This excerpt from ‘‘The Plan: Epstein, Maddon, and the Audacious Blueprint for a Cubs Dynasty’’ by David Kaplan is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, visit triumphbooks.com/ThePlan.
CHAPTER 6:BUILDING THE BEST FRONT OFFICE IN BASEBALL
No front office in baseball has more accomplished executives than the Chicago Cubs, who have two men working under team president Theo Epstein, in general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president Jason McLeod, who have both had multiple opportunities to run their own teams.
In fact, Hoyer left the GM job in San Diego, where he was the decision maker on all baseball operations decisions, to be the No. 2 man in Chicago because of the opportunity to work with Epstein and McLeod again. “I had a really good job in San Diego, but when Theo called me about going to Chicago with him, it didn’t take very long for me to realize how special this opportunity is,” Hoyer told me as we sat in his Wrigley Field office in May 2016.
However, whenever there is discussion on the Cubs hierarchy, the first name that people mention is Theo Epstein. So does being perceived as No. 2 on the Cubs pecking order bother Hoyer, who was the ultimate authority on all baseball decisions in San Diego? “No, it doesn’t bother me,” Hoyer said. “One of the first things we talked about when we did this was that this only is going to work if it’s a total collaboration. No one knows who works on what deals or what contracts. Once you start getting into who deserves credit in a front office, it’s a huge negative, and we’ve done what we can to avoid that,” Hoyer told David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
Hoyer worked for and with Epstein in Boston when the two men not only won multiple World Series but grew as close as brothers. And it is that bond that brought the two men together again in Chicago. “I’m indebted to Theo for early on putting me in charge of things I probably shouldn’t have been,” Hoyer said.
When Hoyer left San Diego for Chicago, some in the game were surprised that he would leave to work for Epstein again rather than being in charge of his own team, but those who know the two men weren’t surprised. “That’s a huge mistake that on the surface, people who don’t know those two men could easily conclude,” said Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, a former special assistant for San Diego’s baseball operations under Hoyer in 2010. “But I don’t think anybody in the game has more respect for Jed than Theo, and I don’t think he would ever put him in position to just follow his orders. Jed is going to have the autonomy he needs to be successful.”
“Before we got to Chicago,” Hoyer said, “I remember having some really long conversations with Theo. I was still living in San Diego and he was still in Boston but we knew this [the Cubs job] was going to happen. We had a number of in-depth conversations about the Cubs job, and then we took a few days without talking and we both evaluated the Cubs system, going through everything we could about the Cubs from top to bottom. Then we talked again and we both had come to the conclusion that it was a lot more barren than we had originally thought. The biggest thing was that the middle and upper levels of the minor leagues were not going to help us anytime soon. That was the conversation that I remember the most because that was when we really understood that this process was going to be a full rebuild and that this was going to take a while.”
The perception of Epstein and Hoyer is that of computer geeks who allow technology to make every decision for them, but that couldn’t be further from the actual truth on how the two men run the Cubs. “Our family finds it sort of hilarious the way he’s portrayed as this computer nerd or stats guy because while he was good in math, he was never particularly interested in it,” said his mother, Annie Hoyer, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, with a laugh. His father, Robert, is also on the faculty there and runs the Pediatric Outpatient Center. “He just loved baseball,” she said.
In fact, on the glass wall in the Cubs baseball operations department is a series of mathematical equations that an observer would probably expect to see in a Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer office. Except, as Epstein told Wright Thompson in an ESPN the Magazine article in September 2016, the numbers are meaningless. “It is all fake numbers dressed up with sines and cosines,” he told Thompson.
So when the Cubs dream team finally decided to accept the challenge that running the Cubs presented, they found the job much harder than even they had anticipated. They found a minor-league system so devoid of prospects that Epstein and Hoyer were taken aback at how far away the Cubs were from even being competitive.
“Once we made the decision to come to Chicago, I remember sitting in our offices at Wrigley Field shortly after we started and mentally at that time we thought we were on a two-year timetable  to be competitive. We were looking at the boards on the wall, one that listed every prospect in the organization and one that listed the upcoming free-agent classes. Theo and I both said nothing is going to happen between now and 2014 that is going to allow us to be competitive. It was obvious that this was not going to be a two-year turnaround.” The Cubs new brain trust started to construct a plan to acquire as much young talent as they could in almost every deal that they made, hoping to jump-start their plan with an infusion of prospects who could be core pieces of the Cubs’ future. While Epstein and Hoyer dug their heels in for the lengthy overhaul ahead, they also knew that they had a blank canvas to build their organization however they wanted it.
Coming Tuesday: ‘‘The Odd Arrival of Joe Maddon’’