Cubs seek clubhouse leaders at Winter Meetings


LAS VEGAS — In this era of advanced analytics, there are still intangible elements that even the most forward-thinking teams value. Attempting to quantify the impact of veteran leadership is an impossibility, but plenty of clubs still believe that quality can affect a clubhouse and an organization’s culture.

An offseason ago, the Cubs felt that the core group in place — the bulk of which went through the run to the 2016 World Series triumph — was ready to lean on its experience rather than requiring a veteran to step up as the primary voice of accountability. Now, as Chicago is trying to harness this fall’s frustrations as fuel for 2019, the front office is intent on injecting leadership via an outside source this offseason.

LAS VEGAS — In this era of advanced analytics, there are still intangible elements that even the most forward-thinking teams value. Attempting to quantify the impact of veteran leadership is an impossibility, but plenty of clubs still believe that quality can affect a clubhouse and an organization’s culture.

An offseason ago, the Cubs felt that the core group in place — the bulk of which went through the run to the 2016 World Series triumph — was ready to lean on its experience rather than requiring a veteran to step up as the primary voice of accountability. Now, as Chicago is trying to harness this fall’s frustrations as fuel for 2019, the front office is intent on injecting leadership via an outside source this offseason.

“I think it was a miscalculation on our part,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “I think we felt like we got to a place where those things would maybe take care of themselves, because we had this group together for so long. And we probably realized that that wasn’t accurate.”

Hoyer spoke on Monday evening from within the team’s vast suite high in the towers of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, where all was quiet on the Cubs’ front throughout Day 1 of the Winter Meetings. With the colorful lights on the Las Vegas Strip sprinkling behind him, Hoyer detailed a day filled with meetings with representatives of free agents and rival teams to discuss trade scenarios.

Hoyer also reiterated the theme of this offseason, that the team’s main concern for next year is finding ways to get the players already in place to improve. That message is based on the fact that the Cubs’ payroll already projects to be more than $200 million before any additions, creating a situation in which the team will likely need to shed money to sign any significant free agents.

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So, while a big-ticket star like Bryce Harper might not be a realistic fit as the Cubs’ roster is currently constituted, the team will focus on finding affordable reinforcements for the bullpen, depth pieces for the infield and outfield and perhaps a backup catcher. As Chicago sifts through its long list of bench possibilities in the process, veteran leadership will be a key attribute.

“I thought we were a little bit lacking in that last year,” Hoyer said. “Not so much on the pitching side. On the pitching side, I think we do have that to a certain extent. On the position-playing side, we don’t. And that’s something we felt like we missed last year.”

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It is not all that common for a front office to be so blunt about its need for leadership, especially when the team in question is coming off a 95-win campaign, won a World Series two years ago and has more victories than any team in MLB over the past four years combined. Yet, Hoyer feels the absence of that kind of addition last winter became glaring as the season progressed.

During the 2017 campaign, outfielder Jon Jay was added to the fold and — once he felt comfortable in the clubhouse — he emerged as a vocal leader behind the scenes. Before that, veteran catcher David Ross famously served as a leader through the Cubs’ rise through the 2015-16 campaigns. Ross is still around the team now as a special assistant to baseball operations.

“We didn’t have anyone like that on the roster last year,” Hoyer said. “I did think there was a bit of a void, to be honest with you. And that’s not to say that we don’t have a bunch of guys that have leadership qualities. We absolutely do. But, we have such a young group. They’re even young now. They might be experienced and have won a lot, but they’re still very young.

“And I think having someone who’s been through the game a little bit longer with a little more perspective that can help out with some of the difficult times, I think is important. And I think we had that in ’15, ’16, ’17 with more guys than I mentioned — I cherry picked a couple — but with a number of guys.”

During a gathering with reporters at the Cubs’ offices at Wrigley Field last week, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein shed a little more light on what he felt was lacking in that regard.

“There was a bit of a sense of inevitability of success,” Epstein said. “Players deal with sort of the narrative of the season in different ways. With our players, there was a sense that things would be fine in the end. With the length of the season and our talent, it would take care of itself. We’re the Cubs. We’ll be there. I think in a lot of ways that was a lesson learned.”

Hoyer noted that no moves were imminent for the Cubs as of Monday evening, and the GM predicted that conversations with agents would gain momentum in the coming days due to the volume of free agents still on the market. Within those conversations, Chicago will keep searching for a veteran voice to help fill last season’s void.

“I still just think that the right guy with the right professionalism does make a difference.”” Hoyer said.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.





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