Cubs' new GM bonds on unplanned road trip

Hawkins, front office take last-minute drive to GM Meetings

November 11th, 2021

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- The Cubs' front-office group had to make a swift decision. After taking in an Arizona Fall League game at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz., on Monday, a power outage at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport disrupted dozens of flights.

The Cubs had to get to the San Diego area for the GM Meetings.

"It seemed like a good idea until the transformer blew," said Jed Hoyer, the Cubs' president of baseball operations. "I realized, hoping to get a flight out wasn't the best idea."

Like adjusting to collapsed trade talks, the Chicago contingent pivoted to a rental car. Hoyer took the wheel. Jared Banner (vice president, special projects) and Ehsan Bokhari (assistant general manager) were in the back.

Carter Hawkins, who is less than a month into his role as the Cubs' new GM, was in the passenger's seat next to his boss. Everyone knows that chair comes with the responsibility of handling the music. Should he put on a personal playlist, or find a podcast to create discussion?

"It was a little nerve-wracking," Hawkins said with a laugh. "I was in the front seat and knew that I was going to get judged on that. So I just let the radio ride. There was more talking than listening to music, so I got away with it."

Hawkins quipped that his navigation skills left something to be desired, but the Cubs' crew got through the five-plus-hour road trip unscathed. Banner kept the group busy by peppering his peers with what Hoyer called "team building" questions.

"We got to know each other pretty well," Hawkins said.

And that was the hidden benefit to what began with a nightmare scenario for any traveler. Those hours in the car, followed by the four days spent information gathering at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa, went a long way to keep building rapport within Hoyer's reorganized leadership structure.

A large part of Hawkins' role will include sinking his teeth into the Cubs' player-development operations and system to identify areas to enhance. That process has already started, as he continues to adjust to life with the Cubs after years with small-market Cleveland.

"I have realized very quickly just the depth of resources that the organization has, the depth of tools," Hawkins said. "So it's just thinking about ways to bring those together, to create insights across departments, make sure that we're not using those tools in a vacuum, but kind of leveraging them together."

For Derek Falvey, the Twins' president of baseball operations, those comments from Hawkins came as no surprise.

Falvey -- once an intern in Cleveland's front office, alongside Hawkins -- cited that approach as one of the strengths of the Cubs' GM. Falvey saw it play out as Hawkins climbed Cleveland's leadership chain, making his mark in the player-development group and becoming a trusted voice for president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff.

"He knows how to connect all the dots," Falvey said, "and make sure everything is working well, and amplify the growth of individuals. In many ways, it's like how Mark Shapiro was as a leader in that space. I think he embodies a lot of those same traits."

Look around baseball and you can spot plenty of front-office leaders plucked from Cleveland.

Antonetti and Chernoff learned under Shapiro, who now heads the Blue Jays with Ross Atkins (formerly a part of Cleveland's front office as well). Milwaukee's David Stearns spent time within the Cleveland group. Mike Hazen of the D-backs is on the list, too.

"The environment Mark and those guys created," Falvey said, "you have an opportunity to contribute. What you do with that opportunity is up to you. They weren't going to hold your hand, but he's going to give you an opportunity.

"If you've got a good idea, whether you've been there a week or 30 years, they didn't care. It's a good idea. Bring it to the team. That's the kind of environment that allowed us all to grow and develop, and fail and learn and observe and be a part of it."

Hawkins remembers sitting at his desk early in his time with Cleveland when Antonetti came in the room. The team was considering trading for Minor League pitcher Zach Stewart and Hawkins was asked to head out on a scouting trip.

"I was like, 'Me? Today?'" Hawkins said. "We didn't end up making the deal, but it's like, 'Holy cow, this guy cares about what I think.' I wrote the best scouting report of my life."

Falvey chuckled when recalling going on staff food runs for Cleveland's top executives as an intern. Fearing that something would go wrong with Shapiro's order, Falvey would order the same meal. Probability said at least one would be correct.

"I'd just eat the screwed-up order or just go hungry," Falvey said. "I would, man. I remember telling Carter, 'Do that.' I don't know if he did."

"I did take the advice," Hawkins said with a smirk. "I didn't do it, though."

Hawkins climbed Cleveland's ranks without the use of the sandwich strategy. The real importance of that story from Falvey's view was that young front-office staffers were then in the room for those brainstorming sessions over meals. It was an inclusive environment that opened pathways for promotion.

For Hawkins, he moved into the scouting realm for Cleveland and then worked his way up the player-development ladder. Hawkins took the reins from Atkins in 2015, but he never viewed it as his department. He was, as Falvey put it, just the "connecter" for a group of leaders.

"Carter was an organizational leader," Antonetti said. "Although a lot of his background and direct experiences started in player development, they quickly expanded to all areas of the operation, especially over the last few seasons."

Antonetti said he had a growing sense that Hawkins' time with Cleveland was approaching an end. There were other opportunities in recent seasons for Hawkins to leave, but he remained in place until the Cubs came calling.

"This one was different," Antonetti said. "I think that's what compelled him to move. In terms of his ability to make an impact on an organization, I think that's been evident from very early on in his career."

Hawkins can now apply the lessons learned in a smaller market -- with a Cleveland team that relies heavily on developing its own players -- to a team that can push forward aggressively in a number of ways. And coming off a 91-loss season, in which the Cubs clean-slated their roster with core-dismantling trades, this is a critical offseason for Chicago's new-look front office.

Maybe last season can be viewed like a power outage that grounded much-needed flights. With Hoyer operating the Cubs' car, and Hawkins controlling the radio, the team is trying to find the appropriate path back to the postseason.

"We got here. We're alive," Hawkins joked. "We had a really fun time. That's really important. Any time you get to spend an excess amount of time with people that you care about, and want to learn more about, it's pretty fun. All and all, it was a good thing."