Cubs

Dale Sveum laid down the law in Cubs camp

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Dale Sveum laid down the law in Cubs camp

MESA, Ariz. Dale Sveum has been inside the interview roomdungeon where the Cubs manager will have to face the media. He checked it out trying to find space for pinch-hitters to get ready during games. The pillars were in a bad spot.

We searched a lot of little places, Sveum said. There was just nothing where you could get a full swing anywhere, unless you went out on the concourse.

Sveum doesnt want to hear excuses about day baseball or Wrigley Fields facilities. The first-year manager is looking for answers.

So as the clubhouse guys loaded bags onto the orange moving truck parked outside HoHoKam Stadium on Saturday Sveum was supposed to get his chopper on there it seemed like a good time to look at the imprint hes put on this team.

Hes got more tattoos than most managers, pitcher Ryan Dempster said. I cant see Lou (Piniella) riding into the field on a Harley.

Sveum has been the hot prospect who had to make it as a utility guy. He recovered from a freak leg injury and lasted 12 seasons in the big leagues. He was willing to become a bullpen catcher to stick around with the 1998 New York Yankees and get to the World Series.

This is someone the Cubs want to ride with.

Hes been through it all in his career, utility man Jeff Baker said. When you see guys that have a lot of experience and a lot of perspective on that stuff, they are even keel. Its 162 games. Youre going to have your ups. Youre going to have your downs. The worst thing as a player is when you have a manager that rides that rollercoaster.

When youre doing well, everythings great. (And) if the team goes into a slump and youre not playing well, its disappointing when you see the manager get off you or get bummed.

You really dont get that feeling with Skip this year. Hes going to ride with you. He knows theres going to be good times. He knows theres going to be bad times. He understands how hard this game is.

Sveums normal routine in Arizona began by waking up around 4 a.m. and working out at the teams complex before the players walked into the clubhouse. It had all been scripted out long before then.

Theres no: What are we doing today? pitcher Randy Wells said. Theres no guessing.

Veteran left-hander Paul Maholm who had spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates felt a sense of urgency in Camp Sveum.

Guys on a consistent basis were here early, every morning, getting extra work in, Maholm said. When games start, guys are busting it. You dont see a lot of guys that are just kind of taking it like, Oh, its spring training.

Thats (Sveums) personality: You work hard. You play hard. Have fun later.

You just respect a guy for coming in and kind of laying it down and saying this is how were going to play and this is what I expect.

That sense of structure and purpose began with individual player meetings run by Sveum, team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer at the beginning of camp.

One of the things he focused on in the interview is spring training (as) a tone-setter, Hoyer said. Thats where you build the makeup of your team about having that attention to detail and creating some camaraderie, too. Its not only about being a drill sergeant.

Sveum, whose late father was a Marine, believes its a sign of weakness to show emotion in the dugout. When things do go wrong, he will be able to lean on people he trusts, because he had a voice in choosing his coaching staff.

Everybody stresses fundamentals in spring training. But maybe its hammered home harder this time because Sveum and his new coaches Jamie Quirk (bench), Chris Bosio (pitching) and Dave McKay (first base) have 101 combined seasons of experience as a major-league player or coach.

Dales done a great job of setting the tone for detail, hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said. He teaches the game really well in every phase. We got some great coaches with a lot of experience. Thats real vital. Theyve been on championship teams, in the World Series.

Sveum views himself as a teacher, and still plans to be hands-on around the cage and in the video room, even as the demands on his time multiply. At least he wont have to be out there spinning negative stories about Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano.

This has been a distraction-free zone, and welcoming toward the players of the future.

Dale is a pretty straightforward guy, top prospect Brett Jackson said. Hes so knowledgeable about the game. He wants you want to come out every day and bust your butt.

Some people ask: Why do you act so comfortable? You havent even been on the team yet. Well, I wouldnt want to act like I was uncomfortable. But the real answer is: Its an easy coaching staff to be comfortable with. Its an easy team to be comfortable with.

Sveum doesnt particularly enjoy talking about himself, but its not like he dreads talking to the media. Once the Cubs get back to Wrigley Field for Wednesdays workout, he will almost certainly be asked about changing the culture, as if no one had thought to ask that question the past six weeks.

That statement is kind of oblivious to me, Sveum said, because I wasnt here, so I dont know what the culture was. We all know that its been a long time since the Cubs have won a World Series. But in the meantime, I dont know whats gone on here.

I just wanted to bring in my two cents and get people to do things the way I expect them to do and how I expect them to play the game. Everybodys had a great spring that way. Guys have played hard and worked hard. So I cant ask for anything else.

There is approximately two-and-a-half days left in camp before the Cubs board their charter flight back to Chicago. Well see if there will be a carryover effect. There will be more heat from the fans and the media. Cracks in the foundation will begin to show. That interview room will feel a lot smaller.

Youre going to get more frustrating questions and youre going to get questions that are second-guessing you on a daily basis, Sveum said. Thats the nature of the business. I can sit here and say anything I want about it. But I havent been in that hot seat yet.

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

There may not be a player in baseball more exciting to watch than Javier Báez.

Whether at the plate, in the field or on the bases, Báez is a human highlight real. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in baseball; he has a cannon for an arm, exemplary defensive range and is a tagging maestro. He’s a dynamic baserunner who uses his elite baseball instincts to go station-to-station while magically avoiding tags along the way.

Yeah, there’s a reason Báez is known as “El Mago.” It’s not a matter of if he’ll make an incredible play each game, but a matter of when. Things come easy for the 27-year-old full of flair who makes the most difficult plays seem routine.

Báez is a career .270/.310/.484 hitter who’s hit 110 home runs in parts of six big-league seasons. One of those long balls came in his big-league debut (Aug. 5, 2014), a go-ahead blast against the Rockies in the 12th inning. The legend of El Mago was born.

Báez is the Cubs starting shortstop, though that hasn’t always been the case. Starlin Castro was the starter in 2014; Addison Russell claimed the title from Castro in the second half of 2015, holding it down until late in the 2018 season. Russell hit the injured list that August as the Cubs simultaneously acquired Daniel Murphy in an attempt to jump-start the offense.

By the time Russell returned, Báez was a clear-cut NL MVP candidate. The latter still bounced around the infield from time-to-time, but with Murphy entrenched at second, shortstop became Báez’s primary position. He’s been the starter ever since.

Báez has played 2,646 2/3 career innings at shortstop compared to 1,856 at second base (and 629 1/3 at third). He’s exclusively a shortstop these days, but the El Mago second base days aren’t forgotten.

Báez was the co-recipient of the 2016 NLCS MVP award (along with Jon Lester) and has started back-to-back All-Star Games (2018 at second, 2019 at shortstop). He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL MVP award, posting career highs across the board: .290/.326/.554, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 129 OPS+.

And yet, it feels like Báez is only getting started. Nevertheless, his career to date has more than earned him a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team at second base. With that, we'll leave you with this:

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

You saw this one coming, right?

As the Cubs’ longest tenure player, Anthony Rizzo was a shoo-in for this group. He hasn’t relinquished his starting first baseman job since making his Cubs debut in June 2012. The guy’s longevity alone is impressive.

But besides that, Rizzo has been a model of consistency during his time on the North Side. Since 2012, he’s hit 217 home runs (averaging 27 per season) and hit 32 three times from 2014-17. The lone exception? 2015, when he hit 31. So close…

As a Cub, Rizzo is a .277/.376/.496 hitter with a 132 OPS+. He produces at a high clip each season, whether he’s hitting third, cleanup or leadoff, all while simultaneously playing stellar defense. The 30-year-old is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner (2016, 2018-19).

Rizzo is the guy who comes up huge in key moments but will be there to address the media after tough losses. He’s the de facto captain of the Cubs, the guy who suffered a nasty ankle sprain in September that could have ended his regular season. Instead, he returned four days later for a key series against the rival Cardinals, as the Cubs were fighting to keep their October dreams alive.

When he’s not leading his team on the field, Rizzo is giving back to the community off of it. He’s one of the most charitable athletes in the world and recently raised $1.3 million for children’s cancer research at his “8th annual Walk-off for Cancer” in his home state of Florida.

Rizzo was the first building block of the Cubs core which snapped their infamous 108-year championship drought, but he’ll be remembered for more than that. He’s a leader on and off the field, the clear choice for starting first baseman on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Derrek Lee, Bryan LaHair