Updated: January 23, 2012 4:10AM
The Cubs executive who might have the most right to feel threatened by the latest round of hirings in the team’s top baseball offices sounds a lot more encouraged than anything else.
Maybe that’s because Tim Wilken knows new baseball president Theo Epstein’s history — and plans — for putting financial and intellectual resources into scouting and player development.
Maybe it’s even more about how well Wilken, the Cubs’ incumbent scouting director, knows the new scouting executive Epstein just hired: Jason McLeod, who now oversees both scouting and player development.
McLeod officially joined Epstein’s revamped front office Wednesday, along with new general manager Jed Hoyer. Both were hired from San Diego’s front office after having been with Epstein in Boston during a stretch that included two Red Sox championships.
“I’m very happy that we got him over here for a number of reasons,’’ said Wilken, who has known McLeod for about eight years. “We’ve kind of migrated to each other in the past during some scouting director meetings and things like that. [His hiring] just kind of brought a smile to my face, and we’ve talked a little bit here in the last few days. And I really look forward to getting together with him and putting together this plan here to make us World Champions.’’
Wilken, a long-respected scouting director whose Toronto drafts in the 1990s included Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay, has spent the last six years helping improve the performance of the Cubs’ minor-league system.
“We’ve done a pretty decent job over here, but we can get better,’’ said Wilken, who anticipates a “marrying’’ of approaches that have worked with the Cubs in recent years and those brought in by the new trio of top honchos from grading systems to languages and approaches used in evaluations.
Whatever potholes and adjustments might be involved in the process moving forward, the Epstein model for the Cubs clearly includes a strong blend of old and new as he gets underway.
And that includes retaining assistant GM Randy Bush, who had been the interim GM from Jim Hendry’s firing over the summer until Hoyer’s hiring this week — and who had been a steadying influence during that uncertain stretch for many in the organization, according to several insiders.
“That would have been a big loss for us,’’ Wilken said. “He was a shining star when Jim was fired. I’m not just blowing smoke. He was huge.’’
For Wilken, who has another year left on his contract, the promises of the new regime play right into his strengths, and suggest a chance to build off last year’s franchise-record $20 million amateur-signing commitment and to more quickly restock a system that could be down seven or eight prospects in a one-year span once player-compensation is resolved with the Padres and Red Sox (and after last January’s Matt Garza trade from Tampa Bay).
Even with a step back in the system over the past year, the Cubs have put 14 players into the big leagues from their last six drafts and international signing classes — a number that ranks among the top five in baseball.
“We knew we even need to add to that list with more quality,’’ said Wilken. “And we’ve had decent quality. We need to get even better to be winners.’’
To that end, McLeod’s resume includes Red Sox draft classes that plucked MVP Dustin Pedroia, All-Stars Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz, and Jed Lowrie and Daniel Bard.
Wilken said he was impressed with San Diego’s 2011 draft, run by scouting director Jaron Madison and overseen by McLeod.
“We think we had a damn good one, too,’’ he said. “Now if we can marry that [expertise] together, I think the sky’s the limit.’’