Boy – winning that last game before an off-day certainly helps your mood, doesn’t it? It’s probably a little irrational, but had the Cubs won only the middle game of that Astros series, instead of the finale, heading into today’s off day (and the Cardinals series on the road tomorrow), I’d be in an entirely different place right now, even if the Cubs record was not.
But a good mood can be blinding. The Cubs still have a lot of questions surrounding their bullpen, rotation, Ian Happ, and a lot of other topics/players that need to be addressed. Fortunately, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer addressed all of that and more in his interview with 670 The Score today. The full interview is embedded at the bottom of this post, too.
I took a listen and grabbed the highlights for you (aside from the Ben Zobrist stuff, which Brett just discussed separately) with some of my own thoughts below. Enjoy.
- Albert Almora has “a huge heart,” said Hoyer, who recalls first getting that impression when he flew down to meet Almora, who couldn’t stop talking about his family, before he was drafted by the Cubs. Obviously, Hoyer wants the focus to be on the little girl who was struck with a foul ball last night, but he also seems happy to see Cubs fans get a sense of just how good of a person Almora is, because the Cubs have felt that way about him for a very long time. Hoyer also does not want Almora – or any player – to feel responsible for those incidents, because it is out of their control.
- For what it’s worth, I (Michael) am officially pro-nets all the way to the foul pole. Why even bother anymore? I never want to see something like that again. Hoyer seems to agree, but was a more reserved in his response, saying “it’s a league-wide issue.”
- Changing topics, Hoyer was asked if the Cubs had a general idea of what they’re going to do with the 27th pick in the draft and he said “No.” Obviously he expanded to explain that the most important thing about picking late in the first round is just being well-prepared and remaining nimble. “You also have to react to something that may happen above you, where a guy might fall and you have to be opportunistic.” The Cubs got Nico Hoerner late in the first round last year and that’s proving to be an excellent pick.
- “It didn’t work out so well before,” said Jed Hoyer on Kyle Schwarber’s first time leading off (two years ago), but it’s clearly working this time around, and he’s happy Joe Maddon gave it another go. For the season, Kyle Schwarber’s slash line has returned to exactly league average (100 wRC+), but since April 25th he’s hitting .245/.382/.510 (126 wRC+), which will very much play in front of guys like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, and Willson Contreras. In Dexter Fowler’s best season with the Cubs, he was getting on-base at a .393 clip with a 129 wRC+ … right in line with the last month+ from Schwarber.
- Ian Happ “keeps making progress” at Iowa, but the Cubs don’t know how long he’ll be down there. Obviously, there’s been a need for an outfielder at the big league level recently (the Cubs added a free agent in the form of Carlos Gonzalez today), but the Cubs remain focused on the long-term picture with Happ, which includes, specifically, improvements to his swing.
Ian Happ has 7 hits in his last 4 games (including a double and a homer) plus two walks against just three strikeouts.
I remain very excited about his long-term impact. And think you should too. https://t.co/BeDrLjc4BS
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) May 30, 2019
- In short: the Cubs don’t want to let any short-term needs at the big league level disrupt the progress that has been made in the minors. And, of course, right? Imagine you’re Ian Happ and you get called back up. Are you not going to do *whatever it takes* to produce at the big league level, even if that means reverting to some bad habits? I’d think so. Let him get right in Iowa and then come back for good.
- On the rotation’s recent struggles (not including Kyle Hendricks, obviously), Hoyer believes that they were “a little tired,” without any off days for a good, long stretch. And to that end, Hoyer discussed possibly using a spot start here or there, in order to give everyone in the rotation one extra day of rest during the next long stretch of games. It’s not clear if that would be a job for Mike Montgomery or Tyler Chatwood … or someone at Triple-A, but I’d like to see any of those three happen.
- The front office loves the way Joe Maddon moves players around, and not just for the obvious offensive advantages. According to Maddon (via Hoyer), playing different positions keeps guys fresh and more reactive. It just lets them “play baseball,” while having fun and preventing things from getting stale. I never really thought about it that way, but it makes sense. “We have so much versatility … it would be a shame not to use it.”
- Although the Cubs are not explicitly “concerned” about the defense this year, they are “studying it” closely, presumably in hopes to make some changes. It wasn’t quite clear what that meant, but we can take some guesses. For example, could the Cubs start shifting a little bit more again? After basically inventing the extreme shift, Joe Maddon has been one of the least-shifting managers in baseball with the Cubs. And for another example, perhaps we’ll see more Addison Russell at shortstop with Javier Baez at second base. I don’t think that’s better for the team *overall* but I can see the argument for how it would be a better defensive alignment.
- The Cubs expect to be active in terms of bolstering the bullpen as the season goes on. “We, like many teams, are gonna be looking to add bullpen pieces. We’re going to be looking to strengthen that area.” Obviously.