Have you ever decided to try out a new restaurant, something that stands out from your typical rotation for one reason or another, only to end up drawn back to the comfort of burgers or pizza? While the implications are slightly bigger for the Cubs organization than just what’s being served for dinner, Jed Hoyer opted for a more familiar option in his new GM rather than achieving the diversity he’d spoken about trying to foster.
That isn’t to say Carter Hawkins wasn’t an excellent choice from a baseball perspective, especially when considering his apparent talent for developing pitchers. It’s quite the opposite, actually, just like pizza is pretty much always a great choice for any meal of the day. Of course, Hoyer has now put even more pressure on his front office to succeed quickly and in a big way, as the failure to do so will raise further questions about the continued homogeneity of his team.
But since Gordon Wittenmyer already addressed that topic for NBC Sports Chicago, I want to get back to what Hawkins plans to do and how he plans to do it as the Cubs’ newest GM. The only trouble is that he was unwilling to divulge any real details aside from mentioning “processes” — with a long e at the end — about 37 times.
“There is no secret sauce,” Hawkins explained during his introductory presser. “Everything we do has to come back to winning at the major league level. I know that it can happen here for two very good reasons. One, it has happened here. And two, it is happening here.”
Okay, yeah, but if winning at the major league level was actually happening at Wrigley, there wouldn’t have been a boatload of trades and the admission that the rotation wasn’t good enough to compete. That latter reality is one the Cubs have been living in since their 2016 World Series win over Hawkins’ old organization as they perpetually roll out starters who barely break 90 mph. Even with the hard-throwing Yu Darvish in the fold, the Cubs failed to average as much as 91 mph as a rotation in any of the last five seasons.
Despite abject failure in most regards, this year at least saw a bit of a breakthrough from a developmental standpoint as Adbert Alzolay, Keegan Thompson, and Justin Steele all saw significant time with the big club. Several other relievers either debuted or matriculated to Triple-A with great success, proving that a more aggressive organizational philosophy is indeed paying dividends.
Even so, it’s clear there’s still a lot of room for growth when it comes to identifying and building up top-tier arms that can fuel the Cubs’ next title run. That’s why Hawkins was identified as the GM and it’s what he’ll be expected to change in relatively short order. Okay, so how is he going to do it?
“The secret on developing pitching,” Hawkins opened coyly, giving just enough time to make it a cliffhanger. “I’m just kidding. There’s no secret. What the Indians were able to do really, really well is to take all the information that’s out there — and there’s a ton of it, and all of it’s really good — but synthesize that into digestible information that a player can get on board with, a coaching staff can get on board with, a front office can get on board with, and getting everyone to move in one direction.”
That sounds way too simple and it’s an indictment of existing, er, processes if the Cubs had to go get someone from the outside to make it happen moving forward. But Hawkins isn’t necessarily saying his new franchise isn’t doing this already, he’s simply laying out his own basic philosophies. It is, of course, entirely fair to say the Cubs waited way too long to revamp their pitching development and need to play catch-up when it comes to getting on pace with other teams.
“Ultimately, that’ll be the key to this next wave of success,” Hoyer explained. “We have to do a great job of player development over the next three to five years. Obviously, that was a huge part of my focus in this hire.”
The skeptics among you could read that as a stated timeline for the rebuild, but I don’t think that’s what Hoyer is really doing here. Rather, he’s talking about what it’s going to take to achieve more sustained success from within following a period that should see the Cubs spending to get back to at least a middling level of competitiveness. And I want to be clear here in saying the resources could be there to win immediately should ownership approve them.
Hoyer has already talked a lot about how the Cubs will be spending plenty of money, albeit in an intelligent fashion, though the common belief is that this winter’s deals will be short in nature. So if he’s trying to find value in bounceback or breakout candidates, you can imagine the Kiké Hernández deal with Boston serving as a good template. Having a few key players on two-year contracts would put a great deal of focus on the farm system producing serious impact talent in three years and beyond.
Though it should go without saying, please understand that I’m not giving them a pass for the next two years. It’s more a matter of looking at what should be expected of Hawkins and an overhauled leadership group that includes Dan Kantrovitz and Craig Breslow, among others. The Cubs should eventually get back to the point where they’re spending like the Dodgers, but they also need to have a pipeline to the majors like the one LA has established.
As for that secret sauce, well, I guess we just have to hope Hawkins has some legitimate processes to implement rather than just heating up Prego and acting like it’s his great-grandma’s recipe for Sunday gravy.