Cubs

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Cubs

From chairman Tom Ricketts to team president Theo Epstein to manager Joe Maddon, the Cubs will have a ready-made answer to any questions this spring about the franchise's business operations, baseball decisions and in-game strategy: We won the World Series.

That will wear off eventually, but the honeymoon period will continue on Tuesday, when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona and the Cubs ramp up preparations to defend their title.

We already have a clear idea of what the Opening Day roster should look like, but even in a camp without much open competition for jobs or any of the 1908 anxiety, this team will never be boring, because there’s too much interest, personality and history.

With that in mind, here are five Cubs who will be under the microscope in Mesa:

• The Game 7 questions have been asked and answered, on WSCR-AM 670, the team’s flagship radio station, at a Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center event with Fox Sports insider Ken Rosenthal, at the winter meetings, at Maddon’s "Thanksmas" dinner for the Chicago homeless and again at Cubs Convention.  

There's absolutely no need to rehash those decisions. But it will be interesting to see how much repair work, if any, Maddon has to do inside the clubhouse, the way he reprograms his message and if some of the gimmicks begin to get a little stale.

"Whatever he goes with, we go with," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "He's the one who makes this team what it is. He's the one who's come in and completely changed this culture, made us winning players, made us believe in ourselves. The clubhouse we have is not (the same) without Joe."

 

• Except for a post-election "#beatit" tweet that he said was misinterpreted, Jake Arrieta purposely kept a low profile this winter, skipping the late-night talk-show circuit that promoted so many of his teammates.

"My main concern was to get home and relax with my family," Arrieta said. "It was such an emotional rollercoaster that we wanted to enjoy the parade – and by the way that might have been the coolest part of the whole process for me.

"But, yeah, I wanted to decompress and start to like reflect on some (stuff) and just enjoy it with my family. There were so many people pulling us in different directions and I just said 'no' to everybody. That's the way I wanted to do it.

"The guys that did it (were) hilarious (and it was) well-deserved. I'm glad that a bunch of our guys did those kinds of things. But I just decided not to." 

Given the stakes in his final season before becoming a free agent – super-agent Scott Boras has compared him to another Cy Young Award-winning client, $210 million Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer – every Arrieta bullpen session, simulated game and Cactus League start can be viewed through that prism.

• Videos of Jason Heyward working on his revamped swing went viral this winter, and everyone around the team will be curious to see how he rebounds from the worst offensive season of his career and if the Cubs can salvage their $184 million investment.   

But beyond the Gold Glove defense, attention to detail and sense of calm that helped shape their identity, the Cubs may have discovered a more vocal presence – and not just a leader by example – when Heyward called a players-only meeting in a Progressive Field weight room during that Game 7 rain delay in Cleveland.     

"It was time to say something," Heyward said. "We all did a great job of stepping up, saying our piece and doing our part when it came to certain things in that season. Right there, it was kind of my time.

"I felt moved to say something. It brought us together at that time. It allowed other guys to speak up, too, and say what they were feeling and kumbaya a little bit.

"Just go play baseball and have fun and do what we're capable of doing."

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• The Cubs have pulled off the unbelievably difficult trick of winning now while still developing young talent for later and think they have options to replace Dexter Fowler – who signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals – in center field and at the top of their lineup.

Will Albert Almora Jr. – who usually puts on a show in spring training – grab the job or settle into more of a center-field timeshare with Jon Jay?   

 

"That’s really Joe’s job," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "How the playing time is divided up is largely going to be based on how the guys are performing. We're a team that expects to win a lot of games (this) year and it’s a performance-driven game.

"I love the balance of the two of them. And certainly with Albert, he's a guy that we see as our center fielder of the future. It's important for him to develop in the big leagues and get a chance to face all kind of pitchers.

"But ultimately this game does come down to performance. And I think we've given Joe two really good options in center field."   

• Kyle Schwarber will be impossible to miss, as the World Series folk hero, unconventional leadoff hitter, wannabe catcher and the dude shattering windshields in the parking lot during batting practice.

"How do you describe Schwarber?" catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello said. "A legend at 23 years old or whatever it is? He's the biggest name in Chicago. I mean, I don't know what to say about it. He's the greatest kid I've ever been around. He's wise beyond his years. And he's so in love with the game of baseball."