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.

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

As the Cubs prepare for the winter meetings outside Washington, D.C., their messaging might as well be: It’s the pitching, stupid.

This is an arms race that will never end, the Cubs trying to defend their first World Series title in 108 years, build out a bullpen that looked pretty thin by November and target the kind of young starter who could help anchor their rotation for years to come, ensuring Wrigleyville remains baseball’s biggest party.

The Cubs signed Brian Duensing to a one-year, $2 million contract on Friday, placing a small bet on a lefty specialist who spent parts of last season on the Triple-A level but made a good enough impression during his 13-plus innings with the Baltimore Orioles.

As executives, scouts, agents and reporters begin to flood into National Harbor on Sunday, the Cubs will intensify their search for pitching, everything from headliners to insurance policies to prospects.

“That’s been the significant bulk of our efforts,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, “It’s definitely not going to be through lack of trying on our part to make that kind of deal. That’s now. That’s at the deadline.”  

The Cubs are preparing for Opening Day 2018, when Jake Arrieta will probably be in a different uniform after signing his megadeal, John Lackey might be kicking back in Texas and enjoying retirement and Jon Lester will be 34 years old with maybe 2,300 innings on his odometer. 

The Cubs have unwavering faith in their pitching infrastructure at the major-league level, from the scouting and analytic perspectives that identified the right sign-and-flip deals during the rebuilding years to the coaching staff that helped mold Kyle Hendricks into a Cy Young Award finalist and a World Series Game 7 starter.

Mike Montgomery notched the final out against the Cleveland Indians and the Cubs see him as their next big project. The lefty checks so many of their boxes, from age (27) to size (6-foot-5) to pedigree (former first-round pick/top prospect) to the change-of-scenery confidence boost/mental reset.

Forget about the White Sox trading Chris Sale to the North Side and don’t just think about obvious names or trade partners. Maybe it’s making a deal for a guy you never heard of before and sifting through the non-tender bin. (As expected, the Cubs offered contracts to arbitration-eligible pitchers Arrieta, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm before Friday’s deadline. Their 40-man roster stands at 35 after non-tendering lefties Gerardo Concepcion and Zac Rosscup, right-hander Conor Mullee and infielder Christian Villanueva.)

Remember how team president Theo Epstein framed the Montgomery trade with the Seattle Mariners this summer – comparing him to All-Star reliever Andrew Miller – and that gives you an idea of how they can address their pitching deficit this winter. 

“If your scouts do a good job of identifying the guys who are trending in the right direction – and you’re willing to take a shot – sometimes there’s a big payoff at the end,” Epstein said.   

While the Cubs did Jason Hammel a favor by cutting him loose and allowing him to explore the market as one of the best pitchers in an extremely weak class of free agents, Montgomery has only 23 big-league starts on his resume. 

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The Cubs had five starters make at least 29 starts this year, while four starters accounted for 30-plus starts in 2015, a remarkable run that led to 200 wins.

“As we’ve talked about so many times,” Hoyer said, “we do have an imbalance in our organization – hitting vs. pitching – and we’re trying to make sure we can accumulate as much pitching depth as possible. 

“We were very healthy this year, which was wonderful and a big part of why we won the World Series. I don’t think you can always count on that kind of health every single year. Building up a reservoir of depth – preferably guys you can option (to the minors) – is something (we’re trying) to accomplish.”  

The Cubs have Jorge Soler stuck in a crowded outfield plus the types of interesting prospects who appear to be blocked – catcher Victor Caratini, third baseman Jeimer Candelario, infielder/outfielder Ian Happ – to make relatively painless trades for pitching (if not the kind of blockbuster deal that dominates coverage of the winter meetings).

Lefty reliever Brett Cecil getting a four-year, $30.5 million deal and no-trade protection from the St. Louis Cardinals became another sign of how shallow this free-agent pool is for starting pitchers and a reflection of a postseason where the bullpen became a major storyline.

The idea of Kenley Jansen intrigues the Cubs – and Aroldis Chapman made a favorable impression during his three-plus months with the team – but Epstein’s front office already made the major upgrades for 2017 by spending nearly $290 million on free agents after the 2015 playoff run. Philosophically, the Cubs also see smarter long-term investments than trying to win a bidding war for a guy who might throw 70 innings a year. 

With that in mind, the Cubs could get creative and have looked at free agent Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer with the Kansas City Royals who didn’t pitch this year after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.  

Remember that Chapman left the New York Yankees and joined a team that had a 56-1 record when leading entering the ninth inning. If Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. can’t handle the late shifts, then the Cubs could always go out and trade for another closer in the middle of a pennant race.    

The Cubs have the luxuries of time, zero pressure from ownership, their fan base or the Chicago media and a stacked, American League-style lineup. 

“Right now, we could go play from an offensive standpoint and feel very good about our group,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to still continue to look to improve the depth in our bullpen, improve the depth in our starting rotation. Those are things that probably never go away. You probably never stop trying to build that depth.” 

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

LeBron James is coming to town, and he will be all decked out in Cubs gear.

The Cavs are in Chicago to take on the Bulls Friday night at the United Center and it's time for LeBron to pay up on his World Series bet with Dwyane Wade.

The two former teammates made the wager during the World Series as LeBron's hometown Indians took on Wade's hometown Cubs, with the loser wearing the winning baseball team's gear when they showed up in the opposing city. This is LeBron's first trip to Chicago this season.

Wade and LeBron already acknowledged they're having fun with this and have a whole spectacle planned with a national TV audience.

LeBron told the Akron Beacon Journal he's not going to try to take the easy way out and just toss on a Cubs jersey. He is planning socks, hat, pants and possibly more. But he won't wear cleats or bring a glove with him.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

When the Cubs won it all a month ago Friday, Wade posted an Instagram photo of LeBron wearing a Cubs uniform:

And ESPN had a cutout of LeBron sporting a No. 23 Cubs road gray jersey outside the United Center Friday morning:

CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill wonders whether LeBron will don signature Joe Maddon glasses, too.

This is gonna be fun, you guys.