Friday, October 21, 2011

Hoyer

What caliber of GM is Jed Hoyer? Will he turn the Cubs into World Series champions? What grade does his performance in San Diego rate? Why are Padres fans angry at his departure, which should be made official by early next week when Josh Byrnes is announced as his replacement?

 As a guest of a radio station in Chicago today, I answered those questions and others. Better put, I tried to answer them. Hoyer's time here was brief -- too brief to fully reveal his capabilities and limitations. Here, following, are several thoughts on the Doogster Era and what's next for the 37-year-old GM.


Energetic. Smart. Thick-skinned. Those are some of the adjectives I used to describe Hoyer today.

Above all, he is energetic. If his salary was pegged to hours worked and time spent thinking about baseball and potential trades and signings, the Padres got their salaries' worth. I doubt any other GM will outwork him.

Hoyer showed himself adept at gathering and sifting information from a variety of sources. He struck me as deliberate. He never sounded sentimental when talking about Padres players, a good thing. When talking baseball, he gave vivid examples from both the statistical and the scouting realms. He's a baseball junkie.  When he talks about baseball, the effect is that of torrents of information competing for expression.

Hoyer wasn't overly sensitive, a good sign going into Chicago. Take his reaction to this year's team. Told that it was dull and not worth the price of most tickets, he didn't disagree. He accepted responsibility for the leadership void among players as well.

He seemed more interesting in getting things right than having people think him right. For example, he didn't blame Karsten Whitson for not signing with the Padres two summers ago. Instead, he explained what he, Hoyer, would have done if given a second chance to sign the first-round selection of 2010.

Hoyer will reunite with Theo Epstein, another former Padres exec who left to work for a big-market club. Their Red Sox tenure coincided with World Series championships for Boston in 2004 and 2007, and the goal is to lead the Cubs to their first World Series title since 1908.

This time around, however, the job looks much more difficult than the one confronting Boston's front office in the early 2000s, although the National League Central is weak compared to the American League East.

The Red Sox were immensely talented when Epstein and Hoyer teamed up in 2002, both on the field and in their baseball and business operations. Awaiting Epstein and Hoyer were players such as Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe and Nomar Garciaparra. The Cubs, by comparison, are vastly inferior. Hanley Ramirez was in Boston's farm system, enabling the Sox to trade for Josh Beckett, an ace who helped them win a World Series. The Cubs have no prospect as enticing as Ramirez.

The Cubs and Hoyer also might lack an executive of the caliber of Larry Lucchino, although Epstein could qualify if he can apply his rare intelligence to matters beyond baseball.

Epstein's friends in the media often portrayed Lucchino, the Red Sox president, as an obstacle to Epstein more than a resource for him. Both men are bright, bold, demanding and highly ambitious, so the creative friction that resulted wasn't surprising. I saw evidence of it in San Diego, even when Epstein, then in his mid-20s, was handing out game reports to us scribes in the pressbox.

Some five years ago, empowered by a World Series championship that ended the so-called Curse of the Bambino, Epstein won a power struggle with Lucchino. Of late, I'm told, Epstein sensed Lucchino was trying to reclaim turf by making inquiries on potential managers.

Even Epstein, however, would acknowledge that he has learned much from Lucchino. For all his bluster and despite his over-reaching, Lucchino should be regarded as one of the better executives in major league history. Wherever he has worked -- Baltimore, San Diego and Boston -- big returns have ensued, both on the field and on the balance sheets. Lucchino identified, promoted and cultivated two of the current game's better GMs, Epstein and Kevin Towers, and when Jeff Moorad hired Josh Byrnes as Arizona's GM and Hoyer to succeed Towers here, he cited Lucchino's imprint as a plus.

A few years after Lucchino left the Padres, Towers said the organization suffered, calling it rudderless. More to the point, Towers said not having Lucchino as a savvy if ornery presence made him a less effective GM. Towers was six years into the job.  "A lot of smart people have left Larry's side over the years only to find that he did more to make them smart than they realized," said another National League official who knows Lucchino well.

If Hoyer is supported in Chicago by a business side as capable as that in Boston circa 2002-07, I'll be impressed. Sox employees included high achievers such as Charles Steinberg, Mike Dee, Sam Kennedy and Janet Marie Smith who supported and made possible some of baseball operations' endeavors.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts' acumen as a steward of a baseball club is still mostly an unknown. Epstein and Hoyer were fortunate to work for Red Sox owner John Henry, who was prepared to pay to renovate Fenway Park by himself.. Ricketts may have a billy goat farm sooner than the state of Illinois or Chicago gives him the money to overhaul or replace Wrigley Field.

Another factor in Boston's success was Henry's willingness to protect Epstein, Hoyer and others in baseball operations from the wrath of Bud Selig whenever the Red Sox "busted slot" in signing draftees, at a time when several other clubs refused to do so. The guess here is that Epstein deserves part of the credit for educating Henry on why it made sense for the Red Sox to exceed the commissioner's office guidelines on signing bonuses. Epstein knows how to make well-reasoned, empirically supported cases for going above market rates for draftees, provided scouts persuasively make a case for it. But it also takes an owner willing to pay huge sums to teenage ballplayers, and to defy the same man who made his ownership possible -- Selig.

What grade does Hoyer's performance with the Padres rate?

An I for incomplete. Positives include the trade for Cameron Maybin and several major league moves in the 2009-10 offseason such as the signings of Yorvit Torrealba, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Jon Garland. Under Hoyer, the Padres also vastly increased their number of amateur and professional scouts who could give them more insights into high school players (whose statistical profiles are largely irrelevant). Mirroring the Red Sox approach, Hoyer exceeded slot to sign high school draftees such as Austin Hedges and Joe Ross. To that end, Hoyer empowered Jason McLeod, who oversaw scouting and development.

The failure to sign the right-hander Karsten Whitson, drafted ninth overall in 2010, wasn't entirely on Whitson or his advisers. The Padres had rated Whitson the best prep pitcher in the draft and one of the top three players available. Part of a GM's job is to get such a player signed. Both Hoyer and McLeod may have misread Whitson and how some of their words affected him.

Hoyer's acquisition of Ryan Ludwick in the 2010 playoff race backfired, although another summer import, Miguel Tejada, was an upgrade on both offense and defense. In the same summer, Hoyer decided against trading for Cody Ross, who was made cheaply available by the Marlins before they put him on waivers. Ross had advocates within San Diego's organization and went on to help the rival Giants win the West and the World Series, as if touched by the baseball gods.

Many of Hoyer's buy-low moves last offseason didn't work out, including the signings of Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu, among others. Then again, the GM was working with the 27th-ranked payroll and didn't have sturdy talent coming from the farm system.

"Jed is finding out what it's like to be a small-market GM," an American League exec said in July.

I'm reluctant to blame Hoyer for the two-year contract given Orlando Hudson because Hudson's former agent is Moorad.
 
When Hoyer replaced the Gunslinger as GM in November 2009, he inherited a few big leaguers whose value far exceeed their cost: Adrian Gonzalez, who was under contract through 2011; Heath Bell, whose rights the Padres controlled through the 2011; and setup ace Mike Adams, not eligible for free agency until November 2012.

Hoyer's trade of Adams three months ago for two Rangers minor league pitchers will be better evaluated within a few years. Bell is still with the Padres, pending resolution of ongoing negotiations.

Hoyer held onto Gonzalez for the 2010 season, and the first baseman responded with a big year as part of the team's surprising run to 90 victories.

With Gonzalez entering his walk year and determined to test free agency unless he got a deal he couldn't refuse, Hoyer dealt him to the Red Sox for three prospects and utility man Eric Patterson, who for the Padres did more harm than good, both on the field and for team chemistry.

Despite Gonzalez's talent, Hoyer's list of potential trade partners was a small one owing to the huge cost in talent and treasure. The Tigers and Cubs showed only mild interest. The Red Sox were prepared to offer Gonzalez $154 million to buy him out of free agency, which along with their farm system made them perhaps the only realistic suitor.

Nevertheless, I wrote from those winter meetings that Hoyer should've obtained a big leaguer to go with the three prospects he acquired. Make no mistake: For years, the Red Sox had lusted for Adrian Gonzalez. And the Red Sox had made it known in July 2010 that infielder Jed Lowrie was available. The Padres didn't go after Lowrie in the Gonzalez talks because they didn't like him for Petco National Park. Also coming off an injury-plagued with the Red Sox was center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. This year, a Padres official said the club could've had Ellsbury if it had insisted on him.

I think Epstein out-negotiated his former protege in the Gonzalez talks. For the Padres, the trade will be defined by how prospects Antony Rizzo, Casey Kelly and Reymond Fuentes perform. None, at present, is viewed by non-Padres scouts as a good bet for stardom. Among some scouts, Fuentes needs a bounceback year to regain prospect status..

I've heard from several Padres fans who say they feel betrayed by Hoyer and angry with Moorad for allowing him to leave.

In time, those feelings should fade. Hoyer isn't spurning the Padres as much as he's seizing a rare opportunity.

1 comment:

  1. While Ellsbury would look good in a Padres uniform, he made $2.4 million this year and is looking at a significant raise. He's also set for free agency in two years, so the Padres would just have to repeat the dance they did with Adrian.

    Rizzo and Kelly may not be Andrus and Feliz but they are a big part of the minor league system's rejuvenation. It's too bad we won't be able to see what else Jed could do.

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