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Hoyer has hands full in Chicago

Jed Hoyer can work with a bigger budget than he had in San Diego. Jed Hoyer can work with a bigger budget than he had in San Diego. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / November 16, 2011

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MILWAUKEE - When it first happened, we all wondered, how is this Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer president/general manager arrangement going to work in Chicago?

After all, isn’t this similar to the Larry Lucchino/Epstein set-up in Boston before Epstein gained control of the baseball department? The one that prompted Epstein to leave the team for a spell?

The major difference is the past relationship between Epstein and Hoyer. In Boston, Epstein was the GM and Hoyer the assistant GM. Now, Epstein is the Cubs’ president of baseball operations and Hoyer is the GM.

“It’s kind of going to evolve over the course of the year,’’ Hoyer said. “The offseason will be all hands on deck to assess the situation. There are so many decisions to be made.

“I think when we get into the course of the season, I’ll handle mostly the major league staff on a day-to-day basis and that will free Theo to really get involved in other things that have to be handled in the organization.

“That’s what will evolve over time and that can only happen because of that relationship.’’

Hoyer left the San Diego Padres after two years as their general manager. In his first year, the Padres were baseball’s Cinderella story, coming within a game of beating out the San Francisco Giants - the eventual World Series winners - for the NL West title.

Last season was a disaster in San Diego after Hoyer traded Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox for three top prospects: pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and center fielder Reymond Fuentes.

Hoyer executed his escape to Chicago with another year left on his contract. Now he must negotiate compensation with the Padres for himself and scouting director/assistant GM Jason McLeod as well as work on the compensation for the Red Sox on Epstein.

Hoyer is also helping to select the new Cubs manager; he interviewed DeMarlo Hale Monday and was scheduled to bring in Dale Sveum for a second interview last night. Despite signs that Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux and Sveum are the front-runners, Hoyer insists that he does not have a front-runner, nor does he have a timetable for naming a manager.

But he certainly acknowledges that the Cubs and Red Sox are pretty much competing for the same pool of candidates.

“It would be a mistake to say we have favorites at this point,’’ Hoyer said. “Mike has done a brilliant job as a pitching coach in Milwaukee and Texas, and he’s made pitchers better. He’s a very thoughtful guy.

“Theo and I knew Dale from his time in Boston. The players respect him. The more we dug in and did our homework, the more we heard that he’s an old-school baseball guy in a lot of ways but also a guy who has modern abilities. He understands the modern player very well.

“Our conversations with DeMarlo and Terry Francona have also gone well.’’

Hoyer said the GM/manager relationship is more important than ever. He noted that Epstein and Francona had an eight-year relationship that produced two championships, and that Hoyer and Bud Black also had a strong bond in San Diego.

Asked whether he has engaged in any talks with Francona, Hoyer said, “I’m not going to talk to Tito. He and Theo have worked together for so long. They were just together. I haven’t talked to Tito through this process.’’

On Hale, with whom he had a 90-minute phone interview Monday, Hoyer said, “He’s done a very good job on the Red Sox staff. He’s widely respected. He was an excellent third base coach and bench coach and a very good manager for a long time. He’s a very good baseball guy, well-respected. He’s going to get a call real soon.’’

And then there’s the Carlos Zambrano issue. Hoyer has left that to Epstein so far. The highly emotional righthander left the team at the end of the season and will have to earn his way back, according to Epstein, who had lunch with him Monday.

Hoyer would not make any guarantees about Zambrano’s future, only to say he thought Zambrano still had a lot of ability and could still help the Cubs.

Hoyer confirmed there was no food fight between Zambrano and Epstein.

One thing is for certain: Hoyer isn’t in San Diego, where his player budget wasn’t more than $40 million. He said the resources in Chicago aren’t as plentiful as in Boston, but, “We’re a major-market team.

“When I went to San Diego, it’s a different puzzle to put together. You still believe in your basic, core principles. It was a positive two years in San Diego where we didn’t have the resources.

“It makes you think differently about things. There’s probably a certain discipline that’s instilled in you.

“I’m probably a better GM because of it, having had the Boston big-market experience and the San Diego small-market experience. And Theo had that in San Diego, too, before he came to Boston.’’

Hoyer said the small-market experience makes you think about building a roster differently, perhaps with lower-profile players and more efficient ones.

Hoyer said the biggest priority is to take the Cubs from a 71-win team to respectability. He makes no promises on a timetable, but he feels he needs to rebuild the major league roster, rebuild the farm system, add new scouts, and focus on next June’s amateur draft, in which the Cubs have the sixth overall pick.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, but I’d always say that,’’ he said. “It’s a team that struggled. There are a lot of good players, but we need to move this team from 71 wins.’’

And he’ll do it in tandem with Epstein.

And, no, he does not anticipate leaving Wrigley Field on Halloween night in a gorilla suit.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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