Chicago Cubs

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.

Can Cubs count on Kyle Schwarber to be the hero again?

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USA TODAY

Can Cubs count on Kyle Schwarber to be the hero again?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Cubs had so much confidence in Kyle Schwarber last year that they made him their World Series designated hitter – less than seven months after major surgery on his left knee and with only two Arizona Fall League games as the warm-up – and expected him to deliver against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and a dynamic Cleveland Indians bullpen.

Now? Manager Joe Maddon isn’t quite ready to make that leap of faith with Schwarber, even as the October legend closes in on 30 home runs this season and puts up a .900-plus OPS since his reboot at Triple-A Iowa this summer.

“The thing you’ve got to be willing right now with Schwarbs is understanding that he’s going to do that,” Maddon said Wednesday, pointing toward the right-center field seats where Schwarber launched Chris Archer’s 96-mph fastball the night before at Tropicana Field. “And then he might strike out with a runner on third base. You have to accept both sides.

“You’re playing for that (home run) based on his ability against that pitcher, also knowing that you’re going to see the punch-out in there, too. It’s just part of who he is right now.”

That would appear to be a part-time player, as Maddon went with Jon Jay’s contact skills in the designated-hitter spot against Tampa Bay Rays lefty Blake Snell and continues to think about what will give the Cubs the best chance to win the final stages of the National League Central race.

Looking back on his time with Rays, Maddon explained some of the creative tension within a small-market operation constantly looking for ways to find an edge. Maddon called it buckets of information, how certain data points and sample sizes should be used in free agency and trades, while others informed the daily lineup/bullpen decisions and why you had to look inside the numbers.

How do you assess Schwarber in 2017? During the time of the year when he narrows his focus and becomes extremely calculating, Maddon started talking about Schwarber in terms of player development and the future, which didn’t exactly sound like a vote of confidence.

“Big bucket, everybody’s going to love this guy,” Maddon said. “And then I think the smaller buckets are going to get even more attractive. I do believe the more he plays in the years to come, you’re going to see the strikeouts come back down, a better adjustment when the count gets deeper.

“He’s already trying to choke up. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that from up top – he’s really trying to do different things in counts right now – and I’m starting to see some progress with that, too.

“But, God, the guy missed all of last season, and I still think that we all forget that sometimes. I thought he was a little bit better – when I first met him – at the ball with two strikes. I think that went away for a bit. Now I think he’s really trying to nurture that coming back.

“So I would say next year you’re going to see the same kind of power, but probably more contact when it’s needed. That’s the bucket he’s going to fall into.”

Coming off that dramatic World Series comeback, Schwarber fell into an offensive spiral that got him demoted to the minors three months ago. He’s still managed to blast 28 homers while striking out 31 percent of the time, struggling against left-handed pitching (.663 OPS) and batting .208 overall.

Schwarber also has the type of hard-charging personality that feeds off those doubts, loves the big-game pressure and creates energy for the rest of the team. There will be another chapter to his 2017.

“It is what it is,” Schwarber said. “That first whole part of the season was a wash for me. I was able to go down and just kind of get my head recollected and get some parts of my swing down.

“I can’t worry about the number up on the scoreboard. It’s just stupid to do that. So that’s all I’m worried about every time I go up to the plate – I want to put in a good team at-bat.”

Cubs lose Pierce Johnson on waivers

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Cubs lose Pierce Johnson on waivers

The Cubs have parted ways with the first pitcher drafted by Theo Epstein's front office.

The Cubs designated Pierce Johnson for assignment last week when they purchased the contract of Jen-Ho Tseng to make his first MLB start against the New York Mets.

Now Johnson is with a new organization.

The San Francisco Giants claimed Johnson off waivers Wednesday. He was initially selected in the supplemental first round in 2012 with the 43rd pick, 37 spots behind Albert Almora Jr.

Johnson is now 26 and just made his first — and only — big-league appearance May 19 this spring.

In Triple-A Iowa, Johnson had a 4.31 ERA in 43 games, including one start. He struck out 74 batters in 54.1 innings, but also walked 27 batters and had a 1.454 WHIP. 

Johnson spent six years in the Cubs minor-league system, going 29-21 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.305 WHIP and 9.3 K/9, working slightly more than half the time as a starter (74 starts, 56 relief appearances).

With the Cubs taking Johnson off their 40-man roster in mid-September as opposed to promoting him with expanded big-league rosters, it clearly shows he was not a part of their long-term pitching plans.