapman and Cody Bellinger to laughter in the crowd. Fans didn’t get a better sense of when Hoyer and Scott Boras were going to deal as Jed transitioned to a discussion about how unexpected three-win seasons often come from opportunity and that smaller markets can provide those opportunities with a little less pressure. I hope that the Cubs will allow for some of those opportunities, but maybe they could sign a big bat at the same time.
Both were asked about working for the Cubs and Wrigley Field and Carter channeled all of us as he noted that while it’s sometimes easy to get jaded working in baseball operations, it’s impossible to experience that when you’re working at Wrigley Field. Boog concurred and noted that he calls so many games and is still taking pictures of the sunset at Wrigley while he’s calling games on the North Side of Chicago. Hoyer added that new manager Craig Counsell noted something similar, and that Jed still gets that feeling after 13 years in a truly awesome park.
That segued to an excellent question about the process of recruiting Craig Counsell and keeping that recruitment secret. Hoyer noted that it was impossible not to notice how well Counsell put together the puzzle for the Brewers winning baseball games year in and year out with very different teams. Counsell himself told Hoyer not to hire him for strategy, but that he really prides himself on team building and culture. Boog added that Craig is a good listener who will talk to you on a Monday and then circle back on Wednesday to follow up on something you said.
Carter agreed, adding that yes the strategy aspect is important and Craig obviously understands that before moving to an anecdote about prospect development. One of the prospects asked him what Craig expected of him his first day in the big leagues. Counsell thought about it for a second and then said, “I expect you to be nervous” demonstrating how much he cares about the players as humans. Hoyer added that the expectation of struggle and the understanding that the manager will help players work through that struggle can protect against disappointment.
Another fan asked about the Michael Busch trade and the process that goes into a deal like that. Carter Hawkins compared it to an iceberg with a little bit that you can see, but a lot going on under the surface. It was illuminating to hear how that conversation advances from the initial inquiry about a player to the fruition of a deal. He acknowledged that there are so many of those conversations that don’t go anywhere, but this is one that snuck above the surface.
Jed continued that there are times when you can want a player but there is just no reasonable route to acquire that player. Even most of the deals that make it to the red zone or the 10-yard line fall apart, but you still need to run out every one of those ground balls. I’ll forgive the mixed metaphor for the moment because it was useful insight into the number of conversations fans never learn about from a famously tight-lipped front office.
While this conversation with Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins wasn’t exactly filled with newsworthy items, it did offer glimpses into the processes they use to evaluate talent and work through deals. Both men are methodical and careful about what they share on a big stage, and while that doesn’t really fuel rumor mills, dozens of blog articles or fire up the hot stove it does demonstrate a quiet, confident process behind assembling the next great Cubs team.