New Cubs GM Carter Hawkins was on The Score with Mully & Haugh earlier this week, and I took notes as he spoke. His introductory press conference could share only so much, and while the same is true for the first round of radio hits like this, I still think there were some interesting bits worth sharing.
⇒ On the subject of successfully developing pitchers in the current era, Hawkins notes that if you throw all the tons and tons of available data at a pitcher – at anybody – they get confused. It’s just a reality. You have to distill it down to something much more simple, and I would speculate that if there’s a “secret sauce” – he assures the world that there isn’t! – it would be something about the way your organization ports the data over to a human. Every org has tons of great data at this point, and great analytics and video people to break it all down. Getting the pitchers to absorb and deploy the things that the data recommends? That’s the hard part nowadays.
⇒ Speaking of which, when asked about how Cleveland was able to get THREE excellent big league starting pitchers after the first two rounds in the 2016 draft (Aaron Civale (3rd), Shane Bieber (4th), Zach Plesac (12th)), Hawkins said the commonality there was their willingness/eagerness to get more information and openness to actually making changes in their game. That is something Cleveland specifically targeted in the draft. Yes, you have to have a certain baseline of skills, but you can target that approach/attitude in the drafting process – pretty interesting thinking about how you would “scout” for the skill of being really interested in/good at making changes in your game.
⇒ A repeated message Hawkins delivered in the into presser and the radio hit: Everything we do in a baseball operations department has to lead to winning in the bigs; drafting well, developing well, signing efficient free agent contracts. It all has to move in that direction.
⇒ Hawkins hopes a deal gets done before CBA expires on December 1, but it’s an uncontrollable unknown for a front office. So you somewhat do business as usual right now: Who are our targets, how do we go after them, etc., and then deal with CBA when it comes.
⇒ As for the offseason, of course the big question is how aggressive the Cubs will be. Hawkins kind of demurred, understandably since he just arrived, but here’s the full digest on what he said:
“Obviously, I’m on Day 1 right now,” Hawkins said on the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score on Tuesday morning. “Yesterday was Day 0, so still trying to get an understanding of where we are and where we want to go with our offseason plan this year and our offseason plans in future years.
“That word ‘urgency,’ I totally agree with you. And ‘aggressiveness,’ I totally agree with you. I think that was something that was clear to me from Day 1 in the process to these interviews – people here are aggressive in trying to bring winning baseball to Chicago as often and as quickly as possible. Sometimes those decisions on the surface don’t seem that way, but they all have that underlying understanding – ‘this is so we can win our next World Series as quickly as we can.’ And I think that we’ll think through our free agency process this offseason.
“Jed talked about it in his offseason presser, about spending intelligently. I think as painful as that is to hear for fans that want to say where to spend unintelligently and spend free willy, it’s something we have to do. Because we know those are the decisions that help us to best put us in position to bring those unbelievable moments to Chicago over and over again.”
⇒ So, like I said, it’s mostly a punt on the question, but it does square with the general sense we already had on the Cubs’ expected approach this offseason: aggressive in targeting certain free agents, yes, and adding a lot of them, yes … but not necessarily being aggressive in signing huge, long-term deals that might have a sufficiently negative impact down the road that they offset whatever nearer-term positive impact it could have.