Cubs

Playing Stupid: The Year in Cubs Quotes

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Playing Stupid: The Year in Cubs Quotes

The Cubs notched 97 wins, beat the Pirates in an unforgettable wild-card game and went through almost 500 bottles of champagne after eliminating the hated Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs might have produced the National League’s Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year and Cy Young Award winner. Not bad for a team that projected to win around 85 games, according to the front office’s preseason simulations, after five straight fifth-place finishes.

The Cubs turned the home clubhouse into a nightclub with a smoke machine and DJ lighting, plowed ahead with the modernization of their iconic stadium and became a go-to team for national television again.

The Cubs are already being anointed as World Series favorites for next year.

What just happened? The 2015 Cubs in their own words:

“We’re going to win the NL Central. Quote me on that.” – first baseman Anthony Rizzo, appearing at a West Side elementary school before Cubs Convention, Jan. 15.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“The Cubs will win as a team in 2015.” – Hall of Famer Billy Williams, remembering how Ernie Banks would frame a season with a rhyme, delivering a eulogy at Mr. Cub’s funeral, Jan. 31.

“It’s always sunny in Chicago, right? I’m very optimistic about it. I’m not here to make any bold predictions, except that every spring I go to camp, I expect to go to the playoffs. I do not like playoff baseball beginning and I’m in the backyard cooking steaks. I hate that. I want everybody else cooking steaks while we’re playing baseball in October.” – manager Joe Maddon, Feb. 19. 

“We’re all watching the same movie. The trades at the middle of last summer were really kind of the end of the beginning for us. We’re looking forward (to) winning now. … We feel like this is the year where we’re going to start to show our results.” – chairman Tom Ricketts, Feb. 25.

“I’ve been impressed with our coaches and our players and everything on a daily basis to a point where – I mean this in the most complimentary way – it’s like running a collegiate baseball program. It’s like running almost an amateur group that’s trying to become professionals. And because of that, it made me think the other day it’s almost like ‘Cub University.’ Or ‘The Cub University.’ … We really promote liberal arts. We’re a liberal arts education in baseball. … Nobody’s on scholarship. It’s a non-scholarship university. There’s no entitlement program here whatsoever. It’s all earned. E-A-R-N-E-D.” – Maddon – forget it, he’s rolling – March 7.

“It’s nice to have a bulldog working for you rather than a poodle.” – third baseman Kris Bryant, defending super-agent Scott Boras, as his service-time issue exploded into a huge national story, March 18.

“I actually put it in Google Maps and typed in ‘Oakland Athletics spring training complex.’ It took me to the old one. I know, it’s crazy, but, yeah, that pretty much sums it up. A crazy, crazy way to start a day.” – Edwin Jackson, making the wrong impression during a 14-2 loss and explaining why he showed up late to Hohokam Stadium, the remodeled facility where the Cubs trained for 17 years, March 24. (The $52 million pitcher would be released in late July.)

“I’m excited, man. It looks like Baghdad, but still you know there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow there.” – pitcher Jason Hammel, looking forward to playing in the Wrigleyville construction zone, April 1.

“Nothing is going to get in the way of us trying to grow the Cubs and put us in a position to be contenders every year and win a world championship. So if you’re just loyal to that notion, then you don’t have room to fall into the trap of backing from things that are unpopular or inconvenient or uncomfortable. If you just do what’s best for the Cubs, always think of the Cubs first, put them in the best position, things will work out.” – president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, April 1.

[MORE: Cubs got their money's worth with Joe Maddon at the mic]

“Basically, my job is fill a wheelbarrow with money, take it to Theo’s office, and dump it.” - president of business operations Crane Kenney, quoted in a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story, April 1.

“Opening Day at Wrigley Field has always brought challenges with restroom wait times. Last night was particularly extreme. Two bathrooms in the upper deck went down temporarily, forcing fans downstairs where we already were experiencing issues with long wait times. With 35,000 fans showing up in the ballpark, we were simply not prepared to handle guests during peak periods. We have high standards for service and we missed the mark. We want to apologize to our fans for the huge inconvenience. Moving forward, we plan to supplement the existing restrooms with additional portable units and will continue to monitor wait times to ensure we can service our guests appropriately.” – statement from team spokesman Julian Green, April 6.

“Halftime at a Bears game bad.” – message from Cubs fan, describing the bathroom disaster, April 6.

“Hopefully, our team is what you want to talk about – not bathroom lines or porta-potties.” – general manager Jed Hoyer, April 8.

“I shed a few tears. My heart got heavy. I feel like I’m listening to a Tim McGraw or a Justin Moore country song. When they make you cry, that’s when you know when they got you.” – Mike Bryant, before his son’s big-league debut, April 17.

“I used to play for the Cubs, come on! I’m all for reinvigorating. It would be an international story if the Cubs win. I didn’t say we wouldn’t want to be a part of it. I’d love to go to the World Series and have like seven guys playing on the team.” – Boras, before Addison Russell’s big-league debut, April 21.

“I had enough. I had enough. I had enough. It was the whole game. It was egregiously bad. I mean, you cannot permit that to happen. We’re trying to ascend. And we’re not going to take that from anybody, anywhere, at any time. We play a veteran club with some veteran battery and you got guys that barely have a month in the big leagues. I’m not going to take it. Our guys deserve equal treatment. And I’m not going to take it. … We’re trying to get something done here. And I’m not going to permit our guys to get shortchanged based on the fact that they haven’t been here a long time.” – Maddon, sending a message to his clubhouse and the umpires in St. Louis, May 6.

[ALSO: Cubs take down Wrigley Field marquee for maintenance]

“If we do more ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ I promise you will be on it. You have my word.” - Jeff Garlin, crashing Maddon’s pregame media session in San Diego, May 21.

“When we were younger, we used to call him ‘Silk,’ because he was so smooth with everything he did.” – Bryce Harper, Washington’s potential MVP winner, on growing up with Bryant in Las Vegas, May 25.

“I don’t want us to take the fight there by acting like a punk. I don’t want that at all. I want us to take the fight there by playing the game properly and hard and fundamentally sound. You know that we’re coming after you – that’s what I want. I don’t want us to take a page out of ‘Major League’ and flamboyantly flip a bat after a long home run. I don’t want that at all. That has nothing to do with us ascending.” – Maddon, after Junior Lake almost sparked a bench-clearing brawl in Miami, June 3.

“There’s probably not another city that’s dying for a World Series more than Chicago. I think everybody would probably agree with me on that. That’s special. It’s absolutely special.” – David Price, sounding like the Cy Young Award winner already had a free-agent destination in mind, June 10.

“I am a badass.” – Tsuyoshi Wada, parroting a Maddon line, even though the Japanese lefty didn’t really know what it meant after beating the Indians, June 17.

“Strop is on his way out, pointing toward the heavens. We can only ask – or wonder – that he is asking some departed relative for forgiveness for this atrocious performance.” – MLB Network broadcaster Bob Costas, ripping Pedro Strop’s performance against the Cardinals, June 26.

“We all make mistakes. I’m not going to judge him just because he made a mistake.” – Strop, after Costas staked out the reliever and apologized in the lobby of the team’s St. Louis hotel, June 28.

[MORE: Cubs, Royals and the myth/reality of a World Series blueprint] 

“I try to stay as far away from that (as possible). That stuff makes me nervous. I don’t want him to take my wallet.” – outfielder Matt Szczur, after seeing Simon the Magician’s act inside Citi Field’s visiting clubhouse, June 30.   

“‘Disappointed’ is kind of a loaded word. Would we have liked to have hit a home run of a deal? Yeah, absolutely. But if you’re dead set on making a big deal for the sake of making a big deal, you end up making a bad deal.” – Epstein, after the July 31 trade deadline.

“This is going to sound really bad, but I’ve always been a big believer in playing stupid. Being naïve. I saw it with the Rays in 2008. They were naïve to the situation. They had nothing to lose. We have nothing to lose. We’re not supposed to win. We’re supposedly still in the rebuilding stages. If we make the playoffs, that’s just an added bonus. I like that. I like (how) we’re not really the underdog, but we’re (also) not really expected to do anything.” – pitcher Jon Lester, Aug. 3.

“It’s very easy for people to just think they’re a genie and that they just know the future. That’s natural, because you look at the pieces, you go: ‘Whoa, we’re good this year and look at this – we have control of X-amount of (players) for the next (several) years.’ People don’t understand that there are very few people in the game that put up consistent numbers and continually produce and stay healthy. … There has to be (a sense of urgency): ‘Hey, we’re not guaranteed we’re going to be back here tomorrow.’ Because I don’t know if this guy’s going to stay healthy next year – and I don’t know if he’s going to put up the same year that he put up this year. Everybody just assumes you’re just going to continue to get better and better and better. That’s the hope for everybody. But everybody has a plateau. And nobody knows their plateau.” – outfielder Chris Coghlan, Aug. 15.

“Tall boy. It wasn’t even drank all the way.” – outfielder Kyle Schwarber, after getting a welcome-to-Chicago beer can thrown at him during a win over the White Sox on the South Side, Aug. 15.

“You should’ve shotgunned it. That would have been awesome. You would have got points from me. You should have shotgunned it and then went over there and found him. I tell you what: I’d hate to try to wrap up Kyle Schwarber. I guarantee you that whoever threw that beer doesn’t want (any) part of Kyle Schwarber. I promise you that one.” – catcher David Ross, Aug. 15.

[MORE CUBS: Are North Siders already 2016 World Series favorites?]

“It’s kind of ideal for the free-agent dynamic, because he’s a brilliant talent, and he’s had to utilize fewer innings to find the station of a No. 1 pitcher. And I think we can say that about Jake Arrieta. He’s reached the status of a No. 1 pitcher.” – Boras, talking up yet another Cubs client inside his Dodger Stadium luxury suite, Aug. 28.

“Too much cleavage?” – Arrieta, beginning his press conference by looking down at the open buttons on his gray striped onesie covered in moustaches – after throwing a no-hitter against the Dodgers on “Sunday Night Baseball,” Aug. 30.

“We’re together. We push for everyone. I don’t push for myself only. I don’t push for Latin (players) only. I push for all (my teammates). I push for (the whole team), because we want to win. We come in here, and we’re having fun. We’re jumping around. One goal: It’s play baseball and keep winning. This is an awesome time right now. And I think we got this.” – Starlin Castro, three-time All-Star shortstop, reinventing himself as a second baseman and keeping his head up after Russell took his job, Sept. 12.

“I’m really disappointed in what the Cardinals did right there. Absolutely. We did not hit their guy on purpose at all. It was an absolute mistake. There was no malicious intent on Dan Haren’s part. None. So to become this vigilante group that all of a sudden wants to get their own pound of flesh, that’s absolutely insane, ridiculous and wrong. Furthermore, we don’t start stuff, but we will stop stuff. … Furthermore, in the ninth inning, they were playing behind us and we were leading by five runs. The next time they do it, we’re going to run. I want everybody to know that. I never read that particular book that the Cardinals wrote way back in the day. I was a big Branch Rickey fan, but I never read this book the Cardinals have written on how to play baseball. … I don't give a crap about that book. … I have no history with the Cardinals except that I used to love ‘em as a kid growing up. Right now, that really showed me a lot today in a negative way. I don’t know who put out the hit. I don’t know if Tony Soprano was in the dugout. I didn’t see him in there. We’re not gonna put up with that from them or anybody else.” – Maddon, Sept. 18.

“Right now, Starlin is remarkably into the moment, and I love it. That error today was not his fault. That was a bad hop. Since the AC/DC concert, we’ve had a little bit of trouble. I don’t know if they were out there taking groundballs before the game or they had like nine-inch heels or spikes. But they have totally messed up our infield.” – Maddon, Sept. 21.

“I have no problem with any of that (happening at Wrigley Field). Zero. Zilch. Nada. That was an attempt at weak humor yesterday, so I was guilty of that, and I can be very weak at times. Regarding the bad hop, I have no problem with the concert whatsoever. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.” – Maddon, (probably after getting a lecture from the bosses upstairs), Sept. 22.

[RELATED: Jon Lester delivered in Year 1 of megadeal]

“Hopefully, this is the flip of a new generation of Cubs fans and Cubs players and an organization where we can do this every year.” – Rizzo, celebrating at Wrigley Field after a playoff spot had been clinched, Sept. 26.

“I was talking upstairs with Eddie (Vedder). This is like our first record. You put that record out and then things blow up and it’s a whole different time of innocence and exceeding expectations and bursting on the national scene. But these guys care so much about each other. Maybe it’ll get more complicated as time goes by. But I don’t think it will get any less special.” – Epstein, after the Cubs beat the Cardinals in the first playoff series in a rivalry that began 123 years ago, Oct. 13.

“Don’t take it for granted.” – catcher Miguel Montero, after the Cubs reached the NLCS and got swept by the Mets, Oct. 21.

“Managing success can be really difficult. You have to be really careful that you don’t have an organizational arrogance that takes hold or a sense of entitlement or a sense of complacency. But I don’t even think we’re there yet. We’ll deal with that after we win a World Series. We are not there yet. All we did was finally get to October, knock off the Pirates and win a series at home against the Cardinals. But we fell short of our ultimate goal. There’s so much that we have to do to just maintain the level that we accomplished this year, let alone improve upon it and then win the ultimate prize. Nothing is promised in this game. Nothing is promised in life. There are teams that think they have these surefire five-year windows (and) have often seen them slam shut in front of them through bad luck or bad performance or bad decision-making. We don’t take anything for granted. We have to work our tails off to get back to a position where we have another shot at October.” – Epstein, Oct. 22.

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

MESA, Ariz. — You don’t need to spend long searching the highlight reels to figure out why Javy Baez goes by “El Mago.”

Spanish for “The Magician,” that moniker is a fitting one considering what Baez can do with his glove and his arm up the middle of the infield. The king of tags, Baez also dazzles with his throwing arm and his range. He looks like a Gold Glove kind of player when you watch him do these amazing things. And it’s no surprise that in his first media session of the spring, he was talking about winning that award.

“Just to play hard and see what I can do. Obviously, try to be healthy the whole year again. And try to get that Gold Glove that I want because a lot of people know me for my defense,” he said Friday at Cubs camp. “Just try to get a Gold Glove and stay healthy the whole year.”

Those high expectations — in this case, being the best defensive second baseman in the National League — fall in line with everything the rest of the team is saying about their own high expectations. It’s been “World Series or bust” from pretty much everyone over the past couple weeks in Mesa.

Baez might not be all the way there just yet. Joe Maddon talked earlier this week about his reminders that Baez needs to keep focusing on making the easy plays while staying a master of the magnificent.

“What I talked to him about was, when he had to play shortstop, please make the routine play routinely and permit your athleticism to play. Because when the play requires crazinesss, you’re there, you can do that,” Maddon said. “But this straight up ground ball three-hopper to shortstop, come get the ball, play it through and make an accurate throw in a routine manner. Apparently that stuck. Because he told me once he thought in those terms, it really did slow it down for him. And he did do a better job at doing that.”

But the biggest question for Cubs fans when it comes to Baez is when the offense will catch up to his defense. Baez hit a game-winning homer run in his first major league game and smacked 23 of them last season, good for fifth on a team full of power bats. But arguably just as famous as Baez’s defensive magic is his tendency to chase pitches outside of the strike zone. He had 144 strikeouts last season and reached base at a .317 clip. Seven Cubs — including notable struggling hitters Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — had higher on-base percentages in 2017.

Baez, for one, is staying focused on what he does best, saying he doesn’t really have any specific offensive goals for the upcoming season.

“I’m not worrying about too much about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to play defense, and just let the offense — see what happens.”

Maddon, unsurprisingly, talked much more about what Baez needs to do to become a better all-around player, and unsurprisingly that included being more selective at the plate.

“One of the best base runners in the game, one of the finest arms, most acrobatic, greatest range on defense, power. The biggest thing for me for him is to organize the strike zone,” Maddon said. “Once he does that, heads up. He’s at that point now, at-bat wise, if you want to get those 500, 600 plate appearances, part of that is to organize your zone, accept your walks, utilize the whole field, that kind of stuff. So that would be the level that I think’s the next level for him.”

Will Baez have a season’s worth of at-bats to get that done? The versatile Cubs roster includes a couple guys who split time between the infield and outfield in Zobrist and Ian Happ. Getting their more consistent bats in the lineup might mean sacrificing Baez’s defense on certain days. Baez, of course, also has the ability to slide over to shortstop to spell Addison Russell, like he did when Russell was on the disabled list last season.

Until Baez learns how to navigate that strike zone a bit better, it might make Maddon more likely to mix and match other options, rather than considering him an everyday lock like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

But like Russell, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras, Baez is one of the young players who despite key roles on a championship contender the last few years still have big league growth to come. And Maddon thinks that growth is right around the corner.

“I want to believe you’re going to see that this year,” Maddon said. “They’ve had enough major league at-bats now, they should start making some significant improvements that are easy to recognize. The biggest thing normally is pitch selection, I think that’s where it really shows up. When you have talented players like that, that are very strong, quick, all that other stuff, if they’re swinging at strikes and taking balls, they’re going to do really well. And so it’s no secret with Javy. It’s no secret with Addy. Addy’s been more swing mode as opposed to accepting his walks. That’s part of the maturation process with those two guys. Albert I thought did a great job the last month, two months of getting better against righties. I thought Jason looked really good in the cage today. And Willson’s Willson.

“The natural assumption is these guys have played enough major league at-bats that you should see something different this year in a positive way.”

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.