On Tuesday afternoon, the Cubs President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein, and General Manager, Jed Hoyer, joined Matt Spiegel and Jason Goff for an episode of The Spiegel & Goff Show on 670 The Score, live from Del Frisco’s Steakhouse.
After listening to the entirety of the interview/discussion, while taking notes, I’ve collected and paraphrased many of their comments below, alongside some thoughts of my own. They touched on a huge number of topics, so you’ll want to check it out. You can also download the interview here, or stream it from their page here.
- Even with the trade deadline looming and the Cubs’ rough stretch of loses before the break, the front office remains in firm adoration of their core. While there will be opportunities to make moves, they would strongly prefer to keep the band (core) together, so to speak. Adversity will come – as it does for every team (indeed, it already has for the Cubs) – but the front office believes strongly in their players and roster and expects a very strong second half.
- To that end, however, moves will most likely be made to improve the team in the second half; they just won’t all be blockbusters. Referencing the 2015 acquisitions of Fernando Rodney, Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard and Austin Jackson, the Cubs execs maintain that smaller moves can be just important in what is ultimately a marathon of a season. In order to improve, the Cubs must be willing to buy low on some guys, bet big on others and roll the dice in general. Sometimes those moves work out (like Cahill in 2015), sometimes they don’t (like Joel Peralta in 2016), but if you don’t try, there’s no way to make it to the end of the season. The best organizations, the way they put it, are wrong 48% of the time.
- Of course, you don’t make moves just to make them. Instead, you need to rely on your scouts and front office members to provide the good recommendations, to make the most informed decision possible. Although it isn’t obvious to the outside world, Hoyer claims that Epstein has one of the most open doors to the rest of the organization. Opinions are often heard from the “intern that started yesterday,” to the scout that’s been at your side for a decade or more. Obviously those opinions are weighted differently, but it’s nice to hear that the Cubs front office keeps an exceedingly open mind.
- Back before the 2015 season began, the Cubs front office had an eye on 2016 as the start of the sustained success. They thought contention in 2015 was possible, but that a great many things had to come together in order for that to happen. As we look back on their 97 win season, we know that a great many things did in fact come together, and it resulted in their most fun season of baseball since 2003.
- Despite their comments on the importance of many, smaller moves to the longevity of the season, Hoyer and Epstein were pressed on their willingness to make bigger deals, but they didn’t abandon their message. They will be aggressive this deadline, given the obvious opportunity they have in the division, but won’t sell out for any one year. In fact, they warned about their dangers of placing too much importance on any one season. You’ve heard it before, but the best way to win the World Series is not to push all your chips in on any one year, but to return to the playoffs time and time again. There just isn’t enough of an odds tilt after acquiring a complementary piece. The playoffs are a crapshoot and the best teams on paper don’t always come out on top. The only thing the Cubs can do is return as many times as possible.
- That said, the Cubs have been very active. Epstein and Hoyer claim that they divide the teams between the two of them and remain in constant contact throughout the season. Despite specific rumors tying them to any one player or team in, say, July, trades can come up unexpectedly and you need to be ready to jump at any opportunity that provides value. But again, the season is a marathon and getting back to the playoffs in 2017 is important, too.
- A while back, Epstein claimed that improvements in the bullpen would come from three places: within the bullpen, within the organization, and from external moves (trades, free agent signings, etc.). But on the second point, the Cubs are already well on their way. Brian Matusz, for one example, is working his way up the Cubs Minor League system and is expected to help out the Cubs in short order. Although he’s being stretched out as a starter, he’s likely to help the Chicago Cubs in a variety of different roles. For another example, Joe Nathan is the type of guy that might be able to come up soon and help the team out in a way that Rodney or Cahill did in 2015. Roll the dice, buy low, bet on guys. It’s the way it has to be done.
- But to that end, the Cubs are pleased with the guys they bet on – those two, in particular. Specifically, a Cubs scout noticed a flaw in Matusz delivery, which they felt they could fix. Apparently, after describing that flaw to Matusz himself, he was more willing to sign with the Cubs. Now, in his last two appearances between Triple-A Iowa and Double-A Tennessee, Matusz has a 3.24 ERA with 11 strikeouts to just 3 walks in 8.1 IP. The Cubs are confident he can especially help the team against lefties, something he’s been good at throughout his career.
- Similarly, 41-year-old Joe Nathan has looked better, thanks to a reportedly crisper slider, amassing a 2.00 ERA over 9.0 innings pitched across the same two levels. If even one of them works out, the experiment will have been worth it, and it’s not as though there’s a lack of evidence suggesting it’s possible.
- The Cubs will never use the word “untouchable” in reference to any players on their roster, because you never know what you’ll learn by turning away those types of conversations. Certainly, there are players they don’t feel comfortable moving, but as long as you have “the talk,” you can learn about other team’s preferences, internal rankings, and moveable assets. But if you’re getting worried about Kyle Schwarber, I’d put that away – at least, for now. The way the Cubs top two executives talk about Schwarber makes any sort of trade sound exceedingly unlikely. Jed Hoyer went as far as to basically admit daydreams about Schwarber’s huge, professional, and patient bat in the middle of the Cubs lineup. But aside from the obvious talents on the field, they are enamored with his makeup, work ethic and willingness to improve the team in any way possible. My guess: he isn’t going anywhere.
- There are no updates regarding an extension for Theo Epstein, but he reiterated – once again – that he does not plan on going anywhere. He has a goal of winning the World Series in Chicago, but intimated that he would like to stay even if that were to happen sooner rather than later. I know it’s frustrating not to know the status of these negotiations, but there’s not much of a chance anything significant would come out during the season, and that goes double for July (this close to the deadline). Like Schwarber, I wouldn’t expect Theo to be going anywhere soon.
- Arrieta’s struggles, according to Hoyer, can be linked directly back to his fastball command. When he is incapable of commanding his fastball, batters don’t have to respect the nastiness of his off-speed and breaking pitches quite as much. This, too, is something we’ve discussed a lot in the past, because it was the source of Arrieta’s struggles in Baltimore. Even still, timing appears to be the source of Arrieta’s fastball command issues, but it’s something he’s been working on a lot. Let’s see how he looks tonight in a tough match-up against the Mets and Noah Syndergaard, after a nice long break.
- Lastly, the Cubs are aware of Jason Heyward’s struggles at the plate, but are anything but concerned. Both executives suggested that they’ve had problems with big free agent additions fading away with other teams in the past, but Heyward shares none of the same negative indicators. In fact, Heyward has been leaning into his struggles, improving the rest of the game and working extremely hard to improve. Encouragingly, they hinted that he recently noticed a hitch in his swing that he’s worked to address. Both expect very big things from Heyward at the plate in the second half of the season.