Experience key for new Cubs GM Hawkins

October 18th, 2021

CHICAGO -- Carter Hawkins remembers the bus ride to the airport from Wrigley Field. The Cubs had just defeated Cleveland in Game 5 of the World Series five years ago, and the environment outside the old ballpark was raucous.

"We're just inching along, just barely going anywhere," Hawkins said. "There's people everywhere. And all I could hear was, 'Go, Cubs, Go,' over and over and over and over. And it was annoying at the time."

Hawkins shared the story with a smile on Monday morning, when he was officially introduced as the Cubs' new general manager during a press conference at the team's offices next to Wrigley. The sound of a crowd singing the Cubs' post-win song may have been irritating at the time, but Hawkins has a new perspective.

Now, Hawkins quipped that he hopes he can sing along with fans of the North Siders soon enough, given partnership with president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer to lead the Cubs' front office. And in Hawkins, Hoyer believes he has another strong leader and voice, especially in terms of player development.

"Ultimately, that'll be the key to this next wave of success," Hoyer said. "We have to do a great job of player development over the next three to five years. Obviously, that was a huge part of my focus in this hire."

Over the past 14 years, Hawkins worked his way up Cleveland's organizational ladder, rising to assistant GM most recently, after taking on roles atop and within the player development department. During his time working under president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff, Cleveland emerged as one of the game's leaders in developing pitchers.

During the past decade, while the Cubs excelled at landing impact position player prospects to build the 2016 World Series championship club, a primary source of criticism was Chicago's lack of homegrown pitching talent.

Hawkins was asked about Cleveland's success in that area.

"The secret on developing pitching," Hawkins began with a smirk. "I'm just kidding. There's no secret. What the Indians were able to do really, really well is to take all the information that's out there -- and there's a ton of it, and all of it's really good -- but synthesize that into digestible information that a player can get on board with, a coaching staff can get on board with, a front office can get on board with, and getting everyone to move in one direction.

"You do that consistently, time [after] time, you're going to put yourself in a good position to have some success stories like the Indians have had. I know that that can be done here, and that's our goal -- to work toward that."

Hawkins said his immediate goal is to spend the coming days and weeks diving into conversations with Cubs personnel up and down the organizational chain. Hoyer said the addition of Hawkins will also help them divvy up duties based on their personal strengths. (For example: transactions for Hoyer and development for Hawkins.)

Another potential strength for Hawkins is coming from a smaller market that relies heavily on development over free-agent spending. The challenge is to find a way to balance the lessons learned in that environment with having more resources with a big-market team such as the Cubs.

"With Cleveland, we were forced to be disciplined in our processes," Hawkins said. "I think that's something that's applicable to any size market. Obviously, your range of options when you have more resources is a little bit wider, but the ability to be deliberate in those decisions and building up great processes in those decisions should be just as good."

Beyond all of those elements, Hoyer also needed a GM with whom he could form a strong bond.

"He does have incredibly big shoes to fill," Hoyer joked.

The Cubs' last GM was, of course, Hoyer, who was the long-time second-in-command to Theo Epstein. After the 2020 season, Epstein stepped down as Chicago's top front-office executive and Hoyer took the reins.

Given the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the importance of the GM role, Hoyer opted to take his time and identify the right candidates.

"As I began making calls around the league this summer, one name came up every time," Hoyer said. "And that was Carter Hawkins."

During the American League Wild Card Game, Hoyer and Hawkins met for dinner. The conversation flowed and the gathering lasted more than five hours -- long enough for Hawkins' ride to leave, believing the restaurant was closed.

Hoyer said the time flew by as they discussed a wide range of topics, calling it "a good indicator" that he and Hawkins would be able to form a rapport swiftly. Hawkins agreed.

"Obviously, he and Theo," Hawkins said, "I would not even want to think that we would even come close to that type of relationship. But if we can get a 10th of that, maybe we'll be OK."

And perhaps the next time Hawkins hears "Go, Cubs, Go," the song will have a much different feel to it.

"I also had this moment of clarity," he said, recalling that bus ride after Game 5 of the '16 World Series, "of just how unbelievable a moment that was for the organization, for the city and for Cubs fans all over the world."