Maddon on Cubs arriving early to spring training: 'It's overkill'


Maddon on Cubs arriving early to spring training: 'It's overkill'

MESA, Ariz. - The official report date for Cubs pitchers and catchers was Friday, with position players due to arrive Feb. 23.

But a lot of the Cubs couldn't wait until next week to get going.

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Jason Heyward - the Cubs' biggest acquisition of the offseason - has already been in Arizona for more than a week, while Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist were among the other position players who showed up before their report dates.

"You can only go so long without playing baseball, especially since some of the signings we've had and the excitement surrounding our team right now," Bryant said. "Who wouldn't want to come early? We're all excited to get out here and we really can't wait to get going."

Bryant also thinks the early showing in spring training is a direct result of the way the season ended for the Cubs last year.

"A lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff is good, too, just getting here early, getting our workouts in and pushing each other," Bryant said. "We're holding each other accountable.

"A lot of that comes back to how we ended last year and we didn't end the way we wanted to."

Heyward was impressed with how many younger guys showed up early and feels that speaks to how hungry everybody in the organization is.

He said he shows up early to spring training every year to get into a baseball atmosphere and Bryant believes that mindset speaks to Heyward's character.

Manager Joe Maddon, however, has a different opinion - though he did admit the eagerness and excitement of the players is admirable.

"I'm not an advocate of guys showing up early," Maddon said. "I'm actually, like, sitting in the RV, reading reports about what's happening or seeing photographs of guys working out.

"I don't think it's necessary. Come on out, maybe get a little running in, talk to the dudes, just get acclimated a bit.

"But this is all overkill as far as I'm concerned. There's plenty of time to get it down."

This is the same guy who holds "American Legion Week" in August every year, where he locks players out of the clubhouse hours before the game, stressing a need for rest and recuperation over batting practice and ground balls.

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As it stands right now, the Cubs will be working out for almost two weeks before embarking on five weeks' worth of games ahead of the season opener on April 4.

"I just don't want anybody to comment that spring training is too long," Maddon said. "They just made it longer.

"Everybody is always saying spring training is too long and then they show up two weeks too early. I don't get it. It's incredible.

"There's plenty of time. One of the parts of my message this morning to my coaching staff was we do have time to not rush anybody. The two biggest concerns are that we're ready on the first day and that nobody's injured.

"... Spring training is long enough. All this other stuff, to me, is way over-exaggerated."

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:


Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.