02/16/10 12:00 AM EST
New Padres GM enjoying frenzied offseason
Hoyer stays patient, busy reshaping San Diego
By Corey Brock / MLB.com
Hey, no one said helping plan a wedding was easy.
"You'd have to ask her," Hoyer said, laughing.
Truth be told, Hoyer, who will marry fiancé Merrill this summer, has embraced a hectic offseason so frenzied that he seems light years, not mere months, removed from his days as an assistant general manager with the Red Sox, where his life couldn't have been more different.
Since being hired as general manager of the Padres on Oct. 26, Hoyer has ...
Filled important front-office posts, made decisions on staff he inherited, tended to roster decisions, tendered contracts and avoided arbitration. Few noticed his first trade (Dusty Ryan), while his second trade (dealing popular third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff to the Oakland A's) rubbed some fans the wrong way.
Hoyer also waited out the free-agent market and signed three players -- starting pitcher Jon Garland, utilityman Jerry Hairston Jr. and catcher Yorvit Torrealba -- squeezing every last drop out of a payroll that will likely to fall short of $40 million by Opening Day.
As a matter of comparison, the Red Sox, Hoyer's former club, gladly paid Mike Lowell and David Ortiz a combined $24.5 million last season. Red Sox Nation might as well be on a different continent -- or even a different planet, for that matter.
There were Adrian Gonzalez questions, ones that won't go away anytime soon, as well as the endless queries about Hoyer's journey from a fabled franchise replete with devoted, even obsessive, fans to a club looking to build tradition, success and a steadfast following.
Hoyer, 36, spent his first two months in San Diego living across the street from PETCO Park at the Omni Hotel, though it offered him little more comfort than that of his office aside from a bed and of 24-hour room service, which partly explains all those late nights in the office.
Cabin fever? You have no idea.
"To use a consulting term," Hoyer said, "it's been like drinking from a fire hose."
No wonder Hoyer is looking forward to shutting the office door behind him next week, climbing into his car and driving the five-plus hours to Arizona for Spring Training, where he will preside over a team he helped piece together this offseason with patience, well-researched decisions and acquisitions he made with the collective help of those he trusts, many of whom are still finding their way as well.
"I can't wait to get to Peoria," Hoyer said this week.
The work isn't done, in fact, it's just starting. Hoyer is certainly smart enough to realize this. There's six weeks of Spring Training followed by a 162-game schedule where the decisions he made in his first four months on the job, the on-field product and the front-office moves, will be put to the test.
"Job-wise, it's been as expected, which is not to minimize it," Hoyer said. "It's incredibly busy when you're hiring people. You're learning a whole new database of a system, and an entire new team."
"I've really enjoyed it. Between Bud Black, Jeff and Tom [vice chairman and CEO Jeff Moorad and president and COO Tom Garfinkel] and all the people in the office ... they made my transition as smooth as I could have imagined. That's not to say there haven't been challenging days and difficult times."
To be sure, Hoyer will never undergo another offseason in San Diego like his first one. The first few weeks were a whirlwind, which was why Hoyer slowed things to a crawl, harkening back to his days with the Red Sox where embracing progress was imperative.
That process started by acquiring any information he could get his hands on about the Padres, whether that be talking to people internally, outside the organization or sitting down long enough to watch video. If it could potentially help him, Hoyer embraced it.
"It's his overall preparation for everything ... every part of the organization, whether it be making a decision on a Major League free agent or talking with me about staffing issues, he's very prepared," said Padres assistant general manager Jason McLeod, who worked with Hoyer for six years in Boston before joining him in December.
"One of the biggest things that was instilled in Boston in working with Theo and Larry [general manager Theo Epstein and president/ CEO Larry Lucchino] is that there's a process to the way things are done. Jed requires a lot of information to makes sure the checks and balances are in place."
Hoyer was also able to, with Moorad's blessing, build the baseball-operations department the way he saw fit. That included adding key members like McLeod, who in turn, added to his staff of scouts to help push the player-development initiative.
"That's one of the most enjoyable parts of the job, bringing people over that you know and that you respect," Hoyer said. "We had a very good group of people here and we added on top of that. I'm excited to go forward with this group."
Hoyer's decision to retain assistant general manager Fred Uhlman Jr., was an easy one. Uhlman, who was former general manager Kevin Towers' right-hand man, someone he called his "foxhole man," probably knows the organization better than anyone.
"Fred has been in incredibly helpful. He has such good organizational knowledge. He's been able to not only help me with assistant general manager responsibilities but also getting to know people here and getting things done," Hoyer said. "Fred's been invaluable. I'm not sure what I would have done without him."
There were other hires and promotions, too many to name. But one of the most important, one that goes to the core of what Hoyer wants to establish in San Diego, was the hiring of McLeod, who had been the Red Sox director of amateur scouting since 2004.
"There's a lot going on. There's a lot to do to keep your head above water while you're trying to develop your vision for the organization," Epstein said. "The most important moves he's made are the ones for the long haul [in the front office staff]."
McLeod, who worked in the Padres organization years ago under Towers, was the Red Sox director of amateur scouting since 2004. McLeod's 2005 Draft class, where he hit on Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie and Clay Buchholz, has been commended within baseball circles.
"Jason is incredibly talented. He ran a great scouting department in Boston. We want a lot of the same things, creating systems, expectations on background reports. It's really nice for me to have someone like Jason here," Hoyer said. "He knows what I'm looking for based on our shared experience in Boston. I think that will continue."
His staff in place, Hoyer could continue to focus on upgrades to the Major League roster. He said from the start that there weren't "glaring holes" to fill, though he identified early what he wanted -- a right-handed-hitting outfielder, durable starting pitcher, a utility man who could play shortstop, a backup catcher and possibly help for the bench.
Oh, and all without having much financial resources to work with (remember, the payroll figures to be around $40 million) and that no bonuses could be used to entice players, as per Moorad's orders.
Hoyer identified a slow market early and hedged bets that bargains could be had late. The flipside to that, of course, is if you guess wrong you could be stuck without filling those needs. For a while this winter, the Padres offseason ledger was nearly bare. Fans jeered the perceived lack of progress.
Process, it seems, takes time.
Then, in a 11-day stretch last month, Hoyer was rebuffed by outfielder Coco Crisp, who chased a bigger contract to Oakland, a move that eventually helped San Diego land that outfielder they wanted (Hairston). Two days later, Hairston's older brother, Jerry Jr., the player the Padres had targeted all winter, signed. Finally, Hoyer got Garland to sign a deal for $5.3 million, to pitch where he wanted (West Coast) and for far less money than he was offered by the Washington Nationals (reportedly two years, $16 million).
Patience and process paid off.
"He didn't do anything rash. And I think that shows confidence," Padres manager Bud Black said this week. "Jed had a plan. I think he wanted to take in a lot of information from a lot of different people when he got here. And finally, with all of that information he accrued, he was able to make some good deals to bring some players to our club."
Earlier this week, the Padres benefited from Torrealba's market miscalculation, signing him to an undervalued deal worth $1.25 million after he passed on a two-year deal earlier this winter to remain in Colorado for $5.6 million.
"We had pretty clear needs and holes. I really liked the process we went through to fill those holes," Hoyer said. "We showed some patience and ended up with players that fit well for us. I feel good going to Spring Training. I have no doubt that we are a better team today than the one that finished up the season."
Which is what all of this is about, right? Becoming a general manager, making a team better, making a franchise better? It takes time. Think helping plan a wedding is tough, try running a baseball team as a first-year general manager.
"Everyone who is a general manager was a first-time general manager at some point. So there's a level of empathy there," Hoyer said. "When I first took the job everyone had a piece of advice, a thoughtful, heart-felt piece of advice for me.
"It's a small fraternity and we're all trying to beat each other. But I think that people understand how they felt when they were in that position."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.