Cubs Convention LIVE: Meet Cubs Baseball Management
We’re ready for our first live blog of the day, with the Cubs’ baseball decision-makers: Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Shiraz Rehman and Randy Bush will be taking questions for the next hour. Great panel and great way to start your morning with us. Keep refreshing for updates!
10:00 We’ve kicked off, and the panel is talking about what they’ve learned after a year with the Cubs. Jed says that he understood from last Convention that this is a “public trust.” Referring to the reaction to 1960s players from last night’s opening video: “We want to build that core and that kind of group. When people show these players 25 years from now, we want them to be able to cheer.”
10:05 Dale is asked about next year’s starting center fielder, and he replies that right now it looks like David DeJesus will be out there. The crowd gives its approval.
10:08 Shiraz says that there are still details to work out on pitcher Carlos Villanueva, but they’re excited to add him to the club.
Randy says to watch out for Nick Struck, in response to the fan’s other question about pitching prospects ready to help. You can read about him in the February issue of Vine Line!
10:10 Theo says the Cubs Way instructs how they teach and how it is they want their players to play. He refers to the manual, which is several hundred pages long. It standardizes all the terminology and communication of pitching, running, fielding, hitting and how the players are expected to conduct themselves.
The Rookie Development Program the team unveiled last week is the topic of discussion. They spent 10 days in the Cubs clubhouse, hearing from Dale and everyone else at the table. They heard from a mental skills expert, learned about community responsibilities and more. He says the first days for a rookie can leave a player’s head spinning, and this program is intended to address all these things and allow players to relax. “To feel like they’ve been there before, can take a deep breath and play.”
10:15 Bush and Sveum talk about how no such program was in place when they were players. Bush, a holdover from the previous regime, praises the new camp highly. He also relays a story that Kerry Wood told the minor leaguers last week: When he was called up in 1998, his reaction was, “I’m not ready…” Of course, his manager said he’d have to be.
10:16 A young kid asks about WAR, FIP and other advanced statistics. Jed says that a lot of people have done good work trying to quantify defense. He says that it’s an exciting time on that front because right now so much can be quantified on the field: Pitch velocity and movement, angle and velocity off the bat, and more, referring to the various “f/x” systems.
Saying it’s all information, Jed points out that the team marries statistical analysis with their scouting reports and what they see themselves. Great question!
10:19 A couple deals that didn’t pan out—specifically, the Ryan Dempster trade and Anibal Sanchez signing—were not “botched” according to Jed. He said these things often don’t work out and that it’s a key reason the team has to keep information internal until it’s finalized. At the same time that the Sanchez signing was rumored to be “done,” the team was also meeting at Edwin Jackson, knowing that nothing was close to being done.
10:21 Soriano draws rave reviews from Bush. The veteran outfielder brings clubhouse presence, mentorship, 30 home runs and 100 RBIs to the team. The crowd applauds in recognition of his great season for the Cubs.
Sveum seconds Bush on Soriano’s clubhouse presence. He says his outfield play, considering the knees he has, was great. And he said that despite the contract and his age, his work ethic is outstanding. Acknowledging trades can happen, Sveum says from his manager’s perspective, “We need Soriano to be on this team all year long.”
10:24 Barney leads by example and had a fantastic defensive year. Jed compliments his maturity and clubhouse presence. He says that Barney still has offensive upside and great hand-eye coordination—the only problem being that sometimes he puts too many balls in play precisely because of that. It’s clear that he’s been working out this offseason. Saying discussions are internal, Jed closes: “We think he’s a big part of our future and think he’s a fan favorite for a reason.”
10:26 Sveum says lots of players will be competing at third base in camp, but he’s hoping that Ian Stewart’s bat works out because the team needs home runs.
10:27 Theo wants his team to have the efficiency of a small-market team but resources of a large-market team. He credits the fans as the reason that the front office can add players when they’ve built a good base.
10:29 Some of the advantages of the move from Peoria to Kane County for the club’s Class-A affiliate: Minor leaguers can get a feel for the Chicago market and rehab assignments will be easier. It was nothing having to do with Peoria, just the opportunity to move a key cog in player development closer to Wrigley Field.
10:30 One enterprising young fan just guaranteed himself a pro contract when he turns 18.
10:31 One of the most important things Sveum and the club stressed ever since camp last year was accountability. That’s all on top of the “Cubs Way.”
10:32 On the draft: “Hopefully it will be the last time we do pick second overall.” Theo says there’s an imbalance in the organization in that there’s a bulk of position-player prospects but a lack of starting-pitching prospects. The best bets at the top of the draft are often position players historically—they’ll take best player available even if it’s a position player. “We will not neglect pitching in the draft, even if we take a position player second overall.” He points out that the team did that last year before picking seven consecutive pitchers.
10:34 As the Cubs are building, “we have to take short-term assets and turn them into long-term assets.” Bush says that’s the front office’s mantra in moves like last summer’s Paul Maholm deal.
Theo says the team is trying to build a core of young players because today you can’t just build through free agency. Arodys Vizcaino, the power pitcher acquired from Atlanta, is exactly the type of player the Cubs want to acquire. (Read about him in next month’s Vine Line as well!)
10:38 Having a glut of young shortstops is a “pretty good problem to have,” says Rehman. Obviously, Castro is a great player at a great age that the team has locked up for the rest of the decade. Every time that Sveum sees Javier Baez he raves about his hit tool and bat speed. Junior Lake is a very toolsy player who has primarily played shortstop, but in winter ball he’s moved around a bit, including in the outfield. “As these guys progress to the big leagues, we hold off moving a player off of shortstop as long as possible. Hopefully they make the decision tough for us. He adds: At Double A and Triple A, hopefully they get experience at wherever we can use them in the majors. Guys like Lake need more time in the minors, but the team hopes that players like him break out and force the team’s hand at the major league level.
10:44 Bush says that the team is committed to educating their players on performance-enhancing drugs and other illegal substances. It’s an important mission of the Commissioners and the team, as well.
10:45 Theo says that the new leadership wanted to spend a few months getting to know everyone, and because of that, they were able to make great relationships with scouts and people like Bush. But the team also wanted to bring in new people with new processes so that they can tackle the question “How do we project what the player will do in the future?” from myriad ways. He feels great about the things in place for the draft, the energy behind things like the Rookie Development Program, and several other areas. “We wish we had five drafts in a row this year” because of the scouting and player development system now in place.
10:48 A fan asks about the chances on the international scene because of the new Collective Barganining Agreement. “It made things difficult in terms of building up on prospects,” says Hoyer. Teams are held to a pretty strict spending pool for both the draft and international market. They hope it won’t limit them in terms of making successful moves, but they won’t be able to load up as much as they could in the past.
10:50 The one thing about speed is you can’t teach it, says Sveum. Tony Campana is a player with once-in-a-while “super speed,” but you do want to have average speed.
10:51 While the baseball folks aren’t going to spoil the surprises on the facilities side later (stay tuned!), but Jed says that they all felt that the clubhouse and other facilities could stand to improve. The players deal with the clubhouse well, but it’s one “better suited for Double A.” So the Wrigley Field renovations are important from the baseball side just as they are from the fan side.
10:53 Sveum says things didn’t go all that well for Brett Jackson in the major leagues last year, but Jackson made a lot of progress with the big league coaches down in Arizona. He says that they reworked his swing, making some adjustments similar to Anthony Rizzo’s last year (lower-half use and hands positioning). Sveum is excited to see what Jackson, a known hard-worker, can do with two more weeks to implement those changes before camp.
10:55 The panel leaves a nice—but tough!—question from a fan about the team’s timetable. Theo thanks her and all the fans for their patience and for the fact that they’ve understood what the team has tried to do. He says the nucleus of young players has to get to the major league level—Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, as well as Jeff Samardzija are good examples of what they are trying to get to Chicago. He feels what the team did with pitching this winter will pay dividends and will keep the team in more games and in a better position in the standings. He shies away from a timetable—jokingly acknowledging that he’s kind of dodging the question—but he does say that they’d like to see some of that depth they’ve added start contributing in Chicago by 2014. And by 2015, they should be talking about October not just as a possibility.
10:59 Jed says the front office is still looking for outfield depth. He can’t promise they’ll be able to add someone, but it is a thinner part of the roster. They feel good about Nate Schierholtz, Soriano and DeJesus, but they’re looking to see if they can find another fit.
Sveum says that Schierholtz does well with the at-bats he gets, is left-handed, can run and play the outfield. He’s happy that the team has four right-handed and four left-handed hitters projected to be in the lineup. And he mentions players like Dave Sappelt as providing depth to the outfield situation. Campana too.
11:01 It’s a wrap! Great questions, great panel. Check out the Vine Line blog front page for the next one, coming right up!