Jed Hoyer covered quite a bit of ground during his Monday press conference, a good deal of which had to do with the budget increase possibly allowing for a more robust pitching search. The Cubs president again confirmed the need for as many as eight starters and said the depth of the pitching staff is a priority he wakes up thinking about every morning.
That’s something he’ll have to figure out without the help of a general manager, not that the position is all that necessary given the current structure of the front office. The Cubs had initially been expected to pursue Jared Porter, their former director of pro scouting, but he was hired by the Mets to fill their GM vacancy. His tenure in New York was incredibly brief, however, as reports surfaced about a series of unsolicited, explicit text messages Porter sent to a woman who was working as a reporter at the time.
The harassment took place in 2016, when Porter was employed by the Cubs, and at least one of their other employees was aware of the situation and served as a liaison between Porter and the woman for a time. That situation and far too many others — Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway has recently been accused of lewd behavior by several women — have forced Hoyer to reevaluate how he vets new hires.
Though the decision to postpone GM interviews until the end of the pandemic seemed like as much of a cost-saving move as anything, Hoyer offered a more thorough explanation of his reasoning during Monday’s presser.
“But I think when it comes to being incredibly thorough, our background checks and trying to interview not just a person’s bosses or people that you know well, but trying to dig in and interview, whether it’s women that they worked with in the past,” Hoyer said. “Whether it’s female reporters that they’ve worked with, I think that’s really important to be really thorough…
“And I think that’s something that these incidents would call into question. Do we need to talk to more people and a broader range of people? I guess just as a president, I think it’s my job to make sure that every woman that works here, every woman that is a reporter for our team, every vendor, everyone that comes through Wrigley Field has to feel like this is a wonderful environment for them to work in and they have to look forward to being here.”
That all came in response to a question from Russell Dorsey of the Sun-Times, after which Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic followed up to find out whether and how the Cubs’ definition of “great culture” needs to be evaluated. Though Hoyer was primarily addressing the idea of how women are viewed and treated in the workplace, I think it’s also important to note just how diverse the Cubs beat has become.
Porter developed a reputation for building a "great culture" and that was supposedly the case with the Cubs. So I followed up and asked Hoyer if that means how they define a "great culture" needed to be re-evaluated. His response: https://t.co/MNDAHeiNNd pic.twitter.com/yi4hsj0Dsk
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) February 8, 2021
Both Dorsey and Sharma are men of color and Meghan Montemurro was recently hired by the Chicago Tribune to replace Mark Gonzales, who accepted a buyout. There’s still a long way to go across sportswriting in general and baseball in particular, but it’s nice when the reports aren’t coming strictly from old white dudes. Wait, that’s me.
The first thing I’ll note here is that Hoyer says “I think” a lot. Like, A LOT. It’s just one of those verbal tic almost all of us have to some extent, but there are times when it’s really noticeable. For instance, he uttered the phrase seven times in as many sentences while comparing and contrasting Pederson and Schwarber.
“They’re different hitters,” Hoyer said Monday morning. “I think when you look at the aggregate numbers, they look fairly similar, but I think their strengths are different. I don’t want to say this in comparing the two because I don’t want to do that, but I think some of the things that Joc has really done well — he’s cut his strikeout rate over the last few years. He also hits the high fastball really well, and that’s something we’ve struggled with as a team.
“I think both guys are really good fits for Wrigley Field. I think that left-center field’s really short and both guys have huge power the other way. I think he’s a good fit for the ballpark and I think he does some things that our lineup hasn’t been great at.”
Those who’ve been around CI for the last two weeks or so probably understand why I emphasized that particular sentence, as it’s something we’ve previously discussed. Though their respective slash lines are almost identical, Pederson slugs something like 203 points better against high fastballs. While that might not be something his new teammates can adopt through osmosis or even in-depth discussion about hitting approach, it’s a change that should have a positive impact on the lineup.
Hoyer went on to confirm that Pederson will be given the opportunity to play every day, with his occasional rest coming when there’s a tough lefty on the mound.
“Great conversation” with Kris Bryant
In confirmation of what I had speculated last week, Hoyer said he reached out to his star third baseman recently to tee up the new season. Though he didn’t divulge the content of the conversation, Hoyer’s previous comments about not subtracting further from the roster indicate that he wanted to set Bryant at ease to an extent.
‘‘I actually talked to Kris last week,’’ Hoyer said Monday. ‘‘I’ll keep the substance between us, but it was a great, great conversation, great tone. I felt like he was in a really good place.
‘‘Sometimes with Kris, I think he’s [honest]. I think it was very honest. I don’t think he was saying he didn’t love baseball. You know, I think it was just sort of an honest comment. He was in a great place when I talked to him and seems like he’s excited to get going and get the season started. So not a concern here at all.’’
My guess is that Hoyer laid out the reality that Bryant won’t be traded for anything less than a big haul, something that isn’t likely to happen until the trade deadline. And even that might not happen if the Cubs are contending. As much as I know people hate the idea of letting someone walk for “nothing,” that’s not exactly the case if Bryant has a good season and eventually leaves as a free agent.
The Cubs would get his production in 2021, which is more than they could say for any prospect(s) they’d get in a trade. They’d also reap the benefit of $19.5 million in payroll surplus that could be allocated to fill other needs across the roster. Don’t take that as me saying they should avoid trying to extend the former MVP, I just don’t believe there’s merit in the idea of accepting a lowball offer simply to get something in return.
I think — see what I did there? — being in a contract year and looking to prove himself to both his doubters and the rest of the league will result in Bryant having a big year. In the end, it’s all about health. Though a lot of people choose to ignore facts by claiming a lack of adjustments or a diminution of talent has led to a dip in Bryant’s production, it’s actually very easy to attribute the issues to specific injuries in each of the last three seasons.
Health isn’t a given, but a full season that starts with a normal routine should set the stage for big improvements.