Thanks to a friend, I had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call Chicago Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, and Scouting/Player Development Chief Jason McLeod had with season ticket holders last night (moderated by Len Kasper).
It was a friendly, interesting call, where the three in charge took questions from the fans. It wasn’t earth-shattering stuff, mind you, but the fact that these guys took the time to do something like this was pretty cool. Clearly, they care about ingratiating themselves within the fan community (as if their popularity could get any higher).
There are a number of write-ups about the call out there (examples here and here), which hit on the high points, but I thought it might be more useful for you hardcorers out there to transcribe the whole thing. So, that’s what appears below. It is paraphrased, and isn’t a model of grammatical perfection. I just wanted to make sure I got everything.
The call was an hour, so, yeah, what follows is long. For those of you who don’t care to read the whole thing, I’ve bolded the most interesting parts.
Theo/Jed/Jason Season Ticket Holders Conference Call
Theo: Thanks all for participating and warm welcome, promises good times and hard work ahead. Lot of great people in front office. Best fans in the game. We want to please you with year-in-year-out sustained success.
Jed: Been a lot of fun so far. Being back with Theo, and I see how excited fans are about Theo, and they should be. Jason as well. Feel even more passion from the fans here in Chicago than I did in Boston. We’re going to be tireless in our efforts because you guys deserve it.
Jason: Trying to get our feet on the ground, learn what’s in place. Want to make the scouting/player development system one of the best in baseball.
Q: Will Ricketts let you eat contracts to put a younger player out there more quickly?
Jed: Ricketts family is so committed to winning and doing it the right way, and if that means playing younger players, they are willing to do it. Younger players are the key to sustained success, and it’s clear that Tom believes in that.
Q: Plans for middle of the lineup?
Theo: Don’t want to look at free agency as the only option. Trades, internal are part of it, too. We’re going to be active in the free agent process – talking with agents, monitoring supply and demand – and will probably sign a couple. It’s important to improve the club defensively, too, and if Aramis leaves, we take a hit on the offensive side maybe, but we can improve defensively.
Q: How does that analysis happen without a manager in place?
Theo: We start the plans, and yes, the manager is important (we’re probably in the 6th inning of that process, another candidate or more to interview, and then we’ll enter into decision-making phase), and we’ll get his input on players.
Q: What is the level of talent in the farm system now, and when can we expect it to bear fruit?
Theo: Not gonna sugarcoat it: big gap between where we are now and where we want to be. Plenty of interesting players, though. We’re dealing with the Rule 5 analysis now, and there are some interesting names. We need more impact players, though. To turn a farm system over and see the impact at the big league level usually takes four/five years, but we can speed that up in certain ways. Uses Papelbon as example of quick turnaround on an impact player.
Q: How do we get a winning team on the field while still developing the farm system, and keep the team on the field good enough that the fans want to watch?
Jed: Have to be opportunistic. There are chances to improve the farm system through international and trades. A homegrown team is ideal, but free agency plays a valuable role. We want to use free agents to fill holes, rather than using it as a band aid for a bad farm system.
Q: South Side hired a manager with no experience, how important is it to have someone with experience?
Theo: Ideally, you want a candidate who has everything – great traits, and great experience. In the real world, it’s hard to find someone who has everything, so you weigh all the variables. If you’re going to hire someone with no experience, he better have a whole lot of upside, and you better do a ton of due diligence. We wanted someone with big league managerial or coaching experience, because that’s a guy who can connect with big league players today.
Q: What style of team is going to maximize playing at day and in Wrigley?
Jed: It’s a challenge, because it’s so different early in the year and in the summer. It’s not a pitcher’s park or a hitter’s park. Pitching and defense is key early in the year.
Q: Any players you see at AAA or AA that you could see making the team in Spring?
Jason: We haven’t had a whole lot of time to watch the players yet, but it’s a lot of the names you’ve already heard. Brett Jackson, with his speed, athleticism. Matt Szczur, another great athlete. Junior Lake is a guy who stands out. But until we get to actually watch the players in Spring, it’s hard to tell for sure. We look forward to seeing them.
Q: Is it nice to have fresh eyes as well as experienced eyes to look at prospects?
Theo: Absolutely. From afar, we can see certain things, but those who’ve been with them every day is really enlightening. It’s an intriguing combination.
Q: What is the plan to finally improve fundamental defense?
Jed: Two parts. Have to address fundamentals in Spring, throughout the year, and in the minors. Part of that is also in the managerial search. Second, it’s about personnel. We have to value defense as we acquire players. Sure, you can improve players, but some are naturally better than others.
Q: How have you acclimated to the culture in Chicago and the Cubs?
Theo: It’s important to want to understand the culture, and keep an open mind. I had lunch with Billy Williams the other day to just get his thoughts on the history and the organization, and then talked to Ernie Banks later that day. I also sit down with the current players, and get their take. Everyone wants to make sure I understand that the Cubs are unique. The day games, the ballpark, the winless stretch. We just try to listen as hard as we can and try to put ourselves in your shoes. But we do need to keep our fresh perspective.
Q: The clubhouse is small and cramped, isn’t that a competitive disadvantage, and aren’t there plans to improve it?
Jed: Yes, there are plans, but it’s tough to gauge timing. Clubhouse and batting cage situation is not great. In the meantime, we have to work to overcome them, but yeah, we’re looking forward to the day when we’re ahead of the curve on the amenities.
Q: What’s a successful first year?
Theo: A lot of progress in the infrastructure and the personnel. Need a defined vision for the organization by the end of the year, and have everyone pulling in that same direction. Clearly, everything we do won’t show up on the big league level in the first year. At the end of the year, we’ll sit down and review all we’ve done, and want to be able to say we’re in a significantly better position than we were last year. The goal needs to be in sight. But, we start every year trying to win the WS, so real success is winning the World Series.
Q: Organizationally, what do see as similar and different between Cubs now and Red Sox when you took over?
Jed: Fan base is the number 1 similarity. Great fans. So passionate. The ballpark is another big similarity. Obviously the Sox roster was a bit further along.
Q: Can you get Eddie Vedder to play at Wrigley?
Theo: If I can’t do that, I’ve been a failure.
Q: Gonna have software like Carmine? And advice for a college student who wants to be in the field?
Theo: Every club has an information management system, so it’s not particular to Carmine. The edge comes in how you use the information and how you manage it. We’re still learning the systems in place now, and we’ll try and improve them.
Jed: To the college point, be persistent. If you have a passion, just try to get your foot in the door. Then let your intelligence and hard work shine. Work as hard as you can. There’s no formula.
Theo: Try to do as much as you can while you’re in school, before the pressure to have a job and make money comes up.
Q: What’s the difference between building an NL team and an AL team?
Jed: In San Diego, it was an adjustment. The biggest was the strength and depth of your bench and bullpen in the NL. You don’t have to worry about the depth as much in the AL. I love the NL style of play.
Q: If evaluating a vet starting pitcher using just one stat, what would the stat be?
Jed: If I stick to the basic stats, BB/K ratio is key. Can’t put runners on base, and you gotta strike guys out. Advanced stats are nice, but sometimes the basics are best. Age is important, too. It’s handy also to look at a what you’d want in a hitter, and check out the opposite numbers for a pitcher (triple-slash numbers against).
Q: Cashner more of a starter or closer?
Jason: Haven’t seen him up close and personal yet, but Andrew’s performance will dictate his role.
Q: What will we see in terms of evolution of ballpark over the years?
Theo: First rule is do no harm. At Fenway, we started with a facelift without being intrusive. Made a gem even better, and that was great for the fans and for the revenue.
Q: What rivalry are you most excited about?
Theo: Excited about all of them, but the Cards is the big one because of the history.
Q: Best part of the city?
Jed: Been spending about 18 hours a day at the office, so haven’t had a great chance yet. Looking forward to spending more time getting to know the people and the culture.
Theo: Pizza and live music.
Q: More small ball?
Theo: Have to be able to do that, can’t just wait for the homer. Do have to move runners, have good baserunning, be able to get bunt down, and have the manager identify the proper strategy. So a part of it for us is to hire the right manager. We also have to ID and acquire the right personnel.
Q: How do you produce success right now? Or are you willing to lose a bit right now?
Jed: The farm system is definitely the biggest focus right now. But every year we’re trying to win it all, so we try to find as much value – through FA or trade – for the big league club.
Q: How can a kid with Campana’s size and speed get to the bigs and find out he can’t bunt? Shouldn’t these kids be learning these things all the way up? How do you change that?
Jason: Scouting and player development go hand in hand, so it starts with drafting and signing the right players. Once in, we have to develop them, and that comes from doing it the right way at every level. And you’ve got to tell the kids how you envision their future, and how you see them helping the team, so we can maximize their potential.
Theo: The philosophy has to be the same throughout, and taught the same way. We’re also trying to find “impact” player development people, and we’re trying to get as many as we can.
Theo: Thanks for participating, and this was great. Look forward to seeing you at the ballpark. Look forward to doing great things together.