Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer will fly out to Palm Springs Tuesday for the GM meetings. The meetings get under way in earnest Wednesday, and they’ll wrap up early Friday. Last week’s Carlos Marmol for Dan Haren trade that didn’t happen notwithstanding, the GM meetings usually set the groundwork for trades. It’s not often a trade gets done or announced at the GM meetings. Player agents also are on hand at the GM meetings, so teams are able to move some free-agent talks along.
The Cubs writers had a chance to meet with GM Jed Hoyer last week, and we had a story in Friday’s paper. As we did with Theo Epstein a couple times already this fall, we’ll run some of Jed “unfiltered,” as it were, on this blog.
Here are some of Jed’s general thoughts about the meetings:
“I would probably go in with the expectation that it’s groundwork with the possibility that things move a little faster this year. That would be pretty early. It’s a pretty early GM meetings, even by GM meetings standards.
“A lot of things happen after the meetings. You lay your groundwork. Things that are close to being done there don’t get announced because of red tape or medicals or whatever. It’s pretty unusual to be able to announce something at the GM meetings. It almost has to be in the works before you get there.
“I think the face to face of the GM meetings gives you a chance to further those discussions that you’ve already started. It’s always easier to deal with someone in person or have a conversation than over the phone. For the most part, we’ve already started those dialogues. This is kind of a continuation of that.
“It’s actually the first time we’ve had true GM meetings in awhile. They sort of coupled us in with the owners for a while. I can’t remember the last time we just did it this way. It’s kind of nice.”
The Cubs do have some payroll flexibility, but it’s not likely they’ll go for the big-ticket free agents because they don’t figure to be contenders next year. Hoyer shared his thoughts about payroll flexibility and, more important, “payroll efficiency,” as he put it.
“It’s really important,” he said. “We talk a lot about payroll efficiency. A lot of that is getting to that point where you feel like it’s a payroll you’ve created based on contract lengths that you like. One of the things we’re very wary of is sort of jumping back in and muddying those waters because we know there’s a time in the future where it really becomes a lot more efficient. We’re not dealing with some of the contract issues we’ve been dealing with the last couple of years. I think our ability to have an efficient payroll is really important. You look at the amount of money we have to spend.
“I always use the bad analogy of the basketball center. If he keeps the ball over his head, it’s really hard to steal the ball. If he holds it down on his waist, it’s a lot easier. If you take a $120 million payroll and you put a bunch of bad contracts on it, the next thing you know, you’re not any different than a $70- or $80-million payroll team. It’s important for use to use our financial advantages correctly. I think a lot of that is by signing good contracts, being aware of contract length and being aware of the decisions we make going forward because we do have the opportunity to make that payroll more efficient in the future, and we don’t want to muddy that in the meantime.”
That said, Hoyer said the Cubs are not averse to offering and signing big contracts.
“We’re not against long-term deals,” he said. “We’re not opposed to spending a lot on players. Given where we are, we want to make sure that when we have our young talent at the major-league level, when we’re ready to go on what we think is going to be an extended run, we don’t want to have a bunch of guys that are past prime that we signed in the past that are sort of hindering what we want to do.
“We’re not against committing to a player. We committed a lot to Starlin Castro. We committed a lot of years to Jorge Soler. We just want to be really smart with the contract length because so many times, you see these players, they reach free agency, and they’re 32 and 33 years old and buying ages 35 and 36. If you’re about to win a title or you’re one or two players away after the first couple years of that deal, that makes a lot of sense. But if you think your window may be more like those back two years, it does give you a little bit of pause.
“The thing we want to be aware of is not ending up with a bunch of decline years on our books. The prime years usually start with a 2 (as in 20-something years old).”
We wrote last week of Hoyer reiterating that the Cubs need “at least two starting pitchers” this off-season. Haren would have made a nice “one.” But he also talked of adding an outfielder, too, especially with the Cubs feeling center fielder Brett Jackson isn’t quite ready.
“In general, outfield defense is something that’s important to us,” he said. “We would like to add a good defender. The ability to play multiple spots is important. In general, it’s been a Chicago Cubs trait over the last little bit (that) we’re very right-handed. The more we can get left-handed, the better. I wouldn’t say that’s a must criteria, but we need to add some good defenders. I feel really good about the right side of our infield right now with Barney and Rizzo. I think that Sori made strides. DeJesus does a nice job out there. The more we push him into center, the more we deplete that. If we can find a guy that’s a good defender in the outfield, it’s important.”
On third baseman Ian Stewart, who has been activated off the 60-day disabled list, Hoyer said health will play into the Cubs deciding whether to keep him. Complicating matters is that the third-base market is thin and prospect Josh Vitters also needs more time in the minor leagues.
“Honestly, it’s a position we’re looking at very hard,” Hoyer said. “Stewart is one possibility, and that’s a lot determined by health. It’s a position we’re looking at, a lot of different avenues: trade, free agency, etc. It’s not a position that’s all that well represented in free agency this year. It’s a challenge we have to figure out.
“It’s really hard because he obviously struggled last year. I think the injury that he had, or the injury that he felt, was something that goes back quite a ways. It wasn’t like it all of a sudden popped up last year the first time. It’s hard to determine how much is the wrist and how much is real struggles. We’re never going to get a perfect answer to that question. But it’s something that we can keep on looking into. The better his wrist feels, the more he can do, the more it can lead us to believe it wasn’t just struggles.”