MESA, Ariz. — At first glance, the Cubs’ hiring of Ted Lilly as a front-office special assistant looks like a classic case of a popular ex-player getting a cushy retirement gig.
But general manager Jed Hoyer said, “He made it clear right away that he wanted to work and wants to get involved in scouting.”
If that’s the case, veteran pitcher Jeff Samardzija — who knows Lilly better than anyone else in the clubhouse — said he could give the Cubs something often missing in today’s “advanced” player evaluations.
Lilly won 15 and 17 games for the Cubs’ 2007 and ’08 playoff teams, respectively, and he was an All-Star in 2009. But he’s probably best remembered for moments like the 2007 playoff game in which he hurled his glove to the dirt after giving up a homer to the Diamondbacks’ Chris Young.
And the time he smashed a pipe with a bat and flooded the visiting dugout at Dodger Stadium when the Cubs were swept in the 2008 division series.
And when he collided with Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina at the plate in St. Louis during a pennant race, leaving Molina writhing on the ground in pain while Lilly calmly got up and went to the dugout.
“That’s just an example of what it’s all about,” said Samardzija, who watched, impressed, from the dugout. “Teddy loved to play baseball. I think that goes overlooked sometimes nowadays — what’s a guy’s passion for the game? What does he bring to the game? How much does he want to leave it on the field?
“Teddy left it all out there. Hopefully, he can take that and turn that into evaluation. More so than just tools and how hard a guy throws, what’s his makeup as a person and as a player? That’s always very important, and sometimes it’s overlooked, more so nowadays with all the numbers and computers that play into the game.”
Theo Epstein’s state-of-the-art, tech-savvy front office, for instance, whiffed on second-chance projects in classic, “toolsy” prototype players Ian Stewart and Chris Volstad, both of whom came with red flags that became quickly and glaringly apparent with the Cubs.
“Sometimes there’s another aspect to it that doesn’t show up on the screen,” Samardzija said.
Hoyer said Lilly’s personality was one of the appeals when he and Epstein began talking to Lilly at the Cubs Convention.
“We faced him a lot with the Red Sox when he was in Toronto, and I love the way he competes,” Hoyer said. “And obviously, his reputation with the Cubs is sterling, which is fantastic, not only as a person but as a competitor.”
Lilly is expected to take amateur and pro scouting assignments and possibly work directly with young players. His exact role and schedule are fluid for now. It’ll be determined in part by how much time he can spare from two young kids at home (and a third on the way).
“I feel like I have something to offer, and this is the organization that I’d prefer to be with, so it worked out,” he said. “Certainly, I’d like to be around as often as possible.”
Hoyer offered one more selling point: “I do like the fact that he was with a Cubs team that won 97 games and had success. As you’re trying to figure out how to build a winner in Chicago, he’s a guy that was part of it.”