Cubs

Ready for impact: Cubs exec Jason McLeod is on the clock

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Ready for impact: Cubs exec Jason McLeod is on the clock

Jason McLeod checked into his new office at Clark and Waveland on Opening Day, knowing that he wouldnt be back for almost two months.

McLeod was on the clock, and planned to use his San Diego home as a temporary base while scouting the country. His job is to see the future, and envision what a 17-year-old high school kid might look like at the age of 27.

When Theo Epstein introduced McLeod and general manager Jed Hoyer at a stadium club news conference last November, the Cubs president delivered a line that still sticks in your head.

Jason McLeod is the rarest commodity in the industry, Epstein said. He is an impact evaluator of baseball talent.

At the podium that day, the new Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development sat next to Epstein, literally his right-hand man.

McLeod was a lead architect of the pipeline that brought Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard to Fenway Park. This is his time of year, what he calls our Super Bowl.

The Cubs entered Day 3 of their pre-draft meetings on Wednesday. They hold the sixth overall pick and four of the first 67 selections in the amateur draft that begins June 4. They have to get it right.

McLeod sees a draft thats rich in high school talent, particularly on the pitching side. The college class features some pitching depth, but is viewed as weak in terms of position players.

The Cubs will have to target pitching, because its the organizations biggest need. Team officials believe that you need power arms to get to the playoffs, and that they tend to show up more in the postseason. But you cant force it.

Its just straight impact, McLeod said. When we look up two, three, four years down the road, whos going to make the most significant difference on this organization? Thats the priority all the time.

The Cubs expect around 40 prospects to come through Chicago for final inspections, some local college players and some who might go first round.

Its not so much for the evaluation on-field, McLeod said. Its more to sit down and really look them in the face and ask some pretty pointed questions.

McLeod and Epstein did this years ago with the Boston Red Sox. On some level, its like the intense interview process that got Dale Sveum the managers job, where they want to see how you react and how you think things through.

The Cubs are going through thick binders filled with scouting reports on performance, personal background checks and medical records. This year they also gave their scouts cameras to create a video library.

Even Sveum has become another set of eyes and watched some video on certain prospects, to break down their swing mechanics and see what will play on the next level. Its all about information, which has been organized in the new Bloomberg computer system.

Back in spring training, when a reporter wondered where you can really make a difference Everyone talks to the coach and the parents, right? Epstein fired right back.

Do you talk to the equipment manager? Epstein said. Do you talk to the guidance counselor? Do you dig deep enough to find out when the kid has struggled and (faced) adversity? What (has been) his biggest failure? How (has) he bounced back from that failure?

Theres a lot of different ways to do it. Do you have a psychologist interview the kid? Do you have him take an objective test? Do you log your entire relationship with the kid, every bit of information that you get, so everyone in the draft room can share it and gain the insight?

The Cubs will have to exploit that advantage, because they cant just write checks to players who are perceived to be difficult to sign. The new collective bargaining agreement created a cap-and-tax system that assigns an aggregate signing bonus pool to each team.

Baseball America reported that the Cubs will draw from a pool of almost 8 million. One source suggested that it wouldnt have been unrealistic to think the Cubs would have spent three or four times that amount without those restrictions.

Id be lying if I didnt say everyones looking at: Is there a loophole in there somewhere? McLeod said. But really were not focusing too much of our attention to it. The CBA is what it is.

Were just trying to line up the board to get the best players we possibly can.

Epstein has compared his ideal vision of a front office to a think tank or a boiler room that argues everything out to reach a consensus.

There are around 20 staffers in the Chicago draft room now. A leading voice will be amateur scouting director Tim Wilken, a holdover from the Jim Hendry administration who once helped the Toronto Blue Jays draft Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter.

The one thing I like to tell everyone is: Lets check our egos at the door, McLeod said. Tim Wilkens one of the most respected scouts, probably of all-time. Im going to disagree with him, even though he has 30-plus years of experience. Hell disagree with me.

Everyone should have disagreements. Thats how we feel we get the most information out of the players were talking about.

Who has the authority to make the final call?

Theo, McLeod said with a smile. Hes our boss. He trusts us to do our job, and ultimately I think Theos going to go with our recommendation.

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

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None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”

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Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Veteran umpire Joe West made waves Tuesday downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. 

“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West said. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”

As far as the Cubs are concerned, those comments don’t represent how to treat the virus. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure everyone treats it with equal severity.

“That’s one of the things we've really tried internally to instill in our players and our coaches,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, “[that] everyone here has to take it equally [serious].”

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Hoyer noted like the world, MLB isn’t immune to people having different viewpoints on the virus — those who show concern and those who don’t. This echoes comments made by manager David Ross earlier on Tuesday, and Hoyer said those he’s talked to with the Cubs don’t feel the same way as West.

The Cubs had an up close and personal look at pitching coach Tommy Hottovy’s battle with COVID-19 during baseball’s shutdown. It took the 38-year-old former big leaguer 30 harrowing days to test negative, and in the past week many Cubs have said watching him go through that hit home. 

“When you get a 38-year-old guy in wonderful health and he talks about his challenges with it,” Hoyer said, “I think that it takes away some of those different viewpoints.”

To ensure everyone stays safe and puts the league in the best position to complete a season, MLB needs strict adherence to its protocols.

“I think that's one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views this the same way, because we can't have a subset of people within our group that don't view it with the same severity,” Hoyer said.

“That’s not gonna work. We're not gonna be successful."

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