The best and brightest: Cubs add Hoyer, McLeod

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The best and brightest: Cubs add Hoyer, McLeod

Updated: 10:02 p.m.

Theo Epstein sounds like hes running a Fortune 500 company. The 37-year-old Ivy League graduate has a law degree and vows to change the way the Cubs do business.

The new president of baseball operations promised to hire the best and the brightest from outside the organization. That now officially includes Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, two executives who helped the Boston Red Sox win two World Series titles.

The Cubs and San Diego Padres released a joint statement on Wednesday night that announced what everyone expected: Hoyer will become executive vice presidentgeneral manager, while McLeod will be named senior vice presidentscouting and player development.

The Padres will promote Josh Byrnes another part of this Red Sox tree to replace Hoyer as general manager. Grabbing Hoyer and McLeod will cost the Cubs one player as compensation. They will all be introduced at press conferences after the World Series.

Hoyer is supposed to free Epstein from the day-to-day oversight of the major-league team, allowing him to focus on the big picture. McLeod whose first draft with Boston produced future MVP Dustin Pedroia is expected to take a broader role within the baseball operation.

Epstein profiles like an executive at Goldman Sachs or Lockheed Martin, talking about vertical integration and information-management systems. That certainly resonated with chairman Tom Ricketts and his financial background.

Epstein pledged to dig deep with research and development and try to find that next competitive advantage, likely figuring out a way to prevent injuries and keep pitchers healthy.

Epstein talked about understanding the supply and demand dynamic (and) discovering small opportunities to make the organization better, like signing a released player to a one-year, 1.25 million deal (David Ortiz).

Epstein compared his front office to a boiler room or a think tank. He developed a reputation as a listener who welcomes different opinions and builds a consensus.

A very inclusive guy that likes to challenge everyone, one scout said. He welcomes input and has been very fair and very personable.

Epstein received assurances from ownership that he would be able to expand what has been one of the smallest baseball operations departments in the game. So for those leftover from the Jim Hendry regime, this isnt necessarily a zero-sum game. Its time for the Cubs to pool their intellectual capital.

During Epsteins scripted remarks at Tuesdays news conference, he showed an eye for details. That was fitting for the son of a Boston University creative writing professor. He values the grunts and views winning the World Series as a when not if proposition.

It will happen because one of our area scouts drives an extra six miles to get that one last look at a prospect before the draft, Epstein said. It will happen because the rookie ball pitching coach comes out every day to early work, until he finally finds that right grip for a young pitchers changeup.

It will happen because someone from our international staff takes the extra time to really get to know a 17-year-old kid and help make his transition to the States that much easier. It will happen because a fringe prospect from Double-A buys into The Cubs Way and takes responsibility for his own development.

It will happen because our major-league coaching staff is more prepared than their counterparts across the field.

Epstein has already begun gathering information on his personnel, speaking with manager Mike Quade and scouting director Tim Wilken and scheduling face-to-face meetings. Randy Bush and Oneri Fleita are right there in the offices at Clark and Addison. Theres talk that the organizational meetings will be pushed back to February, just before the start of spring training.

The drawn-out negotiations over compensation to free Epstein from the final year of his contract certainly wont help him bring staffers over from Boston. And quietly over the past few years Hendry had been building up the infrastructure that so impressed Ricketts.

Bush knows what it takes to play the game at the highest level after winning two World Series rings with the Minnesota Twins, a model franchise for developing talent. The interim general manager has worked as the organizations minor-league hitting coordinator and was the head coach at the University of New Orleans.

Fleita already received a new four-year contract from Ricketts. The vice president of player personnel has family roots in Cuba and contacts in the Dominican Republic. His network includes Jose Serra, the scout who signed Starlin Castro and the godfather to Carlos Marmol.

Louis Eljaua who oversaw the construction of the Red Sox complex in the Dominican Republic is now doing the same for the Cubs academy. He once set up shop with Epstein at a hotel in Nicaragua as the Red Sox tried to sign Cuban defector Jose Contreras.

Wilken spends close to 200 nights a year in hotels across the country. The scouting director has worked with Pat Gillick and Andrew Friedman, identifying Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay for the Toronto Blue Jays and helping the Tampa Bay Rays build the foundation for their small-market miracle.

Information manager Chuck Wasserstrom and baseball operations director Scott Nelson have spent decades working for the Cubs. Their institutional memories could help Epstein, who grew up near Fenway Park and already knew the culture when he took over the Red Sox almost nine years ago.

Chicago is not Boston, Epstein said. Every market has its own personality, its own idiosyncrasies. I dont pretend to understand them all yet.

That attitude will help Epstein as he tries to build his baseball version of Microsoft. The Best and the Brightest was the cynical title of David Halberstams book on the Vietnam War.

There are no definitive answers, Epstein said. If you think youve got it all figured out in this game, you get humbled really quickly.

John Lackey roughed up as Cubs blanked again by Dodgers

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AP

John Lackey roughed up as Cubs blanked again by Dodgers

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs have scored zero runs through 18 innings at Dodger Stadium this weekend and still haven’t faced Clayton Kershaw yet. Neither game got tense enough for star closer Kenley Jansen and the sound system blasting “California Love.”

Of course, the Cubs survived a 21-inning scoreless streak last October and came back to eliminate the Dodgers and win their first National League pennant in 71 years.

But the Cubs have to keep saying this is a new year, even as a grueling schedule approaches the Memorial Day mile marker for a 25-23 team. And you could see the frustration during Saturday’s 5-0 loss in front of 48,322 and a national TV audience.

John Lackey walked off the field and down the dugout steps after the fifth inning and slammed his glove to the ground. A one-run game had turned into a 5-0 blowout as Lackey walked pitcher Brandon McCarthy and Chris Taylor then drilled the first pitch he saw into the left-field seats. Lackey screamed into his glove after Chase Utley knocked a two-out, two-run single into right field and Dodger Stadium got loud.

Lackey is now 4-5 with a 5.18 ERA for a team that had been built around reliable starting pitching. The Cubs will try to avoid the sweep on Sunday afternoon in what should be a must-see Kershaw vs. Jon Lester matchup.

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

LOS ANGELES – Scott Boras waved a Cubs beat writer over toward the VIP section behind home plate at Dodger Stadium. Holding a smartphone in hand, the super-agent started rattling off data points on Saturday afternoon, making the case for Jake Arrieta once he hits the free-agent market after this season.

Boras pushed back on the idea that Arrieta is something less than an elite pitcher and compromised by diminished velocity, launching into a defense that lasted roughly 15 minutes and drew in two more Chicago reporters before a security guard told the media to clear the field because it was an hour before first pitch.

Once again, Boras used 2014 Max Scherzer as a reference point, detailing five of six starts between May 21 and June 17 in which a Cy Young Award winner gave up seven runs, five runs, four runs, four runs and 10 runs. That didn’t stop Scherzer from making another All-Star team, going 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, leading the Tigers to another division title and jumping to the Nationals for a seven-year, $210 million megadeal.

“I just remember going through this,” Boras said, “because when Detroit came to town, I got the ‘Oh my God, the ship is sinking.'"

The night before, Boras sat in a front-row seat with his entourage watching Arrieta during a 4-0 loss that saw aging Dodgers Chase Utley and Adrian Gonzalez crush fastballs over the center-field wall. One theory – floated by the media and essentially confirmed by manager Joe Maddon – is that Arrieta (4.92 ERA) will have to learn how to pitch in a new reality where he can’t automatically unleash a 95-mph fastball.

“That is so far remote from the truth,” Boras said. “To create a voice to your fan base to suggest that Jake is not Jake – Jake is throwing at frankly better levels than what Scherzer did. And the reality of it is that Jake has this history.

“He’s got a great history that goes on, like (Clayton) Kershaw does, like (David) Price does, like (Zack) Greinke does. These guys have not done this for one year. He did it ’14, ’15, ’16.”

Here’s how Brooks Baseball’s online database has tracked Arrieta’s average velocities across the last three-plus seasons:

2014

Four-seam: 94.59

Sinker: 94.49

2015

Four-seam: 94.93

Sinker: 95.21

2016

Four-seam: 94.32

Sinker: 94.44

2017

Four-seam: 92.64

Sinker: 92.50

Here’s the Brooks Baseball analysis of Scherzer’s fastball from 2012 through last season’s Cy Young Award campaign: 94.97, 94.46, 93.88, 94.67, 95.23.

[MORE: Scott Boras doesn't believe Jake Arrieta is feeling pressure of free agency]

Boras dismissed a question about Arrieta’s inconsistencies at the beginning of his career as he shuttled between the Orioles and their Triple-A affiliate and how that could impact the perception of a 30-something pitcher.

“I’m looking at a three-year window coming into ’17,” Boras said. “When you’re elite, you have not done it once. You have not done it twice. You’ve done it three times. Jake has had three premium years. He’s in the Cy Young voting three years in a row. That puts him in a class of all these people.

“(One) comment is: ‘Oh my God, he’s dropped in velocity.’ Fair observation. My point is they all drop in velocity. All the elite pitchers drop in velocity, because they come in the league, they’re throwing 96, they’re throwing 95, then they’re down. But what are they all doing? They’re all (within) the ranges, probably close to 92 and 93.5.”

The Boras Corp. pitch to owners and executives this offseason will also revolve around durability, advanced stats and postseason experience. Arrieta has made 25, 33 and 31 starts across the last three seasons, ranking second in the majors in WHIP (0.97) and third in soft-contact percentage (22.6) and pitching in six playoffs rounds.

Where Kershaw and Price have repeatedly had to answer questions about their big-game performances, Arrieta can cue up the highlights from the 2015 wild-card game in Pittsburgh and show off his 2016 World Series ring.

Boras clearly has an agenda, but all this is worth remembering amid all the instant analysis and overreactions to how the defending champs are playing now. It might also reinforce why Theo Epstein’s front office could view this as a bad investment and keep rolling the dice with change-of-scenery guys and trading from their surplus of hitters. 

“We’re going to sit here and evaluate a player on a 60-day moment or a 10-start moment when he has three years of his history?” Boras said. “Don’t do it. That’s not fair. It’s not an evaluation, because all their velocities drop.

“All these guys are all still doing well and all their velocities dropped. The key thing is they were able to do what they did three years running. What does Jake have an advantage over all of them at? What does Jake do better than anybody? He wins big games.”