Cubs’ Jed Hoyer best to replace Theo Epstein, says exec who’d know

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Replace Mickey Mantle? Jed Hoyer should have it so easy originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

PITTSBURGH — If Ben Cherington can’t quite identify with Bobby Murcer maybe it’s because he was born in the summer of Murcer’s fourth All-Star season with the Yankees.

By then, even Murcer didn’t identify with Murcer anymore.

“I was too young and too dumb to realize what they were trying to do in the first place,” Murcer said years after becoming the touted prospect who was expected to replace Mickey Mantle as the Yankees center fielder.

Cherington didn’t arrive with quite the hype in the fall of 2011 when he replaced the Mickey Mantle of baseball executives in Theo Epstein that year in Boston. And he certainly has established himself since then with his own Red Sox championship in 2013 and a next-chapter job overhauling the Pirates as the current baseball boss in Pittsburgh.

But replacing the legend?

“I think there’s something to it,” Cherington said during a recent conversation with NBC Sports Chicago. “Theo is a force of nature. And if you try to do the job like he does, which I probably fell into the trap of doing unconsciously in Boston, it’s just not a good recipe. You can’t do that anyway, but particularly trying to do it like he does would be a recipe for failure.”

Hands on all aspects of the operation. Demanding. Innovative. Acerbic. At times engaging. Pitch-perfect at a podium. Fearless. Relentless. And by all accounts from Boston to Chicago “the smartest guy in the room.”

Good luck replacing that.

Fast-forward a decade and look 1,000 miles to the west, and it’s Jed Hoyer’s turn replacing the same legend after Epstein broke a different curse in a different city and different league.

It’s Hoyer’s turn to avoid the same traps after Epstein left a similar mess for his successor along with what might be an even more daunting set of roster challenges — both financially and for the optics involved — in his lonely new role at the top of the Cubs' baseball operations.

“Jed wouldn’t do that. I know he won’t do that,” Cherington said of falling into the be-like-Theo trap. “I also think Jed’s in quite a different situation than I was in 2011. He’s got way more life experience than I had at that time. He’s been a GM already, and had those reps in San Diego [in 2010-11].

“Maybe most importantly he’s really worked closely with Theo way longer than I have, both in Boston and Chicago,” Cherington added. “They were really strongly connected in Boston before Jed [as Epstein’s assistant GM] went to San Diego, and obviously they’ve been doing everything literally together the last nine years in Chicago. For all those reasons he’s frankly much more and probably better prepared to take the job and take the baton fro Theo in Chicago than I was Boston. …

“He also can bring a new lens to what they face now.”

That new lens might be the most critical tool for navigating the unique challenges Hoyer faces with this crossroads moment for the Cubs even beyond the crossroads moment in baseball most executives face.

When Hoyer’s Cubs finished off a sweep of Cherington’s Pirates with a 5-3 victory Thursday afternoon, they suddenly had a share of first place in the National League Central (pending the Cardinals’ late game at Arizona) and a 16-7 record in May.

And a Cubs president who has talked since taking the job in November about keeping one eye on the future as he tries to thread a competitive needle this year has complicated, potentially hellish decisions looming if the Cubs play anything close to this well for another month or six weeks.

Trade the dominant closer off a team that’s in first place or close or lose the chance to leverage the final two months of his contract for longer term help for the next competitive window? Trade walk-year starter Zach Davies for a valuable farm-system boost or try to add the rotation arm that this team has needed since Hoyer was compelled to trade Yu Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini to San Diego in a salary dump over the winter?

“There’s definitely flexibility to make moves in-season if the right thing presents itself,” Hoyer said Thursday of the reality created in part by increased capacity allowed at Wrigley Field starting Friday.

But even if Hoyer has the money to take on a contract and the trade capital to make it happen, — and wants to add — it’s anything but clear if there’ll be enough starting pitching quality and volume to meet anything close to the demand during a season pitching depth has never been more important coming off the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

And then there are the three All-Star elephants in the room since Hoyer took the job — in the fluid contract and trade statuses of championship-core free agents Kris Bryant, Javy Báez and Anthony Rizzo.

As if replacing Mickey Mantle wasn’t challenging enough.

But nothing in the job has been unexpected, Hoyer said, and it’s certainly not like he didn’t know what he was getting into after spending the last nine years under Epstein with the Cubs and four seasons with him and Cherington in Boston before getting hired in San Diego.

“This is something I wanted,” Hoyer said. “I had chances to leave over the years. I knew Theo was going to leave after 10 years; it ended up being nine. It was nothing I ever shied away from. If it was a Bobby Murcer type thing, I probably would have shied away from it.”

Often forgotten in the telling of the Mantle-Murcer succession is the fact that Murcer was an exceptional player for a long time.

He just wasn’t The Mick.

Cherington may have gotten a similar reality check when he got left with the fallout from the Red Sox’ infamous chicken-and-beer fiasco as Epstein left for the Cubs that fall — at least until he turned around a miserable 2012 experience to win it all in 2013.

Hoyer inherited even bigger problems in Chicago.

“He’s not only exceptionally prepared and experienced for that job, but just exceptionally talented in his own right,” Cherington said. “He and Theo are different people. They definitely learned from each other and worked with each other, but they’re different people.

“I can’t think of anyone that would be as well equipped for the job in Chicago right now.”

Click here to subscribe to the Cubs Talk Podcast for free.

Download

Download MyTeams Today!