CHICAGO -- It's time for ESPN's (second) annual Super Bowl weekend Q&A with Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer. In Arizona already, Hoyer and the Cubs are preparing for a highly anticipated spring training, which begins in two weeks. His beloved New England Patriots failed to make it to the final game of the season, but maybe the Cubs can finish what they started with their playoff run last season. It has been 70 years since they appeared in the World Series and 107 since they won it all. Is this the year?
Q: Every year you get asked about being excited for spring training but this could be a special season so I'll ask again, because you're out there pretty early: Are you ready to start now?
JH: Yeah, there's a fair number of players here already. And a bunch showing up early next week. They're excited, we're excited. One of the main reasons we wanted to make this complex as great as it is, is to make it a destination so guys are excited to get here and work out here. Everyone is getting ready.
Q: We know this whole process took three to four years, but it almost feels like the switch was flipped overnight. How does it feel to you?
JH: Well, it definitely wasn't overnight. Fans that have been with us the first few years know it wasn't overnight. We put the building blocks in place. As far as becoming a team that could contend, that really came together in the second half last year.
Q: You guys have intimated backing off some of your pitchers; obviously, Jake Arrieta would be at the top of your list. How does that play out this spring?
JH: We still have to talk about that. And really when we say back off we mean just start guys out a little slower and think about their progression into the year as it relates to a seven-month season. I think that's a change for a lot of teams when they get into that competitive part of their timeline, they hope to be playing that extra month. We keep that in mind as we start the spring and talking through it now when everything is calm. It's important to have those conversations on the front end.
Q: In that regard, what's your stance on six-man rotations even if it's just one time through, not necessarily for weeks or months?
JH: I think it can make sense. I think it's important not to rule things out. If you run into a period of the season where you're playing 21 days in a row or something like that it can be worth it. Sometimes after a rain out it makes sense if there is a doubleheader that backs you up, so we're not opposed to it.
Q: Do you envision Javier Baez being ready to play in the outfield right away?
JH: That's what spring training is for. We'll give him a lot of time out there and we'll move him around. His play in the outfield in spring training and how well it comes together will determine that. Joe has shown a willingness to take a risk and put guys in different spots, but we always want to make sure guys are ready. We'll spend a lot of time working to see if he is ready.
Q: Where does Chris Coghlan fit now?
JH: We look at it as the team on paper or lineup on paper doesn't always end up happening. Chris has been great for us for two straight years against right-handed pitching. He's been a big contributor to our success and I think that will continue. It will play out.
Q: I know it's early, still but how often do you envision Kyle Schwarber catching? Once a week?
JH: That's another thing we're going to spend a lot of time talking through at the outset. He's coming to camp with the pitchers and catchers and he'll work hard. We'll come up with the right balance for our team and his future. We want his bat in the lineup, so that balance is something we have to talk through over the next seven-eight weeks. To be determined.
JH: Kind of like with Coghlan or Baez, with depth comes questions how guys fit in if everyone is healthy. We feel like our job is to build a team to survive the marathon of the season and hopefully into the postseason. Those things will work out. We have a lot of guys that can start in the big leagues and I'm sure a lot of those guys will make starts for the Cubs next year.
Q: You guys have talked about improving your outfield defense. Are you kind of saving a roster spot for a lock-down late inning defensive guy out there, like a Matt Szczur?
JH: We're big fans of Matt Szczur. He rode the Iowa/Chicago shuttle far too much and it was hard for him to find a groove. He's a guy that's always been a great defender in the minor leagues. Great makeup, great teammate. He can do a lot of those things. I think Matt can be that guy.
Q: I've found it interesting this offseason how you guys have talked about finding the ways where things can go wrong this year, whereas in the past it was simply about finding some more wins. Is that just a continual thing here with a good team moving forward, where can it go off the tracks?
JH: That's a big part of our thinking. One thing we know is the season is going to have so many twists and turns, that's the one thing we do know. Nothing is smooth. You might end up in the right place but it's not going to be a perfectly linear path to get there. You kind of prepare yourself for the unexpected and how you're going to handle those things. The magic carpet ride really doesn't happen. You have to think through all the different things that could go wrong. We tried to do that with depth this offseason. But you never know.
Q: Isn't that what's great about the game? The twists and turns of a long season? Many might be able to predict where you'll end up but I doubt anyone can really guess how you'll get there. Which player will have a career year and things like that?
JH: No question. Sometimes reality is better than fiction. What happens over the next seven-eight months, no one can predict what will happen or how we'll get there. Our goal is to repeat that second-half success, but it won't be easy. We did finish in third place, so we have a lot of work to do.
Q: OK, last thing. Last year you predicted your beloved Patriots would win the Super Bowl by four points and you were spot on. They didn't make it this year, but let's see if you can get it right again.
JH: I'm going to go with the Panthers by a touchdown. It just feels like they're the team this year. They had it going the entire year. They've looked fantastic. I'm going to predict a low-scoring kind of game. I'll say 24-17, Panthers.