Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer spoke to the media yesterday (quotes here, here, and here - among many other places), and dropped some thoughts on the Cubs’ offseason plans. The most notable bit involved his concession that the Cubs will be active in the free agent market given the money they have available to spend, but I think you’ve got to view those statements through the lens of everything else the Cubs have said over the past year: big-time free agents are the last thing you add when you’re ready to be competitive. But enough about that, I’m preempting my own post.
The quotes, and thoughts …
- On the Cubs’ financial wherewithal, and the pursuit of free agents: “We will have financial flexibility. We’ve been diligent to make sure we do have flexibility and we’re efficient going forward. We’ll obviously be active in the free agent market. That’s a big part of our research and work now is evaluating free agents. We have some money to spend and we’ll focus on it heavily.” I know it would be easy to see words like “active,” and “money to spend,” and “heavily,” and then conclude that the Cubs are going to go after every big name this Winter, but I think you’ve got to read these words carefully. The Cubs do have flexibility, and they do have money available. But they are going to be “efficient,” which means not overspending on big names just to spend. A team can be “heavily” “active” on the free agent market in other ways, though: there are many, many middle-tier and bounce-back names to consider.
- On what happens to money that comes in the door, which the Cubs don’t spend on payroll: “All the money will go back into the team in some form or another whether it’s things that can help us in the future, whether it’s free agents or keeping money aside for the next free agent class. All the money baseball operations is given will always go back to the club.” I highlight this because it’s something we’ve heard previously from Tom Ricketts, with a slight tweak – whereas Ricketts had previously said all money that came in the door would be spent on the Cubs in one way or another (query whether paying down the debt that the Ricketts family took on to purchase the Cubs is money going back into the club or money going into the Ricketts’ pockets), what Jed is saying is that all the money baseball operations is given will be spent on the Cubs. While that means that low payroll years could prove a bounty in subsequent years (rolling over), it doesn’t necessarily mean that, as Cubs’ revenues sky-rocket in the coming decade (after the Wrigley renovation, after new TV deals, after the Cubs don’t suck, etc.), the spending will also skyrocket. Let’s hope it does, but, well, it’s something to keep an eye on.
- On the Cubs’ need to acquire starting pitching: “We certainly have to be aggressive with starting pitching over the Winter. I think that hardly makes us unique among major league teams. We will certainly have competition to find starting pitching but we certainly will need to bolster our rotation …. Starting pitching we’ve had some good performances, but we need to add depth over the Winter. We obviously traded Paul and Ryan and have to replace those guys moving forward.” I expect the Cubs to focus on middle-tier starters like Shaun Marcum, Ervin Santana, Carlos Villanueva, Brandon McCarthy (if healthy), and possibly someone like Edwin Jackson. Maybe not those specific names, mind you – but those types.
- On evaluating young players for the purposes of the roster over the Winter and in the Spring: “Some have shown a lot and some have done enough to not earn a position with the team but strong consideration for the Winter. Some have indicated they need more seasoning and starting next year [at Triple-A Iowa] would be the best. It is a mixed bag. Every guy who’s come up hasn’t shown we need to reserve a spot for him next season but that’s to be expected. We need to get better next year and having depth at Triple-A is important. A lot of those guys may feel they’re ready but if they start the year at Iowa, that’s probably a positive for our roster …. That first time in the big leagues, I think it’s really difficult to evaluate. I’ve had a number of players tell me the butterflies don’t go away that first time up, they’re nervous all the time, they have a hard time calming themselves down. Maybe the second time, the third time they come up, it’s like, ‘OK, I belong here.’ It’s hard to evaluate a guy when he’s nervous. It’s hard to blame them sometimes. This is their dream, they’re up for the first time, the game is faster. Sometimes those things can snowball. It did with Rizzo last year.” Hopefully that’s all we’re seeing with Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters …
- On the possibility of bringing back Ian Stewart next year: “Obviously, we’ll spend a lot of time getting to the bottom of how it looks going forward before making a decision on his future with us. It is a year that’s hard to evaluate given the wrist. It’s challenging …. He’s got a lot of ability, the same ability that we saw when we traded for him. He’s got big power, he’s left-handed, he’s a really good defensive third baseman. There are a lot of pluses there. we need to figure out what part was the wrist and what part wasn’t.” Stewart is arbitration eligible and would be due for a raise on his $2.24 million salary this year. The Cubs won’t be tendering him a contract, but they might consider bringing him back on a cheaper one-year deal, or even a minor league deal if no market for him develops. Even if the Cubs don’t give Stewart a look, their options aren’t very attractive: Luis Valbuena? Josh Vitters? Or an extraordinarily weak FA class?
- On what the front office will do in October: “When you’re not in the playoffs — you hate when you’re not — but when you’re not in the playoffs it’s a really good planning time.” Might as well take advantage of that time, eh?