What does the Chicago Cubs hiring of Carter Hawkins say about the Cleveland Guardians front office?
The Chicago Cubs have hired Cleveland Guardians Assistant General Manager Carter Hawkins. This comes after a long search by the NL team, and has some implications for Cleveland in terms of shuffling personnel, and finding a replacement for Hawkins to take over his duties assisting Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff. While it is never ideal losing a high-ranking member of the front office, it does speak volumes as to the quality that can found in that part of the Guardians organization.
Cleveland fans have been somewhat spoiled over the better part of the last decade. Although the 2021 season did not pan out as hoped, consistently contending teams have helped to keep baseball relevant into the deep reaches of September most years, if not into October. The talent that has been fielded, as well as steady leadership in the dugout under Terry Francona, has played an obviously large role in how the team has performed.
But we cannot forget the people that help to get the talent together, that brought Tito in after his time with the Red Sox, and that make the major calls on player acquisition and organizational direction. Cleveland has consistently employed innovative minds in its front office, and this has allowed the team to stay competitive, and keep pace with some of the giants of the sport since the 1990’s. Let’s look at how the front office has progressed over the last three decades, leading to the hiring of Carter Hawkins by the Cubs.
The Hank Peters Years: 1987-1991
Dick Jacobs brought Hank Peters to Cleveland in 1987 after a successful tenure with the Baltimore Orioles. Cleveland had not truly contended since the 1950’s, and Peters had netted himself a World Series with the Birds in 1983. With the combination of the Tribe and Peters, the front office of the team would be profoundly impacted. Peters, although not very long-tenured with the Indians, would bring in John Hart, and Dan O’Dowd to the organization, and essentially set the progression of the front office from the early 1990’s to the present. When Peters departed the team in 1991, Hart would take over as the General Manager, with O’Dowd serving as an assistant and core part of the team’s braintrust.
The John Hart Years: 1991-2001
Under the leadership of John Hart through the 1990’s, the Indians would make two World Series appearances, put together some of the most prolific talent of the decade, and revitalize the sport of baseball for the city of Cleveland. Under Hart and O’Dowd, the team would trade for franchise cornerstones Kenny Lofton from the Houston Astros, Omar Vizquel from the Seattle Mariners, as well as fan favorites Carlos Baerga and Sandy Alomar from the San Diego Padres. The team would also sign key veteran pieces such as Orel Hershiser, Eddie Murray, and Dennis Martinez. Players such as Jim Thome, Albert Belle, and Manny Ramirez would blossom into superstars through the 1990’s on Cleveland’s roster. Although the team would not hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy during their dominant run, they would still be one of the premier teams in the sport for the better part of the decade, netting five division championships and two American League Pennants. When Hart left the Indians organization in 2001, he opened the door for a homegrown talent to take the reins for the team.
The Mark Shapiro Years: 2001-2015
Mark Shapiro joined the Cleveland Indians in 1991, and would work his way all the way to General Manager of the team, and eventually President of Baseball Operations. Shapiro would come into the team’s orbit during the tenure of Hank Peters and John Hart, and would develop as a front office official through his time with the team during the 1990’s. Upon Hart’s departure from the team, Shapiro would be the internal candidate to replace him going forward. Although he did not take the team to a World Series berth as his predecessor did, he made some of the most significant moves in the team’s recent history, some of which are still having an impact on today’s ball club.
Cy Young winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee would be traded out of town in their prime, the team would fall a game short of the 2007 AL Pennant, and some free agent signings would not work out as planned (Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, anyone?). However, the team would acquire mainstays like Michael Brantley (in the Sabathia deal), Carlos Carrasco (in the Lee deal), and Corey Kluber through the trade pipeline. Relief pitcher Vinnie Pestano would be flipped for a young starting pitcher named Mike Clevinger (who would go on to net the Tribe one of its best trade hauls in recent memory). A couple of future front office gurus would find their homes in Cleveland’s system, and the foundation of a solid team would be kept intact for the foreseeable future. Shapiro would eventually be promoted to President in 2010, and the young front office upstart named Chris Antonetti would assume the position of General Manager for the team, helping to set the course for where the team is today.
The Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff Years: 2015-Present
In 2015, Shapiro would be hired on to be the President of the Toronto Blue Jays (taking Indians front office executive Ross Atkins with him as the new GM), leading to Antonetti being promoted to President of Baseball Operations for the Indians. With Antonetti’s promotion, Mike Chernoff would be elevated from Assistant GM to General Manager, ushering in the current regime that will usher in the Cleveland Guardians this coming season.
Under the current leadership, the Cleveland Indians (now Cleveland Guardians) have been able to stay at or near contention, while turning aging players with strong track records into the new young core of the team. Corey Kluber, as beloved as he is and as painful as his trade to Texas was, would be flipped into flame-throwing phenom Emmanuel Clase. Trevor Bauer would be sent packing to the Cincinnati Reds in 2019, netting the Tribe players like Franmil Reyes and Logan Allen. Mike Clevinger would be sent to the Padres in 2020, securing a massive haul of Gabriel Arias, Owen Miller, Austin Hedges, Josh Naylor, Joey Cantillo, and perhaps most notably Cal Quantrill.
These are just a couple of examples of the significant moves made by the current front office, and while these kinds of trades are not always palatable at the times they are executed, they help to keep an influx of talent piping into the organization. The effectiveness of Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff might be most apparent in terms of the demand other teams have for them as potential fits in their front offices. More than once they have turned away suitors who would offer them potentially more lucrative positions and larger payrolls to oversee.
Chernoff could have bolted for the bright lights of the Big Apple and the supposedly up-and-coming New York Mets, yet he chose to remain with the Indians organization. There is a strong commitment to Cleveland and the team on the part of the current braintrust, and they have helped to create a model organization in terms of effectiveness and the ability to make more with less. The synergy between owner Paul Dolan, Antonetti, Chernoff, and Terry Francona has helped to create one of the most productive vertical dynamics from the front office to the dugout in baseball, and has been instrumental in the culture of winning that has been synonymous with Cleveland in recent years.
The Meaning of Carter Hawkins Being Hired by the Cubs
Carter Hawkins joined the Indians in 2008 as a scouting intern, and had ascended to the role of Assistant GM over the course of his years with the team. When he was officially announced as the Cubs new General Manager, he was within the inner circle of decision makers towards the top of Cleveland’s front office structure. He was privy to key personnel decisions, salary negotiations, talent acquisition, and the innermost workings of the upper echelon of Cleveland’s management.
The fact that the Cubs chose to hire him, much like the Blue Jays nabbing Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins in 2015, shows the regard other teams have for the Cleveland Guardians administrative structure and overall effectiveness as a unit. What started with Hank Peters and John Hart in the late 1980’s and into the early 1990’s has helped to establish a trend of solid leadership from the top down, and a culture and expectation of winning and staying competitive.
Even now, amidst persistent murmuring that the team should tear it down and enter the quagmire of a long rebuild, those at the top have a vision to keep the team in a position to keep baseball in Cleveland interesting in September, and into October for the foreseeable future. That kind of vision, coupled with experienced and homegrown, system-oriented personnel in the front office, is what has kept Cleveland as a perennial contender as of late, and will hopefully continue to do so in the future. The Cubs knew that by hiring Hawkins, they would be getting a well-developed front office leader, who has been in one of the best systems in all of baseball with the Cleveland Guardians. The experience Hawkins takes to Chicago will serve he and the Cubs well, and is a testament to the excellence cultivated at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.