Jason McLeod

What Scott Harris' departure means for Cubs

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AP

What Scott Harris' departure means for Cubs

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Even before the offseason started, the Cubs knew this was going to be a winter of change behind the scenes — on the coaching staff, in player development and scouting and in the big-league front office.

One change they weren't necessarily anticipating was losing Scott Harris to the San Francisco Giants.

Harris had spent the last seven years with the Cubs, working up to an assistant GM role and emerging as one of the most trusted voices in the front office under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. The Giants officially introduced Harris as their new GM Monday, leaving the Cubs with even more turmoil to address this winter.

In September, the Cubs had already moved Jason McLeod over to the big-league front office from his previous role as vice president of amateur scouting and player development, but McLeod won't be an exact replacement for Harris. Instead, the Cubs will spread Harris' responsibilities around — at least in the short term — and allow younger internal options an opportunity to step up and earn expanded roles.

"We're thrilled for Scott," Epstein said. "It was an opportunity he couldn't turn down — a No. 2 of another storied franchise in his hometown; it was just too good to be true. We're thrilled for him, but it was bittersweet. We loved working with him and he was a big part of our culture and guys around the major-league team love working with him. 

"It will leave a pretty significant void that we'll have to fill. We'll distribute a lot of his responsibilities around to a few different people internally and reevaluate as we continue to look outside, if there happens to be the right fit outside the organization, too."

It won't be easy for the Cubs to replace Harris, as they viewed him internally as a potential GM down the road. At the moment, he was a valued and trusted voice inside the front office at a critical time in the organization as they work to set themselves up for the future beyond their current window of contention that is set to close after the 2021 season.

"He's got incredible work ethic," Epstein said. "He's got significant intellectual capacity, but he's very down to earth, fun to be around. He doesn't tell you how smart he is. He's one of the guys everyone loves going to to share things and pick their brain. He's got good feel managing up, managing down, managing laterally, good feel with the players and uniform personnel. He'll do a really good job over there."

Now the Cubs will have to move on, though they're not in any rush to do so. 

After announcing a host of moves as part of their internal shake-up last month, the Cubs are still looking to hire a scouting director from outside the organization. Epstein confirmed they have interviewed close to 10 candidates and the Cubs are "reaching the final innings" in that process.

The same way they search for the next star player, the Cubs are also searching for the next front office star — the next Scott Harris, if you will.

"Anytime you have the opportunity to fill a spot — and there is some real turnover in our organization this year — I think you're always looking for somebody with potential to impact years down the line beyond the scope of responsibility you're hiring for," Epstein said. "This gives us anther big bullet to fire in our hiring, but we might not necessarily rush out and do it right away. 

"We have a lot of qualified people internally, too, who might take off with new responsibilities, so we'll see. We'll weigh that, but we are definitely looking outside. Same with scouting director — we're looking for an impact hire in that role." 

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Cubs take another major step in remaking player development and scouting departments

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USA TODAY

Cubs take another major step in remaking player development and scouting departments

The Cubs are shaking up their player development structure this offseason, announcing a host of internal moves Thursday while also teasing future news on outside hires in the player development and scouting departments.

In his season-ending press conference two weeks ago, Theo Epstein said the Cubs would be creating new roles within the organization — directors of pitching and hitting.

Those hires were announced Thursday, with Craig Breslow being promoted to the director of pitching role after serving as the director of strategic initiatives with the club in 2019 and Justin Stone getting the bump up to director of hitting after spending the last year working as a biokinematic hitting consultant for the Cubs.

"Scouting and player development are a couple of departments that we really started to build up eight years ago and we’ve been making adjustments as we go to try to modernize," Epstein said. "I think this is a good opportunity to take a look at how would we set it up if we were building it from scratch. How would we set it up not to adjust for the modern game, but to be centered around the modern game? 

"We’ve already made some structural and leadership changes and we’ll continue to make more adjustments as well. [The director of hitting and pitching will] ensure that we are building these departments, teaching the game, evaluating players for where the game is now and where the game will be going to make sure we continue to be at the cutting edge."

Breslow, 39, will also work as a special assistant to Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer. He is an Ivy League product who studied molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale and also spent 12 years in the big leagues as a relief pitcher with the Red Sox, Twins, A's, Indians, Diamondbacks, Padres and Marlins. 

Breslow will be tasked with developing and producing impact pitchers from within the farm system, a major weakness of this front office since they arrived to Chicago eight years ago. Part of his job responsibility will be to further grow and enhance the "Pitch Lab," which gained notoriety this season after helping the likes of relievers Kyle Ryan, Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck.

"We’ve been working for many years now with the most cutting edge technology to develop the ability to have great pitch design, pitch tunneling, pitch sequencing, velocity-building programs and certain areas; we’ve been really successful," Epstein said. "Other areas, we haven’t been and we need to continue to do better. I think the goal of someone in the role of director of pitching is to have real clarity on what our pitching philosophy is, what our separators are going to be as an organization, how we make the best use of the most cutting edge technology for the state of modern pitching and — most importantly — where pitching is going over the next several years. 

"And then implement that from top to bottom of the organization, more on the minor-league side, but with a working relationship with the major-league staff so that we have the best possible methods with how we teach pitching, how we maximize pitching and how we evaluate pitching.”

In other words, the Cubs want to be more like the Astros, who have had a remarkable knack at acquiring pitchers and adding spin rate and more swing-and-miss stuff to their repertoire.

Stone has a long history of coaching amateurs in the area, with a stint at Indiana State University (1999-2001) and serving as the GM of the Chicago White Sox Training Academy (2001-11) before starting his own facility in Chicago — Elite Baseball Training. 

Stone will oversee the offensive development of the entire Cubs minor-league system.

The first domino to fall in this "change" was Epstein transferring Jason McLeod from player development and amateur scouting to senior VP of player personnel, a lateral move designed to shake up the Cubs' minor-league infrastructure.

When that shift with McLeod was announced in mid-September, Epstein said it was part of an "audit" of all facets of the organization.

"Trying — at a very granular level — to figure out what we do really well, why we do those things well, how we keep getting better in those areas and what we don't do well, why we haven't been doing well enough in those areas and what different combinations of systems and people we can create to make sure we do better," Epstein said at the time. "...It's hard to take Jason out of scouting and PD, but it'll be good in the long run, too, because those departments were built almost eight years ago now and we've grown a lot, we've adapted a lot and we're doing a lot of cutting-edge things. But to fully modernize and embrace the speed at which the player development landscape is changing, sometimes it takes tweaking the leadership structure a little bit, too, just so you can get some fresh eyes and a fresh perspective, both from inside and outside the organization."

Thursday's announcements are just the tip of the iceberg, with more outside hires to offer that "fresh perspective" coming to augment the player development and scouting departments.

In another pair of internal shifts announced Thursday, Matt Dorey and Jaron Madison are moving to different roles. 

Dorey is now the Cubs' senior director of player development after serving as the organization's director of amateur scouting since 2014. He came up as a scout with the Boston Red Sox before joining the Cubs scouting department in 2012.

Madison was named a special assistant to Epstein and Hoyer in a player evaluation role with an emphasis on scouting. He has worked closely with McLeod for the last eight years, with the last seven seasons coming as the director of player development. Madison's first year with the Cubs came as the director of amateur scouting and he served in the same role with the San Diego Padres.

Under Dorey, Bobby Basham was promoted to director of player development after spending the last year as the assistant director of the department. Basham has been with the Cubs for the last seven years working in scouting and minor league operations.

The Cubs also named Jeremy Farrell the assistant director of baseball development, where the team says he will "maintain the club's organizational philosophy with respect to fundamentals and competitive standards."

Cubs add Mark Loretta, Will Venable to list of managerial candidates

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USA TODAY

Cubs add Mark Loretta, Will Venable to list of managerial candidates

In addition to David Ross, the Cubs announced Tuesday they are also considering Mark Loretta and Will Venable as internal candidates to be the team's next manager.

Loretta served as the Cubs' bench coach in 2019, his first year with the organization. The 48-year-old attended college at Northwestern and spent 15 years in the big leagues as a player from 1995-2009 with the Brewers, Padres, Astros, Red Sox and Dodgers. 

He crossed paths with Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod in Boston in 2006. Loretta then joined the Padres front office in 2010 to work alongside Hoyer and McLeod before they migrated to the Cubs following the 2011 season.

Over his playing career, Loretta hit .295 with a .360 on-base percentage and .754 OPS. He racked up 19.4 WAR and made the postseason twice while playing all over the infield (at least 214 appearances at each of the four positions).

Venable, 36, just finished his playing career in 2016 and he spent nine years in the big leagues with the Padres, Dodgers and Rangers. He carries an Ivy League education, having attended Princeton where he played baseball and basketball. 

After retiring as a player, the Cubs immediately hired Venable in a special assistant role in the front office in 2017 and then made him the first-base coach in 2018, where he's served since. He filled in a few times at third base in 2019 while Brian Butterfield dealt with health problems.

Ross is still considered to be the frontrunner for Joe Maddon's replacement given his ties to the organization and relationship with many key players in that clubhouse. 

Former MLB player and current Dodgers front office executive Raul Ibanez is reportedly going to be in the mix, as MLB Network's Jon Morosi indicated Monday night:

Epstein said Monday there was at least one person on a team in the playoffs that is also on the Cubs' "broad list" of candidates, though Ibanez would check that box with the Dodgers.

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