“I think Jed is one of the brightest people I’ve ever been around, in or outside the game” – Dave Roberts
“The (Padres) didn’t ask Hoyer to win the World Series, they asked him to repair the minor league system and then make a run for it, and damn if he didn’t do that.” – Darren Smith
The San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs were two of the most active and compelling teams to watch during the 2014-15 offseason.
From a subplot standpoint, it represented a compelling contrast between A.J. Preller, the mercurial first-year “Rock Star” GM trying to resurrect a moribund Padres club, and Jed Hoyer, the ex-San Diego GM who’s now in his third year in Chicago trying to get the Cubs into the postseason for the first time since 2008.
The trajectory that the two clubs have taken since April has been noteworthy, both in what hasn’t gone according to plan for the 43-49 Padres, and what has for the 49-41 Cubs.
Hoyer’s ascent in the baseball world began in Boston when he joined the Red Sox in 2002 as an intern in the scouting department and he was soon promoted to “assistant to the general manager” when John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino assumed ownership of the team and named Theo Epstein as the team’s new GM.
Though he’s been stereotyped through the years as a wonkish sabremetrics addict buried in his laptop, Jed actually has a pedigree as a player that few people knew about. As ESPN’s Melissa Isaacson wrote in her article titled “He Was Going to be GM Someday,” (http://espn.go.com/chicago/mlb/story/_/id/7156063/jed-hoyer-path-chicago-cubs-general-manager-swift-unconventional) Hoyer played Division III ball at Wesleyan as a shortstop, catcher and starting pitcher (advancing to the championship game of the 1994 Division III College World Series), and played in the Cape Cod League with shortstop John McDonald and third baseman Mark DeRosa. This background gave him credibility with coaches and players alike that other statistician-based executives lacked.
It also helped earn him an invitation from Lucchino and Epstein to accompany them to Arizona in the fall of 2003 to persuade then-Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling, and his family to come to Boston.
“These were very mature, very respectful and very, very astute guys,” said Schilling about Theo and Jed. “The thing they worked hardest on was to understand that there’s a chemistry piece to baseball that’s not statistically quantifiable but has as much to do with the success of a team as any statistic. … It’s that other piece that every good GM is in search of and both those guys are cut out of the same mold in knowing what it is.” Added wife Shonda, “their preparedness was what won us over. We were so blown away by the amount of work they had done to prove to us that this was the best choice for us.”
Their homework not only netted Schilling, it resulted in the Sox first World Series Championship in 86 years, and yet another in 2007.
That success helped Hoyer secure interviews for multiple GM jobs including the Cleveland Indians and Washington Senators, and it finally landed him an offer by Jeff Moorad to succeed Kevin Towers as Padres new General Manager in 2009, a move the owner famously described as a transition from “a gunslinger” to a “department-builder.”
Jed quickly, and astutely, assembled a staff of venerable former players including Dave Roberts, Brad Ausmus, Mark Loretta and Trevor Hoffman. And with a paltry $37 million payroll to work with, he acquired the likes of Yorvit Torrealba, Jerry Hairston Jr., Matt Stairs and Jon Garland.
The 2010 season, as Padres fans well remember, saw the club defy pundits who’d predicted a last-place finish, and instead go 90-72 (a league-best 15 game improvement over 2009), leading the NL West for 148 days, setting teams records for both the fewest errors (72) and highest fielding percentage (.988) in a season.
That huge feat was marred though, by a 10-game losing streak in August, followed by another losing streak in September when the Padres lost 3 our of 4 to – you guessed it – the Chicago Cubs, and were officially eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the regular season.
Then in December, facing the reality of Adrian Gonzalez’ expensive open market value, Hoyer architected a trade which came to define his tenure in San Diego, sending the slugger to Boston for RHP Casey Kelly, OF, Reymond Fuentes, utility man Eric Patterson and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
The 2011 season, of course, yielded a drastic reversal of fortune for the club, as it finished last in the NL West with a 71-91 record, last in HRs for a major league club, and next-to-last in team BA and OPS.
Then, in a not-altogether-surprising move, Theo Epstein announced the signing of Jed Hoyer as the Cubs’ new GM, and Jason McLeod as SVP of player development and amateur scouting on October 26th of that year. McLeod, as you may remember, withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres GM job last June. “I was mildly surprised he didn’t want to interview but thrilled nonetheless,” Hoyer said of Jason’s non-move to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers. “…But it means a lot to us he wants to stay here. He’s been such a huge part of what we want to build. …I think he sees the picture coming into focus and wants to be a part of that.”
Fast forward to July 2015, where Hoyer, McLeod and Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein now preside over “a farm system that has gone from the bottom third in baseball to the top five in less than three years,” according to Rogers, a team with one of the game’s most eclectic and respected managers in Joe Maddon (whom Jed and Theo wooed by visiting him and his wife at an RV park in Pensacola, FL), a stalwart pitching ace in Jon Lester, a $120+ million team payroll, and a certified clubhouse and team batting leader in, yes, Anthony Rizzo who infamously predicted last January that the Cubs are “going to win the NL Central, you can quote me on that” – and who’s currently hitting .297 with 16 HRs, 50 RBIs, and a .950 OPS.
Whether the team wins the pennant this year – or even make the playoffs for that matter – is still very much up in the air. What isn’t though, is the progress that this club has already made under Hoyer’s and Epstein’s stewardship thus far. In fact, it’s something that the team’s President of Baseball Operations, Crane Kenney, has gone on record in supporting as we get closer to the July 31st trading deadline: “There are financial resources if Theo needs money to make a deal,” he said. “No one I trust more to figure out what to do [than] Theo and Jed.”
It’s an exceptionally well-timed, and well-earned, situation for Hoyer to be in at this stage of his career. And while the lamenting, second-guessing and “what-if-ing” among Padres fans about Jed-vs.-A.J. is understandable right now given the disparities in the Cubs’ and Friars’ records, it’s a testament to a man whom Dave Roberts spoke glowingly of during his time working alongside the GM. “Jed’s one of the best listeners, and for a person in that position, I have not seen that very often. To work under a person who is confident enough in his knowledge and ability to surround himself with people who are also very good and knowledgeable in what they do to ultimately make the best decision, says lot about him. Not only about him as a professional but as a man.”
Time will tell if Jed’s skills and vision help guide the Cubs to their first World Series since 1908, as they did in ridding the Red Sox of their 86-year “Curse.” If he does pull that off, Hoyer’s name will join Bruce Bochy‘s as yet another brilliant baseball mind who managed to find fame, fortune and a championship ring far beyond the warm, pleasant confines of Petco Park.