I’m admittedly a sucker for any story that includes the words “internal tensions between the business and baseball sides,” no matter what organization is being discussed.
But when that team is the Chicago Cubs and the authors are two well-respected reporters for The Athletic, I’m even more intrigued.
The tension, it appears, was brought into the open after Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney told WSCR-AM 670 in an interview last week that president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer didn’t spend all of last year’s budget and would have the opportunity to spend the leftover funds this offseason.
“I hope there are transactions that make sense to us this year to spend all the money he has,” Kenney said.
This apparently has put more pressure on Hoyer to spend or else look like he’s hoarding all the money Kenney went to such great lengths to give him. And if the Cubs strike out on all four of the top free-agent shortstops this offseason, it will be on Hoyer, not Chairman Tom Ricketts, who is in charge of the show even as he insists Hoyer has the freedom to make decisions on any player he deems fit.
Every time one of the shortstops signs, the pressure mounts on Hoyer. Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts were gone by the end of the winter meetings, and Carlos Correa’s reported 13-year, $350 million deal with the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday left Hoyer 0-for-3 with one more at-bat.
Dansby Swanson was still there as of Wednesday night, but if he wants a deal similar in length and money to the other three, will the Cubs bite?
It’s Swanson-or-bust time, and Hoyer might have to wildly overspend or wear the golden sombrero.
Kenney, who has an insatiable appetite for attention, had no real reason to go on The Score and talk about the subject, but it never seems to occur to him that it’s not part of his job description. What Hoyer does with the money he’s given is up to him. You may not like it, but it’s his call.
Likewise, it’s Kenney’s job to get him that money, then think of more ways to rake in more revenue. The Athletic called it “wheelbarrow economics,” referring to Kenney’s much-quoted line about bringing in a wheelbarrow full of cash to dump at Theo Epstein’s door.
Most Cubs fans coveted Correa because they want anyone who can help them win now. They’re not really concerned about how bad the deal may be in eight years, much less 13. That’s what being a fan is all about. But Hoyer can’t afford to think that way. The Cubs are still paying Jason Heyward $22 million in 2023, an albatross that Hoyer rightly decided to move on from.
But Hoyer has been in Chicago long enough to know he’ll have to take the criticism and move on.
Some players are worth a 13-year, $350 million deal. Correa is probably not one of them. He might be one of the best shortstops in baseball, but my guess is he’ll wear out his welcome in San Francisco long before his contract is up. Hoyer has too many holes to fill to throw all his money at a shortstop who never has had a 100-RBI season or won an MVP award. This isn’t Aaron Judge, whom the Cubs should’ve gone all in on, or Bryce Harper.
No matter how you feel about Correa, Hoyer didn’t need to be run over by the Crane Train while trying to restore the Cubs to respectability.
Most executives who run the business side of sports organizations are little known outside their offices. But Kenney has been around for years, constantly taking credit for one thing or another, so his name is familiar to even casual Cubs fans. He ingratiated himself to former Cubs boss Sam Zell after the baseball-hating billionaire took over the company from Tribune Co. and then to the Ricketts family when they bought it from Zell in 2009.
If anyone knows how to create job security in baseball, it’s Kenney.
I asked a former team employee who would come out on top in a battle between the Cubs executives. The employee pointed out that Hoyer was more athletic, having played baseball in college. Kenney, however, was a college swimmer. Kenney also has the height advantage, but Hoyer is scrappy and has close to zero body fat.
“Jed would mop the floor with Crane,” the employee said.
Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but if it does, maybe Marquee Sports Network can televise it.
Having spent a good portion of the last three decades watching the Cubs hierarchy in action, I can say with the utmost confidence that most in the organization would be rooting for Hoyer over Kenney. It’s impossible to step into Epstein’s shoes in Chicago, but the people who work under Hoyer all like and respect him. He’s able to poke fun at himself and doesn’t pretend he knows everything.
If the Cubs have internal tension at the top of their food chain, I’d trust Hoyer to find a way to defuse the issue.
Muting Kenney might do it, but no one really expects a Christmas miracle.