- Bruce Levine, Chicago baseball beat reporter
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In a special conference call with Chicago Cubs' season-ticket holders Wednesday, the team’s newly installed front office -- president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod -- spent an hour answering questions from a select group of fans.
Cubs’ season-ticket holders were alerted Wednesday of a special number to call at 4 p.m. CT to pick the brains of the Three Amigos. Cubs’ play-by-play man Len Kasper acted as moderator, bringing callers in and out as top execs took turns answering a variety of questions. The group took 30 questions during the call – the first of its kind conducted by the organization. Almost to a person, the callers expressed their excitement about the team’s future under the new group.
Epstein opened the conference by thanking the fan base for a warm welcome.
“I’d like to thank you for participating in the call and the warm welcome," he said. "You guys have welcomed us with open arms [and] gotten us even more excited on the work that we have ahead. We promise you lots of hard work and fun times. We consider you the best fans in the game. There’s nothing we want more year in and year out than sustained success.”
Here’s a few key comments from the call.
• Epstein on the managerial search: "The manager is a very important piece of the puzzle. He's the leader of the major league club. I'd say we are moving forward with that, and we are probably in the sixth inning of the process. We have another candidate or more then we will move forward into the decision-making phase. We will eventually catch him up to our process and our plans and get his input as well as we move forward."
• Epstein on the attributes he’s looking for in a manager: "In the real world, it's hard to find a candidate that has everything you're looking for. What you do is you weigh your variables and make your sacrifices where you have to. Often times, if you're going to take a candidate without previous managerial experience, even at the minor league level, he has to represent real upside in other areas. In that case, you have to do even more due diligence than you normally would because you're projecting him into that role."
• Epstein on the level of talent in the Cubs' minor league system: “We have work to do. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I think there’s a pretty significant gap between where we are right now between impact and depth and where we want to be. That said, the system has plenty of interesting players. Particularly at some of the lower levels. But we need more impact players. We need more players we can project to everyday roles.”
• Hoyer on the possibility of the team eating existing contracts: “Our experience so far with the Ricketts family is they are so committed to winning the right way that if it means playing younger players to get experience, they are certainly willing to do that. They know from our track record that you have to win through the farm system. That, in order to win, you have to win through younger players. I think that’s one of the reasons they brought Theo here.”
• Hoyer on the challenge of winning at Wrigley Field: “Wrigley presents such a unique challenge because it plays so differently in the first two months than it does in the summer. That means we have to find a mix of players that can score runs in many different ways. You can’t [say] this is a pitchers’ park or a hitters’ park. You have to have a team that can score in both and win in both. It’s a unique challenge, but it’s one we certainly can tackle.”
• Epstein on the possible departures of free agents Carlos Pena and Aramis Ramirez: “We have to look at trades and we have to look internally. We also have to look at free agency. I think we will be very active participants in the free-agent process. What that means is that we will be very diligent in scouring the landscape, talking with agents and consistently monitoring the supply-and-demand dynamic at every position. I’m sure we will sign a free agent or two before it’s all said and done.”
• Epstein on improving the defense: “I think it’s important we improve the team defensively. If Aramis does leave and we can’t find the big bat to replace him, we will have a chance to improve defensively. We are looking for complete players and we know there is a lot of room for improvement defensively as well as offensively.”