Written by Chad Jennings, Sahadev Sharma, Patrick Mooney, and Jane McCaffrey
Chicago Cubs executive Craig Breslow is returning to the Boston Red Sox as baseball’s top executive, sources familiar with the hiring said Tuesday night, and has accepted an offer to manage the iconic team at Fenway Park.
Breslow has, until now, been assistant general manager and senior vice president of pitching for the Cubs. The 43-year-old former pitcher, who helped the Red Sox win the 2013 World Series, has revitalized the Cubs’ pitching development, an area in which the Red Sox have struggled for years.
After a search that saw Boston interview eight people inside and outside the organization following the firing of Chaim Bloom on September 14, Breslow became the front-runner last week. It is unclear at this time whether Breslow will have a second-in-command, but assistant general managers Eddie Romero, Raquel Ferreira and Mike Grubman remain in the Red Sox leadership group. Grubman and Romero interviewed for the top job and Romero is believed to be among the finalists. The Boston Globe first reported the job offer to Breslow.
Breslow will also inherit a manager in Alex Cora who has one year left on his current contract, publicly guaranteeing his job security through 2024. Breslow, who played for the Red Sox in 2006 and again from 2012-15, was a teammate of Cora’s . In 2006 Red Sox.
Accepting the top job in Boston comes with a recent history of short leashes from Red Sox ownership. None of the three previous presidents of baseball operations in Ben Cherington, Dave Dombrowski or Bloom lasted four full seasons before being fired. This warning became a looming shadow during the interview process as several candidates approached by the Red Sox declined to interview outright. By accepting the top job, Breslow will have to navigate this reality.
But Breslow also fits what the Red Sox are looking for in very specific ways. Developing the idea of a homegrown starter has been an elusive accomplishment over the past decade for the Red Sox. While Bloom fortified the Red Sox farm system, moving it from a bottom-five system when he was hired in 2019 to a top-five system, the industry consensus was that the farm system still lacked pitching depth. By targeting Breslow, the Red Sox appear ready to change that.
However, with Bloom strengthening the farm system, the big league club struggled throughout most of his tenure, finishing last in three of his four years at the helm during a trip to the American League Championship Series in 2021.
Breslow would be charged with not only continuing to develop the Red Sox’s minor league system but returning the big league club to its former heights in the AL East.
There is no doubt that Breslow is a quick learner. Although he never ran the entire baseball operations department, his wide-ranging responsibilities with the Cubs kept him connected to the farm system, the draft room, the manager’s office and the trade deadline. Considered a potential speedster when he was hired by the Cubs, Breslow quickly proved those expectations correct by moving from the ambiguous role of director of special initiatives in 2019 to managing the Cubs’ pitching development while adding the title of vice president and assistant general manager in the following years.
Over the course of Breslow’s dozen years in the major leagues, the left-handed outfielder used advanced techniques to try to expand his career. These methods, which have become prevalent in the game over the past decade, have given him a baseline for what he will begin implementing as he helps lead the Cubs’ overhaul of player development. Breslow, a Yale graduate with a double major in molecular physics and biochemistry, had amassed so much influence within the organization that he was actually serving as general manager in today’s game, giving him some leverage during the interview process with the Red Sox.
Even as a remote recruiter working out of Massachusetts, Breslow has become part of the Cubs’ inner circle.
Given Breslow’s career, signing as Boston’s No. 2 baseball executive would have seemed like a lateral move. Breslow was in constant contact with Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, general manager Carter Hawkins, manager David Ross and the major league coaching staff. This setup gave Breslow a consistent voice in daily discussions about roster and game plans.
When the Cubs wanted to make a recruiting offer for Jameson Taillon last season, Breslow was the one who met with the free agent in New York and made the offer that helped lay the foundation for a four-year, $68 million contract. Bringing first-round picks like Jordan Weeks and Cade Horton — and steering those candidates toward Wrigley Field — also brought Breslow’s experience.
The Cubs wanted Breslow to shake things up and push new initiatives, which at times created some internal friction. This is also to be expected, and is part of the larger story around the baseball industry as teams continue to incorporate more data and technology and try to find the right balance. Breslow’s mental style has not always been for everyone, and he will bring strong convictions about how the Red Sox should be run.
Theo Epstein, the architect of the World Series teams in Boston and Chicago, personally recruited Breslow to join the Cubs and hired him as director of strategic initiatives in 2019. Around that time, Epstein and Hoyer were preparing to make sweeping changes in scouting and players. development.
The Cubs were lacking in those areas, especially on the pitching side. Homegrown pitchers who were drafted or signed as international free agents by the organization — and then debuted between 2013 to 2019 — amassed a total of 178 1/3 innings during that span.
In 2023 alone, the Cubs have racked up 417 1/3 innings from pitchers who made their debut after spending a full year in Breslow’s program. That doesn’t include Cubs closer Adbert Alzolay, who developed a poor slider in 2020 at the alternate training site, a pitch that Breslow referred to as a “proof of concept” for their methods that has staying power.
When the Cubs conducted an organization-wide assessment of the evolution of their pitching style after 2018, they found some troubling trends. Quite a few of the shooters who were shooting were increasing their speed and some were slowing down. This is a thing of the past.
In 2023, the Cubs’ minor league pitchers (representing all full-season levels) ranked top in average fastball velocity and second in “stuff” metrics.
Some might argue that too much time is spent maximizing and maximizing things rather than focusing on the nuances of promotion. This is a problem across baseball and is not unique to the Cubs. Breslow stated that he sees three fundamental pillars of throwing development: speed, throwing motion/shape, and command. The process starts with maximizing speed and goes from there.
The first move was clearly a success for the Cubs. But more will be needed. With the Red Sox, Breslow’s group will have to find the right mix of maximizing talent while also teaching prospects how to really pitch. For example, the Cubs were among the worst organizations in baseball when it came to minors’ walk rate last season. Breslow will at least have an understanding of the daily grind that comes with being a top player and performing at Fenway Park.
What is undeniable is that the Cubs are turning things around after years of struggling to develop their pitching. Justin Steele will receive Cy Young Award votes after an impressive 2023 season. Javier Asad and Wicks looked impressive in the rotation and Daniel Palencia showed great potential from the bullpen. Horton is one of the best prospects in baseball, and there are more — Ben Brown, Jackson Ferris, Michael Arias — on the horizon.
Under Breslow’s direction, the Cubs have gone from one of the worst organizations in baseball when it comes to pitching development to one that is extremely interesting to outsiders.
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