Every year, as he packs his car with his luggage and his dog, Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer picks up the phone for some football and Major League Baseball talk. ESPN found him near Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the way to Mesa, Arizona, where the Cubs train. His beloved New England Patriots aren’t in the Super Bowl this season, but that doesn’t stop Hoyer from making a prediction on the game and talking some baseball. But we start with a question he’s been wondering about as well.
Where is Tom Brady playing next season?
Jed Hoyer: My heart is hoping it’s the Patriots, but my head says it will be elsewhere. I hope it’s one or two more years there, but reading the tea leaves, it might go another way.
Are you as curious as the next guy to see how Brady does without coach Bill Belichick and vice versa?
Hoyer: It’s been such a source of debate. People always wondering who’s had the bigger influence. The answer is both. I want to see them stick together.
Since we’re talking other sports here, besides baseball, did you ever run across Kobe Bryant for any reason?
Hoyer: No, I never did. It’s just so crushing what the family is going through. It’s hard to even articulate that effectively, but Kobe, as an athlete, I feel like he was the ultimate alpha male. He was such a competitor and winner. He drove himself to be great. Everyone that I talked to that was around him couldn’t get over that Michael Jordan-like intensity and work ethic. It’s impossible not to admire that. The whole thing is soul-crushing.
What about John Altobelli?
Hoyer: I didn’t know him personally, but the people that encountered him in the Cape Cod League couldn’t speak highly enough of him. Each of those lives lost is equally sacred.
OK, so to baseball. It’s February. The Cubs have made minor moves, at least to this point. Why haven’t you been able to execute any of your bigger plans?
Hoyer: This is obviously likely to be one of our less active offseasons. We’ve had some incredibly active ones. That said, the offseason is not over. For the Cubs, things probably got pushed back a little bit. We’re probably at a different place in the offseason, calendarwise, than we normally would have been. We’re not necessarily finished making moves going into spring training.
Whatever movement happens, is it going to be less than you hoped for?
Hoyer: I think it’s too early to say that. There is no way to know that yet. It’s fair to say there hasn’t been a lot of activity yet. We’ve been incredibly active making calls and exploring options. As we talk here [in late January], we haven’t been active as we usually are.
As we talk about this delayed offseason, how much did the time it took to decide Kris Bryant‘s grievance have an effect on all this?
Hoyer: The hearings were in October and we’ve been waiting on the results. But I’m not at liberty to talk about that at this point.
As for the grievance, all along, all parties have said there is no animosity, but can you say, with confidence, what happened in 2015 hasn’t affected the business relationship?
Hoyer: It hasn’t. If you look at the time Kris has been a Cub, it’s been a fantastic run and it’s been a great relationship. There is no animosity whatsoever. He and [agent] Scott [Boras] made a decision that they wanted to file a grievance based on the beginning of 2015. And that was from a business standpoint, but we’ve been around each other a long time now and we have a great relationship. This hasn’t changed that.
Theo Epstein recently used the phrases “threading the needle” and “assumed risk” regarding this upcoming season. That doesn’t sound like World Series contender talk. As crazy as this sounds, with salaries rising through arbitration and free agency around the corner for a bunch of guys, has there been one meeting or even one minute of a meeting where another rebuild was discussed? The freedom you would have in the trade market would obviously be much greater.
Hoyer: Our discussions have always been around threading that needle, as Theo alluded to. It’s important to keep an eye on the future. There are times in your life cycle [as a team] you are really aggressive in trying to maximize your opportunity in that moment. We’ve done that over the last five years but there are other moments it’s important to keep your eye on your future. But when you have as much talent that we have on our roster, it is one eye on the future, but we’re not blind to how much talent we have. This roster can win with this talent.
By your own words, you guys have been a little frustrated you haven’t signed more of your core up. Where does that stand?
Hoyer: We are still optimistic that some of these players that we control through 2021 will be long-term Cubs. There is still time.
At the winter meetings, you said you were probably going to discontinue contract talks during spring training. Does that still stand and does that put any deadline on getting something done by Feb. 12 (pitchers) or Feb. 17 (position players)?
Hoyer: It’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Some guys aren’t distracted by the conversations, others have told us through the years it has taken their mind away from spring training. So no hard-and-fast rule, but it depends on the player.
How much do you think the new rule changes — three-batter minimum, 26-man roster and 15-day injured list for pitchers — will have on the season? What’s going to stand out three or four months from now?
Hoyer: Yeah, you never know. I remember when everyone was talking about the mound-visit rule and I feel like that ended up being a nonissue. But I definitely think the three-batter minimum rule will be something people notice and talk about. Just the number of conversations we’ve had about the strategy of it is something that’s going to be debated as it’s happening in games. And the 26th man is going to allow for some better matchups late in games. Those will have an impact for sure.
There was so much made of the baseball itself last year, are you curious how it’s going to play this year?
Hoyer: Curious, of course. Last year was such an odd season and departure from what it had been, but do I have a sense for it this year? No. So, yes, I’m curious because last year was different, for sure.
Take your team out of it for a moment: If you were a betting man, would you put the Reds near the top of the division?
Hoyer: I thought they were talented last year. They stumbled out of the gate and it was hard for them to regain their footing. They were certainly a bear for us to play all of last year. And they’ve made significant moves, so I think they were formidable last year and think they will be even more so this year. We have a heck of division to play in. Whoever comes out of [the National League Central] will have really earned it.
Nick Castellanos and Pedro Strop just signed up with Cincinnati. Isn’t that going to be a tough pill to swallow?
Hoyer: Yeah, I talked to Nick this week for a long time. We had a really good conversation. I admire what he did. In two months with the Cubs he became a fan favorite. When you barrel three balls a night you become a fan favorite. He played with so much passion. Other than the 18 games against us, I wish him the best.
Stropy is one of my favorite players I’ve ever been around. Win or lose, he came in with a smile on his face. He brought energy every single day and he was always accountable. If you look at what he did, he was one of the best relievers in baseball for six years. Sometimes he was underappreciated, and as an organization we think there is no way we have the success we had during his tenure [without him].
Circling back to this offseason, you were on the phone when I called — are you on with other teams as much as we think you are?
Hoyer: We have been all winter. The activity of our offseason isn’t indicative of how much we’ve been on the phone and have been working. The major free-agent market just wrapped up. There’s been a lot of activity. I expect that up to and into spring training. That’s going to continue. The trade market will continue to be an active place well into February.
OK, now for our tradition of you attempting to pick the Super Bowl winner. Who do you like?
Hoyer: I’m rooting for the Chiefs. During the preseason we were playing the Pirates and the Steelers were playing the Chiefs, and my son and I went over to see them. I know some of the guys that work for K.C. They couldn’t be nicer. So with that personal touch I’ll root for that. But I like the matchup for the Niners. Their run game is strong and that front four is phenomenal. They are in the opposing backfield for every game. My heart is with the Chiefs; my money would be on the 49ers. I’ll say 27-24, 49ers.