Cubs

Everyone will have something to prove in Cubs camp

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Everyone will have something to prove in Cubs camp

Finally, the focus will be back on the field.

This offseason revolved around executive compensation and stadium club news conferences and Albert PujolsPrince Fielder rumors that went nowhere.

Whatever the foundation for sustained success is going to look like, were about to get our first glimpse in Arizona. By the time pitchers and catchers officially report next weekend, everyone will have something to prove.

It starts at the top with chairman Tom Ricketts, who restructured the Cubs organization for a game-changing hire and now has to figure out a way to renovate Wrigley Field.

Theo Epstein has become the face of the franchise, even though that seems to be the last thing that he wants. You know the national media will descend upon Fitch Park, curious to see if the president of baseball operations will live up to the hype.

The new executives led by Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod are trying to mesh with the personnel leftover from the Jim Hendry administration (who must produce for the new boss).

First-year manager Dale Sveum is taking over a team with almost no expectations. The roster is filled with players who are coming off down years andor havent lived up to their potential.

One player laughed when asked if Cubs fans will have the patience for a total rebuilding effort. Another simply said: They have no choice.

In baseball, anything can happen, Epstein said. We might not have the most talent in the division, but I know were going to play hard, and we have young players with upside, (several) entering their prime or pre-prime years. When you have that, you can surprise a little bit.

If we stay healthy and one or two or three or four of the players we have actually takes a big developmental step forward I think you might look up and be surprised in the middle of the summer. Especially with the depth of the starting pitching we have now.

We have one advantage over some of the opponents we might face, in that we can withstand an injury or two and still throw a very reputable starting pitcher out there every day, five days around the rotation. And if our opponents in the division cant because of injuries or attrition or poor performance then we might surprise some people.

Still, the Cubs might not know exactly what theyll get from one start to the next. Paul Maholm, Chris Volstad and Travis Wood were all once first-round picks. The Cubs decided to buy low this winter.

Maholm has a 53-73 career record that can be partially explained by pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Volstad is 6-foot-8 and only 25 years old, though he went 5-13 with a 4.89 ERA last season. Wood has never put it all together for a full year in the big leagues.

This is a team with far more question than answers.

Is Ian Stewart, another former first-round pick, the third baseman who hit 25 homers for the Colorado Rockies in 2009or the guy who had zero last year? Can Bryan LaHairs monster Pacific Coast League numbers translate to the next level?

Which Geovany Soto shows up this season? Will Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano make it to August in a Cubs uniform?

Everyone will be watching to see if Starlin Castro sharpens his focus. Carlos Marmol will have to show that he still has the right stuff to be a closer. Randy Wells will have to convince a new coaching staff that he belongs in the rotation. Darwin Barney will fight to hang onto the second-base job.

No one should get too comfortable.

The Cubs have laid out a well-reasoned plan that takes the long view. The Epstein hire changed the perception of the organization and, for the moment at least, insulated everyone from the pressure to win RIGHT NOW.

It is a high-stress job and city, Sveum said. The bottom line is were trying to win every single (time) we go out there. But more importantly, were building this organization to win consistently every single year to where you have the ability to win World Series because youre consistently winning 90-plus games every year.

The Cubs talk a good game. If this really is going to an inflection point, were all about to find out.

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

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USA TODAY

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

Set your alarm, there are only three more months till baseball is back.

The Cubs announced their spring training schedule Monday, getting folks all amped up for the 34 exhibition games in February and March.

Spring game action gets started Feb. 23 out in Arizona, with the Cubs taking on the Milwaukee Brewers to kick off Cactus League play. The Cubs' first home spring game at Sloan Park in Mesa comes the next day, Feb. 24.

In addition to a 32-game Cactus League slate, the Cubs will take on the Cleveland Indians in a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas. That 2016 World Series rematch comes March 17 and 18.

And of course, there will be three meetings with the White Sox, as both Chicago teams play their spring schedule out in Arizona. Those "Cactus Crosstown" games will be played Feb. 27 and March 10 in Mesa and March 16 in Glendale.

Here's the full schedule:

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

Jake Arrieta in a Brewers uniform?

That's not a sight Cubs fans would like to see, but the North Siders' I-94 rivals are apparently keen on trying to add Arrieta, the free-agent pitcher who's been one of the National League's top arms for the past several seasons.

The Cubs have their own decision to make on whether or not they're going to pursue re-signing Arrieta, a guy who over the past three seasons has posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 589 batters, winning 54 games in 94 starts for a team that won the 2016 World Series and has advanced to three consecutive NL Championship Series.

The downside to losing Arrieta is obvious, as the Cubs would lose a huge part of their formidable starting rotation, but there would be an added downside if Arrieta were to remain in the NL Central and repeatedly haunt his former team.

Given Arrieta's track record, adding him would make sense for any team in the majors, but the Brewers in particular could use a front-of-the-line starting pitcher to boost their chances of besting the Cubs for the Central crown. The Brew Crew staged a surprising threat to do just that in 2017, perhaps proving that their rebuilding effort has yielded fruit ahead of schedule.

But there are questions in that rotation, with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time next season after having shoulder surgery. Chase Anderson was great last season, and Zach Davies was solid, too. Brewers starters posted an ERA of 4.10 on the season, good for fifth in the NL. The four teams ahead of them, including the Cubs, all made the playoffs. Adding an arm as good as Arrieta's could make the difference in jumping past the Cubs in the Central and getting the Crew to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

And it'd be a plus for the Brewers to make it so Arrieta couldn't shut down their hitters anymore. In 15 career starts against the Crew, Arrieta is 8-4 with a 2.74 ERA. However, they'd surely love to have him call Miller Park home. He's never lost there in five starts, boasting a 2.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

There's an argument to be made that Arrieta would be able to seek revenge on the Cubs no matter what team he ends up pitching for, be it an NL team facing off against the Cubs in the playoffs or an American League squad meeting the Cubs in the World Series. After all, as Scott Boras put it, signing Arrieta is a ticket to "Playoffville."

But should Arrieta make the short drive to Wisconsin and set up shop in America's Dairyland, turning the Brewers into a legitimate playoff contender and challenger to the Cubs' grip on the NL Central crown? Well, consider the Cubs-Brewers rivalry cranked up to 11.