Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have worked side by side for the better part of two decades, first in Boston and then Chicago.
For a two-season window nine years ago, however, they were rivals. And Hoyer succeeded in prying a young Anthony Rizzo away from Epstein and the Red Sox.
“He can butter you up with the easy conversation and the small talk and the pleasant demeanor,” Epstein said in his own farewell press conference Tuesday, “but in the end, he knows what he wants and has a way of being able to get it.”
Come Friday, Epstein will officially step down from his post and Hoyer will take his place as president of baseball operations. For the first time in almost a decade, the two will no longer be coworkers. And the job of ushering the club into a new era will fall to Hoyer, who has served as the Cubs general manager for the past nine years.
“Even as Jed represents continuity and preserves our areas of strength,” Epstein said Tuesday, “I think he is also realistic about the areas where we have to change, and where we have to do better, and he's always been realistic about that and always open to changes.”
Keep in mind, Epstein has seen Hoyer at work, both standing beside him and sitting opposite him at the negotiating table from Hoyer.
In the winter of 2010, Epstein was entering what would end up being his last year as the Red Sox general manager. Hoyer, Epstein’s former right-hand man, was in his second offseason as the Padres general manager. The Red Sox wanted All-Star first baseman Adrián González. The cash-strapped Padres wanted prospects.
But not just any prospects.
The way Epstein tells it, Hoyer had his eye on Ryan Westmoreland, a promising power hitter who went on to retire in 2013 after two brain surgeries.
“If he hadn't gone through the tragedy, I think (he) would have been an amazing player,” Epstein said of Westmoreland.
The Red Sox weren’t willing to give him up. So, Hoyer turned his attention to Rizzo.
“I kept trying to give him Lars Anderson instead,” Epstein said with a smile. “And I can mention this because Lars is a good friend, but Lars Anderson would admit he's no Anthony Rizzo.”
Hoyer apparently saw the same thing.
When they finally completed the deal, the Red Sox received Gonzales in exchange for a player to be named later (Eric Patterson), Casey Kelly, Rey Fuentes and – thanks to Hoyer’s persistence – Rizzo.
“Jed is his own man,” Epstein said. “He's been a loyal and outstanding right-hand man, but he has his own opinions, his own perspective, his own leadership style.”
No, working together all these years has not morphed Hoyer and Epstein into the same person.
“First of all, he's a great leader and great friend and incredible to work with,” Epstein said of Hoyer. “He's probably more measured, maybe a little bit more methodical, contemplative.”
Even in their tenure with the Cubs, Epstein and Hoyer have at times approached team-building from different angles. Take the 2013 Jake Arrieta trade, for example.
According to Epstein, Hoyer insisted that the Cubs also get a throw-in, in a trade that eventually saw the Cubs send Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger to the Orioles. Hoyer wanted right-handed reliver Pedro Strop, who had a 7.25 ERA at that point in the season.
“Talk about a throw-in to a deal; Stropy ended up being one of the most consistent and successful relievers in modern Cubs history,” Epstein said. “So, that’s one I always think back on because there's no doubt if it weren't for Jed being insistent on that and driving that we would not have gotten Stropy in the deal, let alone maybe complete the deal. And then, without Jake Arrieta, all of the history here is different.”
The past couple years especially, Epstein has seen Hoyer expand his relationships within the organization and involve himself in the center of every important discussion. As Epstein put it, Hoyer was “instrumental” in restructuring the Cubs’ scouting and player development departments. Those changes helped address one of the Cubs’ biggest weaknesses in recent years: developing homegrown pitching.
“He really, truly does not need me over his shoulder this next year,” Epstein said, “while we finish off a transition that in a lot of respects has been years in the making.”