Will the Cubs make another splash this winter?
Manager Joe Maddon downplayed the idea of another big-name addition on Wednesday, while chairman Tom Ricketts told reporters not to expect a contract-extension announcement for team president Theo Epstein at this weekend’s Cubs Convention.
The Cubs sell themselves right now, as Epstein likes to say. So heading into the fifth and final season of his contract, there should be “no alarm bells to ring” (another Theo-ism before firing Dale Sveum). Epstein’s front office has methodically rebuilt a roster that FanGraphs projects will finish with the best record (95-67) in baseball this year.
The Cubs don’t need to change the subject this weekend by introducing a new mascot at the Sheraton Grand Chicago or waiting for Masahiro Tanaka or unveiling more Wrigley Field blueprints. The focus should actually shift back to the on-field product (and not rooftop turf battles or City Hall politicking).
Working with ownership and the business side, Epstein appears to have already stretched the baseball budget, trying to cram two winters of talent acquisition into one offseason.
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After dropping $272 million on Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward, super-utility guy Ben Zobrist and big-game pitcher John Lackey, the Cubs are just about done reshaping a team that won 97 games last year and advanced to the National League Championship Series.
“Honestly, there’s a lot of talk,” Maddon said before his “Thanksmas” dinner at Catholic Charities on LaSalle Street. “But I’m working under the assumption – and I really mean this – that it’s going to look exactly like this when we go to camp.
“Do I anticipate anything? Not necessarily. I would imagine we’re pretty close to what we’re going to look like when we get there and into the first part of the season. But if that’s the case, I have nothing to complain about.”
At this time last year, it sounded crazy when All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo showed up at a similar event and predicted the Cubs would win the division. It sounded like Rizzo Being Rizzo.
The Cubs finished in third place behind the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, and then eliminated their Central rivals from the playoffs in what became a delirious run through October, at least until getting swept by the New York Mets.
The Cubs will be the hunted this year, playing with a target on their backs. No more stepping-stone seasons in Wrigleyville for this talented group. All the expectations will revolve around winning the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908.
“No guarantees,” Maddon said. “We have a chance to replicate what we did last year. It’s up to us. Replicate in the sense you get to the playoffs and get deep into the playoffs and hopefully win at least eight more games.
“But I think everything’s in order. A big part of it is the guys that have never won learned how to win (last) year and that matters a lot. The guys that we brought in have known how to win.
“It’s a pretty good bedrock there.”