Hoyer, Cubs agree to new 5-year contract

President of baseball ops tasked with navigating crucial offseason

November 23rd, 2020

CHICAGO -- The famous red marquee at Wrigley Field flashed a three-word phrase on Friday, when Theo Epstein officially stepped down from his post as the team's president of baseball operations: Thank you, Theo.

It signaled the end of one of the great eras in Cubs history, but also the beginning of a new phase for the franchise. Jed Hoyer, Epstein's long-time general manager, was officially promoted to his former boss' role and finalized a five-year extension (through 2025) with the club on Monday.

"This has always been my goal," Hoyer said. "This is Chicago, this is the Cubs and this is Wrigley Field. The grass is definitely not greener anywhere else."

In a Zoom call with reporters on Monday afternoon, Hoyer discussed the transition from being Epstein's right-hand man to taking over the top job in the Cubs' front office. Hoyer said he feels more prepared to lead the Cubs now than he did when he led the Padres a decade ago, and that is important given what's in store in the coming months.

The Cubs are in the midst of a critical offseason that could include significant changes to the roster. A key section of the core group -- Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber -- is set for free agency next winter, and the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the team's short-term finances.

Contending in 2021 remains a goal, but Hoyer was not shy about emphasizing the importance of planning for the franchise's future.

"In this job, you always have one eye on the present and one eye on the future," Hoyer said. "I think that eye might be a little bit more focused towards the future than usual, but that doesn't take away from the goal. The goal is always to make the playoffs and give this organization a chance to go deep in October."

The Cubs have reached the postseason in five of the past six seasons, including winning the National League Central title in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. That impressive run -- highlighted by the '16 World Series triumph -- came after the Epstein and Hoyer-led front office undertook a dramatic rebuild.

Taking a similar approach with the current roster does not appear to be in the plans. Instead, the Cubs prefer to "thread the needle" -- a phrase increasingly used by the front office in recent winters -- of contending in the immediate window, while making moves that build a bridge to the next true core.

"I don't think anybody's tearing anything down," Cubs executive chairman Tom Ricketts said on Monday. "I think the fact is that we have a good club."

It is a club that features some well-paid stars and a budget that has flirted with or exceeded MLB's luxury-tax threshold in recent seasons. Neither Hoyer nor Ricketts would get into the specifics of the payroll plans for 2021, but the new president of baseball operations did note that the club has a "range" in mind.

The reality right now is that the Cubs -- just like every other team and MLB as a whole -- are monitoring the developments with the COVID-19 pandemic. If the country can return to a point where fans can return to games (even in a limited amount), that could alter how budget projections look for 2021 and beyond.

"We just don't know what the situation's going to be," Ricketts said. "Are we going to be able to have fans? Are we going to start on time? It's very, very fluid. We'll just take the information as we get it, make the best assessment as we go and try to put as much as we can into winning on the field."

Under Epstein and Hoyer, winning became the expectation for the Cubs. Hoyer wants that to continue with whomever he brings in as his new general manager. While Hoyer said there is no timetable for that search process, he did note that he expects to hire someone from outside the organization.

In his opening comments about the past nine years working alongside Epstein for the Cubs, Hoyer mentioned how they planned the layout of their offices at Wrigley Field. There were sliding doors with a sitting area in the middle, giving them a way to keep communication going throughout the day.

"We could basically yell back and forth and talk," Hoyer said, "without ever leaving our chairs. I will miss the ease and the trust and the shared history of that dialogue."

Hoyer pointed out that no one ever had a clear sense of whether it was Epstein or the former Cubs GM who were the driving force behind any single transaction. Dating back to their days together in the Red Sox front office, they viewed things as a partnership. Hoyer said he hopes to build the same level of trust and cohesiveness with his new GM.

It is also why Hoyer said he does not feel like he is following Epstein -- a virtual lock for baseball's Hall of Fame -- the way others looking from the outside might view the situation.

"I've been here the whole time, and I've been a part of it," Hoyer said. "We've hired these great employees together, and we've signed or traded these players together. So I guess I try to look at it that way.

"Yeah, if you think about it as following sort of an inner-circle Hall of Fame executive, that can be daunting. But I think [you can] look at it as following someone that was your mentor and following someone after having been part of it for nine years."