CARLSBAD, Calif. — As the bustle of activity in the lobbies and byways of the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa wound down with the conclusion of baseball’s annual general meetings late this week, two notable absences became more apparent.
No Mets GM.
And no Jason McLeod.
That probably says more about the Mets than McLeod, the former high-ranking Cubs executive who hasn’t heard from a team that has run through two baseball ops bosses in the past year after off-field issues, and that has become a punchline in recent weeks for all the would-be candidates refusing to interview.
Maybe he’s better off?
Whether he eventually is approached by the Mets, McLeod already seems to be in a good place since leaving the Cubs at the end of last month to seek opportunities with other organizations rather than take an extension to remain in a Cubs front office undergoing a major management transition a year after Theo Epstein was succeeded as team president by longtime lieutenant Jed Hoyer.
“There’s three or four teams I’m talking to a little more intently [than others] about potentially joining them in an executive position. It’s still determined what the exact roles would be,” said McLeod, who chose to continue his conversations away from this week’s glare of the GM meetings — even though the meetings took place just a few miles from his old stomping grounds in San Diego.
“It’s kind of interesting,” he said. “I’ve worked with Jed and Theo for so long that in a lot of ways this is exciting to talk to a lot of different teams. I’ve had a lot of different conversations with a lot of GMs and presidents of baseball ops. Even the conversations have been great, just on a different level than before.”
McLeod came in as part of the heralded “Theo Trio” with Epstein and Hoyer 10 years ago as the scouting and player development leg of that tripod.
For all the well documented shortcomings of a farm system that failed to produce any pitching to help their playoff efforts, there was just enough success on the other side to help build the group that produced six consecutive winning seasons before cost-cutting and trade-deadline dumps blew up the core.
With Epstein gone to the commissioner’s office in a consultant role and the Cubs at a major organizational crossroads, McLeod saw a natural time to break from the trio-turned-tandem that had been at least partially intact for two decades — including a two-year run (2010-11) for Hoyer and McLeod with the Padres after leaving Epstein’s operation in Boston.
“I’ve interviewed for a couple of GM jobs in the past and didn’t get them,” he said. “You can’t help but think how it would be in a different organization, whether it’s in the top job yourself or in a different executive role with another team.
“After so long, you feel comfortable with who you are and what you bring and your experience,” he added, “but you never know how that might play with a new group of people with their own experiences. That has been exciting.”
McLeod has interviewed for top baseball ops jobs in recent years, including the Twins and the Giants job that Farhan Zaidi eventually got. He also turned down offers to interview for other GM jobs as the Cubs were building the team that eventually won the 2016 championship.
“I think he’s an absolute culture changer,” said Hoyer, who tried to persuade McLeod to stay, “a fantastic evaluator. I have no doubt he’ll transform another organization.”
McLeod said longtime friend Hoyer “graciously” offered to create a role to be determined to keep him with the Cubs at least during the team’s immediate transition.
“I just felt it was the right time to do this and see what was out there for me,” McLeod said.
Short-term economic uncertainty in the industry with slow-moving labor talks and the looming likelihood of a lockout with the Dec. 1 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement makes this offseason more tentative overall for industry activity.
“A lot of teams are waiting to see what may or may not happen with the CBA. But I don’t think it should affect front office people too much,” McLeod said. “I’ve had some really interesting conversations as of late. I’m definitely optimistic.”
If the Mets decide to call, he’s still around for now. And he still has his eye on a job like that.
“I still see myself as someone who can sit in that seat and do that job and would still want that opportunity,” he said. “It’s still something that I would hope to do some day.”
Meanwhile, he leaves the Cubs with a ring, an uneven tenure in Chicago after successes in Boston and San Diego, and “tremendous gratitude” to be part of the franchise’s historic six-year run and championship.
“I’m really proud of all the work that we did,” he said, praising chairman Tom Ricketts and rattling off names of “impactful” colleagues in Chicago from Brandon Hyde and Anthony Iapoce to Shane Farrell and others.
“I think we were all hoping that the run would last longer than it did. There was certainly disappointment in all of us that it didn’t,” he added. “We all share some of that, especially the role I was in. But in the end, there was a lot of success, a lot of hard work, a lot of fun. I leave here with my head held up high for sure.”