By Chad Jennings, Sahadev Sharma, Patrick Mooney and Jen McCaffrey
Chicago Cubs executive Craig Breslow is on the verge of returning to the Boston Red Sox for their top job in baseball operations, two sources briefed on the hiring process said Tuesday night, though the sides are still working through the final details as Breslow weighs the offer. The Boston Globe first reported the job offer.
Breslow, until now, had been an assistant general manager and senior vice president of pitching for the Cubs. The 43-year-old former pitcher, who helped the Red Sox win their 2013 World Series title, 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 out of the organization following the firing of Chaim Bloom on Sept. 14, Breslow became a front-runner last week. It’s unclear at the moment if Breslow will have a second-in-command, but assistant general managers Eddie Romero, Raquel Ferreira and Mike Groopman remain within the Red Sox leadership group. Groopman and Romero had interviewed for the top job with Romero thought to be among the finalists.
There is no doubt Breslow is a quick learner. Though he has never run an entire baseball operations department, his wide-ranging responsibilities with the Cubs kept him connected to the farm system, draft room, manager’s office and trade deadline. Viewed as a potential fast-mover when hired by the Cubs, Breslow quickly proved those expectations right by going from the nebulous role of director of special initiatives in 2019 to running the Cubs’ pitching development while adding a VP and assistant GM title in the following years.
Breslow pitched a dozen years in the big leagues as a left-handed reliever and utilized advanced methods to try to extend his career. Those methods, which have become prevalent across the game over the last decade, gave him a baseline on what he’d start to implement while helping lead the Cubs’ player development overhaul. A Yale grad with a double major in molecular physics and biochemistry, Breslow had amassed so much influence within the organization that he already functioned like a general manager in today’s game, which gave him some leverage during his interview process with the Red Sox.
Even as a remote employee working from Massachusetts, Breslow had become part of the Cubs’ inner circle.
Given Breslow’s career arc, signing on as the No. 2 baseball executive in Boston would have felt like a lateral move. Breslow was constantly in the loop with Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, general manager Carter Hawkins, manager David Ross and the major-league coaching staff. That setup gave Breslow a consistent voice in the day-to-day discussions around the roster and game plans.
When the Cubs wanted to make a recruiting pitch to Jameson Taillon last offseason, Breslow was the point person who met with the free agent in New York and made the presentation that helped lay the groundwork for a four-year, $68 million contract. Onboarding first-round picks such as Jordan Wicks and Cade Horton — and directing those pitching prospects toward Wrigley Field — also brought in Breslow’s expertise.
The Cubs wanted Breslow to shake things up and push new initiatives, which at times created some internal friction. That’s also to be expected, part of the larger story around the baseball industry when teams continue to integrate more data and technology and try to find the right balance. Breslow’s cerebral style wasn’t always for everyone, and he will bring strong convictions about how the Red Sox should be run.
Theo Epstein, the architect of World Series teams in Boston and Chicago, personally recruited Breslow to join the Cubs and hired him as the director of strategic initiatives in 2019. Around that time, Epstein and Hoyer were preparing to make sweeping changes in scouting and player development.
The Cubs were lacking in those areas, particularly on the pitching side. Homegrown pitchers who were either drafted or signed as international free agents by the organization — and then made their debuts between 2013 to 2019 — accumulated a total of 178 1/3 innings during that time.
In 2023 alone, the Cubs accumulated 417 1/3 innings from pitchers who debuted after spending a full year in Breslow’s program. That doesn’t include Cubs closer Adbert Alzolay, who developed a nasty slider in 2020 at the alternate training site, a pitch Breslow pointed to as “proof of concept” of their methods having staying power.
When the Cubs did an organization-wide assessment of their pitching development after 2018, they found some concerning trends. Very few pitchers they were drafting were increasing velocity and some were even slowing down. That’s a thing of the past.
In 2023, Cubs minor-league pitchers (accounting for all full-season levels) were tops in average fastball velocity and second in “stuff” metrics.
Some would argue too much time is being spent increasing and maximizing stuff rather than focusing on the nuances of pitching. That’s an issue across baseball and not unique to the Cubs. Breslow has stated he sees three primary pillars of pitching development: velocity, pitching movement/shape and command. The process starts with maximizing velocity and goes from there.
It’s clear that first step has been a success with the Cubs. But more will be needed. With the Red Sox, Breslow’s group will have to find that right mix of maximizing talent while also teaching prospects how to really pitch. The Cubs, for example, were among the worst organizations in baseball when it came to walk rate in the minors last season. Breslow will at least have an understanding of the daily grind that comes with being a big leaguer and performing at Fenway Park.
What can’t be denied is the Cubs are turning the tide after years of struggling to develop pitching. Justin Steele will earn Cy Young Award votes after a brilliant 2023 season. Javier Assad and Wicks looked impressive in the rotation and Daniel Palencia flashed potential out of the bullpen. Horton is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball and there are more — Ben Brown, Jackson Ferris, Michael Arias — on the horizon.
Under Breslow’s watch, the Cubs have gone from one of the worst organizations in baseball when it comes to developing pitching to one that has outsiders very intrigued.
(Photo: Joe Camporeale / USA Today)