CHICAGO — Carter Hawkins was part of Cleveland’s front office when the Indians lost to the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 World Series. He vividly remembers being on the team bus for the trip to the airport after Game 5.
“We’re just inching along, just barely going anywhere. There’s people everywhere,” Hawkins recalled, “and all I could hear was ‘Go Cubs Go’ over and over and over and over.”
Now he wants to sing along with those same fans in October.
The 37-year-old Hawkins was formally introduced as the Cubs’ new general manager on Monday, stepping into a position that had been open since Jed Hoyer was promoted to president of baseball operations almost a year ago.
Hoyer, who took over the top job after Theo Epstein stepped down, put off the GM search because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also wanted to empower the rest of his front office.
When he started to begin his search in earnest, he said Hawkins’ name came up repeatedly as he made calls around the league.
“As we started talking on the phone during this process and then as we moved to formal interviews, it became clear to me how he built such a sterling reputation,” Hoyer said. “He spoke with clarity and conviction about leadership, employee development, organizational alignment and team building.
“The breadth of our conversation was really remarkable and really showed his preparation for all aspects of the GM job today.”
The conversations between Hoyer and Hawkins included a dinner that lasted approximately five hours and watching this year’s AL Wild Card game — an experience Hawkins compared to the Manning brothers’ broadcast for Monday Night Football.
“It was very comfortable from the get-go,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins comes to Chicago after 14 seasons with Cleveland, including the last five as an assistant general manager. He also supervised the team’s player development department.
While the Cubs have struggled with developing their young pitchers, the Indians have flourished.
Cleveland ace Shane Bieber, a fourth-round pick in the 2016 amateur draft, won the AL Cy Young Award last year. Aaron Civale, a third-rounder in 2016, went 12-5 with a 3.84 ERA in 21 starts this season. Zach Plesac and Triston McKenzie also have had some positive moments.
“You’re not going to hire a GM based on a couple guys they’ve developed, but certainly their ability to develop pitching has been remarkable,” Hoyer said.
Hawkins played college baseball at Vanderbilt and started working for Cleveland in 2008 as an advance scouting intern. As he worked his way up with the Indians, general manager Mike Chernoff said Hawkins had a “huge impact” on their player development process.
“I think we’ve all seen in the game, the evolution of player development has been really, really fast and dynamic over the past 10 years,” Chernoff told the AP, “and Carter’s been able to help lead the group through that, especially with the more information and technology that we have now to kind of quantify development in ways that we couldn’t in the past.
“He’s helped to weave that into a system that was very much process-based, but not necessarily analytically based, and to tie that together with just great coaching.”
Chernoff called Hawkins “a really incredible solid person.”
“I mean that’s probably his greatest strength, is just the interpersonal relationships that he builds, the way that he can connect with a lot of different people with diverse backgrounds and skillsets and really bring people together,” Chernoff said.
Next up for Hawkins is helping Hoyer rebuild Chicago after it went 71-91 this season for the club’s worst record since it went 66-96 in 2013. It had a string of six consecutive winning seasons before faltering this year.
Pitching likely will be the team’s top priority over the winter. The Cubs had a 4.87 team ERA in 2021, ranking 27th in the majors.
“What Jed and Theo started to put together roughly 10 years ago today has raised the bar in Chicago for baseball to an incredibly high level,” Hawkins said. “The challenge is how do we raise it even further, and that is a difficult challenge, but one I’m eager to take on.”