Cubs

The Cubs, Konerko and the game of expectations

686766.png

The Cubs, Konerko and the game of expectations

MESA, Ariz. Paul Konerko is a cerebral player who speaks in full paragraphs, but one line stood out: This could be a very successful year without making the playoffs.

It doesnt really matter if the White Sox are All In or not, but the captains words went out into the echo chamber. Just like in political primaries, its all about managing expectations.

After a winter spent looking toward the future, the Cubs have changed the narrative in Arizona. New president Theo Epstein, first-year manager Dale Sveum and Pacific Coast League MVP Bryan LaHair have essentially said the same thing: This is a team that can win the World Series.

Perhaps the Cubs could be looked at in a different light with Wednesdays reports that Major League Baseball and the players union are getting close to adding an extra wild card in each league.

But in listening to people around the team the past two weeks, you get the sense that things could immediately get better in 2012, not just in some hazy distant future where theyre selling The Cubs Way books and Theo-logy T-shirts out of the Triangle buildingMcDonalds lot on Clark Street.

Privately, one player admitted that the Cubs are in a great position, simply because they can play loose and surprise everyone. If theyre bad, well, no one expected them to do anything anyway.

Several have said this is a team that will play for each other, that a clubhouse without Carlos Zambrano will be a better place and a distraction-free zone.

They point to how the Tampa Bay Rays have shocked the world. They remind you that no one expected the Cincinnati Reds to win the division in 2010, or the Arizona Diamondbacks to go from worst-to-first last season.

Rebuilding is one of those terms that the media uses, but every year you come to play to win, new outfielder David DeJesus said. Baseballs one of those things that if everyone comes together (and) fights for the same thing, it makes for a fun year. Who knows what can happen out there?

To be clear, Mike Quade promised to drive home fundamentals last year. And Lou Piniella didnt enter the Hall of Fame discussion by stressing sloppy, careless play.

But maybe some of the details stick this time. Between Sveum and his new coaches Jamie Quirk (bench), Chris Bosio (pitching) and Dave McKay (first base) they have 101 combined seasons of experience as a major-league player or coach.

The Cubs also feel like they will have a credible starting pitcher on the mound every night, no matter who grabs the final two spots, and even if injuries hit the rotation again.

Jeff Samardzija who believes he belongs in the rotation understands how the hype can get out of control, as both a Chicago guy and a former Notre Dame football star. Hes probably in the minority, but he actually thought the Epstein coverage wasnt over-the-top.

I feel like everybody had their heads on straight, Samardzija said. We need to understand as Cubs players and Cubs fans (what) we need to set our sights on. Saying that were going to win the World Series thats cool and thats all fun. But we need to look at having a strong start the first month of the season. (We) need to be clean early.

That way the summer rolls around and were in position to be battling to get an opportunity to make the playoffs and go on from there. We (definitely have) the guys (and) the personalities to do it. We just need to take it one step at a time.

You can wonder how some of these sensible, incremental moves would have been received on Chicagos airwaves if Jim Hendry had made them, and just how patient the fans will really be with Epsteins team after a couple of losing streaks.

The track record these guys have is proven, so theyll have some patience if there are some growing pains, utility man Jeff Baker said. (But) I dont think that learning curve or that window of having to be patient is going to be as big as people think. I know a lot of people are writing us off for this year.

I dont want to say not giving us respect, because we have to earn it. But you never know what can happen. I played on some teams in Colorado where we werent expected to do anything but finish dead last. Its amazing what happens when you get 25 guys pulling on the same end of the rope, whether youre the best (or) the worst player on the team.

A lot of things can happen from doing the little things, running the balls out. I know its a clich and everyone says that, but it really can change.

There is a lot of time to kill here, with media personalities taking pictures of other media personalities taking pictures of spring training, and then posting it on Twitter.

Its all just noise now, something to fill the air space until April 5 at Wrigley Field. Its a brutal schedule, 162 games in 182 days, with the blur of constant travel. This game will find you out.

Whats the point of playing if people are just going to decide where you finish? pitcher Ryan Dempster said. We can talk about everything in the world, but at the end of the day we got to do it out on the field.

Be ready for anything: Cubs open to all trade avenues this winter

Be ready for anything: Cubs open to all trade avenues this winter

While Cubs fans sit on the edge of their seats waiting to see if Theo Epstein's front office trades away a core player — and which guy that might be — the question has really become more of a when

Both because it seems likely Epstein shakes up this Cubs roster this winter and because there's natural curiosity about the timing of such a move. 

If the Cubs don't get the type of return they're seeking for players like Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant, they are not going to trade just for trade's sake. But it's clear the roster needs a change and the front office has also shifted a good amount of focus on the long-term future of the organization — beyond 2021, when most of the core players are set to hit free agency.

As for when a major trade may come down, there's really no indication on that front. The MLB Hot Stove season has taken longer and longer to get going in recent winters and that very much appears to be the case again this 2019-20 offseason as many teams — including the Cubs — have just recently finalized their coaching staff and key front office hires.

At the GM Meetings last week, the Cubs said they were in the early stages of any offseason moves and had just started to exchange names with other teams about who is and isn't available.

They're not pigeonholing themselves into any one avenue for how the winter will play out.

"Sometimes you get a feel for the marketplace or kernels of ideas and they end up coming true and you look back and you're like, 'ah, that feel we had really matched the whole tenor of the offseason with certain teams,'" Epstein said. "Other times, you can go through a whole Russian novel's worth of twists and turns in an offseason depending on one or two player moves or clubs changing course or being able to execute things or not execute things. 

"We'll see. I think the important thing is to keep a really open mind and be prepared for all different permutations of how things can work out."

As for what shape the trades may come in, be ready for anything. 

The Cubs have said they still have no issues trading within the division, so even in a year where they're planning on competing in the wide-open NL Central, they're more concerned with improving their organization in the long run than worrying about potentially making a rival better.

Epstein also said they're not afraid of acquiring a player with only one year of team control left, as long as it makes sense. But there's no reason right now for the Cubs to mortgage the future to go all-in on 2020.

"It just depends on the player and the fit and the acquisition cost, and everything else," Epstein said. "I think we're like every team — to one extent or another, we're trying to balance an immediate future vs. a longer-term future. We knew that as we got closer to the end of the period of club control with some of our best players, we had to be increasingly mindful of if you put the longer-term future rather than just the short-term. 

"It's a bit of a transition for us, but it doesn't mean you rule anything out, even if it's something short-term. But you try to strike that right balance."

The Cubs also insist they're not locked into adding any one specific position or type of player. For example, they're not only looking to trade for centerfielders or leadoff guys — even if both are clear areas of need in the short-term.

Anything is on the table, which makes sense considering trading a core guy would also open up a hole elsewhere on the roster. If Contreras is dealt, the Cubs could feel pretty confident about Victor Caratini sliding into a larger role, but they would obviously need more catching depth both in the short- and long-term.

"I still think we have a lot of pieces that can move around the board a bit," Jed Hoyer said. "As we think about what we're gonna do [and] have conversations the whole winter, there's a big picture element to it where I think we're not gonna be entirely married to this position or that position — making moves that make sense both long-term and short-term. 

"We do have pieces that you can move around that makes us able to do that. We don't have particular holes that we feel like we have to spend the whole winter trying to fill, but rather we can make some moves maybe a little bit more strategically."

So the Cubs are saying all the right things, but what does that mean? 

For starters, it doesn't appear any major move is approaching on the horizon and regardless of what the first trade or free agent signing is, it will be just one piece to a larger puzzle. This is shaping up to be a crucial offseason in every aspect of the organization, so the final judgement of the winter will be the most important one.

But as the Cubs try to put that puzzle together and make their big-picture plans a reality, they're not going to get sidetracked by the incessant rumors and aim to continue trying to shield their players from a similar fate.

"We can't chase down every rumor," Hoyer said. "People are gonna put stuff out there about our guys and there's definitely some clickbait opportunity about our guys. We have a lot of guys who have been All-Stars and you can put a story out pretty easily that gets clicks. 

"One of the things about our players in general is we're in a big market, they're used to having their name in trade rumors, they're used to having their names out there. I think they have a sense of what's real and what's not real. But we can't chase down every rumor. We can't deny every rumor because we know that's going to happen. We have to live with that. We're not gonna add fuel to that fire, that's for sure." 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream

Kris Bryant's big winter continues with baby announcement

bryant-811-ap.jpg
USA TODAY

Kris Bryant's big winter continues with baby announcement

Kris Bryant is in the midst of a potentially career-altering grievance case while trade rumors and contract extension talks continue to swirl around him.

Oh yeah, and he's about to be a father in April.

Talk about a life-changing winter for Bryant. 

Jess Bryant dropped a video on social media Tuesday morning showing pictures and videos of her and Kris throughout their relationship (including what looked to be a couple prom photos with a teenage "KB") and the minute-long video ended with a sonogram photo and the announcement that a baby boy is due April 2020:

Baby Bryant will be born a little over three years after Kris and Jess tied the knot.

That will be right as the regular season heats up for Bryant, who will be looking to build on a resurgent 2019 campaign that saw him hit 31 homers and post a .903 OPS while being named to the National League All-Star team and playing through persistent knee inflammation.

Bryant's long-term future with the Cubs is still in doubt but his agent, Scott Boras, confirmed they're open to listening on a contract extension and also shed some light on how unlikely it is that the Cubs would be able to recoup enough value in a deal to make trading the superstar worthwhile.

In the meantime, should we pencil Baby Bryant into the 2040 MLB top prospects list now or is that getting too far ahead of ourselves?