Tag Archives: Jed Hoyer

How Chicago Cubs’ Jed Hoyer plans to answer baseball’s long unanswerable question

Gordon Wittenmyer

@GDubMLB

Reds beat writer for Cincinnati Enquirer, co-host Cubs #ReKap podcast; formerly with Chicago Sun-Times.

With Cody Bellinger back, the Cubs are running the same team out in 2024 as the one that fell short in 2023 — and counting on the $40 million manager to make up the difference.

MESA, Arizona — Give credit where $80 million worth of credit is due.

Chicago Cubs president Jed Hoyer got his man when he held out until the final week of February to return free agent Cody Bellinger to the Cubs roster on a deal that guarantees the former MVP the highest annual average value in franchise history.

Which mostly means the boys are back in town for the Cubs home opener April 1 — after a brief detour to Texas to open the season against the defending champs.

It’s not lost on division rivals that the Bellinger signing assured essentially a roster status quo for a team that finished one game short of the playoffs last year.

“It definitely helps them,” said Jonathan India of the Reds. “But it’s the same team from last year.”

And while The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma had an interesting look through the weeds at the differences between last year’s team and this one, club insiders basically agree with India in private conversations.

With the possible exception of one thing that team president Jed Hoyer mentioned this week in closing as he mentioned the various additions that made him happy with the roster work he was able to do this winter: the new manager.

Even with the Bellinger signing, the most seismic move the Cubs made all winter was unceremoniously kicking manager David Ross to the curb — a month after singing his praises — and signing Craig Counsell to the richest contract for a manager in baseball history (five years, $40 million).

Argue if you like whether unproven free agent Shota Imanaga is an upgrade over 2023 Marcus Stroman in the rotation or whether Hector Neris puts last year’s shaky bullpen over the top in 2024.

On paper, this is not a measurably different team than last year.

For every argument in favor of Neris’ impact, Imanaga’s higher ceiling than Stroman’s or the potential that Michael Busch is better than the collective the Cubs ran out at first base last year, there is an example of a back-nine veteran who’s a year older, a possible concern over Bellinger’s much-maligned soft contact rate late last season and the fingers-crossed concern that one or more guys who stepped up in 2023 (Justin Steele? Adbert Alzolay?) might regress some in 2024.

But wait for it.

Because when it all starts to play out — and certainly when it’s all said and done this year — a lot of the focus on whether the Cubs play better or worse is going to be on the manager making almost as much this season as Imanaga and twice as much as Steele.

And the one who got shafted in November.

In other words, forget pitch labs and hitting labs.

Hoyer has created a manager lab. Or at least created the ideal conditions to stage baseball’s first great manager-value experiment.

Whether it will answer baseball’s long-unanswerable question about just how many wins one manager is worth compared to another, the 2024 Cubs might be as close to an actual scientific laboratory experiment on that subject as anyone could conjure in a real-world, big-league competitive environment.

Counsell is considered by many the best manager in the game — or at least second to Bruce Bochy, who outpaces him 4-0 in rings as a manager.

And for what it’s worth, the imperfect Pythagorean run-differential model for a team’s expected win-loss record, had the ’23 Cubs underperforming by seven wins.

So if the ’24 model is as close to the same team as could be reproduced to run through another 162 games with a different field boss in place?

Well, then, score another high-minded maneuver for today’s smart-guy front offices.

Hoyer may not have actually upgraded the roster of this big-market Cubs team with big-talking plans for October.

But maybe he’ll get an answer on that supposedly unanswerable question, and he and Counsell will reinvent the game — or at least some of its analytics.

For now, consider baseball’s first manager lab open for business in Chicago.