Outside of the players on the field, the biggest turnover in the Chicago Cubs organization during Theo Epstein's tenure has occurred in the player development department.
Prior to last season, new Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde was moved from minor league field coordinator into the front office as the team's new director of player development. Under his guidance, numerous changes were made to the minor league coaching staff and coordinators.
While it's debatable as to whether the Cubs' lack of homegrown talent over the past decade stems from a scouting or player development issue, the team clearly decided to focus on overhauling the latter department. During the 2013 season, Hyde oversaw arguably one of the most productive seasons for the Cubs farm system as multiple prospects took big steps forward, including Javier Baez, Pierce Johnson and Arismendy Alcantara.
Considering all the success he had in his role with the front office, the selection of Hyde as bench coach may seem a bit odd. It's not often that a front office member makes the leap to being the manager's right-hand man. But for the Cubs, moving Hyde to the bench to work alongside new manager Rick Renteria just made sense.
Why would the Cubs make a change in an area that has seemingly been a major issue for the organization for over a decade after finally finding a solution?
One reason is that the Cubs are very confident in Jaron Madison, who moved over from director of amateur scouting to fill the hole Hyde left. The team was also very impressed with the jobs their roving instructors did in the minors, many of whom were with the organization for the first time.
"I believe that we took big steps forward this year, and I think those [instructors] were a big part of it," Hyde said. "Because of their passion to teach and how they're so invested in the Cubs, they're a vital part of our player development system. It's a real strength of our organization."
While there is confidence that player development will continue to thrive under Madison's lead as it did under Hyde, ultimately, the Cubs must have believed Hyde would be a bigger asset to the organization in his new role.
"Now with a player development background, it provides an even better perspective in his role as bench coach," Epstein said when the team introduced Renteria to the media in earlier this month. "[Brandon's] someone who's extremely positive, is invested personally with every player he comes in contact with and is a difference-maker. Rick wanted to make sure he had someone who had experience, and we were also hoping to have someone on our staff from our system who had knowledge of our young players so when they come up there's a familiar face and there's a connection there. So it ended up working perfectly with Brandon."
Prior to joining the Cubs, Hyde spent nine years in the Florida Marlins system filling various roles, including four as a minor league manager and a year and a half as a bench coach at the big league level under two different managers.
This past season with his role in the Cubs front office, Hyde saw the game from a different perspective. The Cubs obviously valued the experience of seeing both sides of the game because Brad Ausmus and A.J. Hinch, both of whom have front-office experience, were reportedly considered for the managerial position before the team went with Renteria.
"I'm fortunate that I've had a lot of experiences [as a coach] and then this past year as the farm director, I saw a totally different side that I hadn't seen," Hyde said. "To be a part of meetings like the winter meetings, to be able to hear and be a part of conversations in Theo's suite during the game or just being involved in that kind of interaction, really opened my mind to the game instead of just being on the field. So I think that will benefit me to go back on the field because I was able to be a part of those conversations."
Hyde was approached with the idea of moving back to the bench by the higher-ups in the Cubs front office and agreed to interview with Renteria for the position.
"Here's a man that's been in the organization now for the last couple years," Renteria said. "He knows the players, and he knows the ins and the outs of how the organization has been molded together the last couple years. He's actually a really bright baseball guy. I think people might not realize how bright he is. I spoke to a lot of people before he actually became our bench coach and he was spoken of quite highly. When I spoke to him, I could see why."
The belief is that when picking a manager and filling out the staff, the Cubs were searching for those who could best relate with the numerous young players who will be coming up through the system and to the big league club over the next few years. They certainly believe Hyde is a major part of that process.
"I think it takes a special personality -- as well as experience and having the technical knowledge -- to be able to actually reach the modern player," Epstein said. "To dig deep, engage and relate to them. Not relate to a player in a perfunctory level but really get in deep, find out what makes them tick and impact them on and off the field in a positive way. That's what we were looking for."
Hyde has been tasked with helping to turn around a club that has suffered four straight losing seasons and saw multiple players believed to be part of the core take steps back in 2013. The way Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were talking in Orlando, outside of hopefully being in on the process to acquire Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka there isn't much expectation for the Cubs to add a big-money player to the roster.
And though there may not be any impact veterans joining the team anytime soon, Epstein is well aware that the top prospects joining the big league club in the future won't be, as he put it, "a panacea" to their losing ways.
"We have to guard against this perception that we believe that once our most talented prospects come up to the big leagues, all of our problems are solved," Epstein said when discussing the Cubs' lack of movement at the winter meetings. "Because that's not the way it works. Once our players get there, development starts anew. There's a period of ups and downs and struggles that can be hard for the organizations to go through ... hard for the players to go through, hard for the fans to go through."
Hyde knows that along with Renteria and the rest of the staff, one of their many tasks will be helping to ease that process for those highly touted prospects when they arrive in the big leagues.
"Sometime in the next couple years when our guys are breaking in, it's going to be an exciting time," Hyde said. "I believe in our prospects, we have some guys that can really be impact players. Our job as a major league staff, as well as the roving staff, is to transition them as best we can. It's not easy to play in the big leagues, it's just flat-out not easy."
Those familiar with the way things work in Chicago will tell you that winning rarely comes easy on the North Side. It's up to Renteria, Hyde and the rest of the staff to help lead these kids when they arrive in the big leagues as they try to dispel the myth that nothing ever goes right at Wrigley.