Cubs catcher David Ross has been on both ends as a player this time of year – feeling that surge of confidence in the clubhouse when an all-in front office adds players, and waiting other years for the help that never comes.
“When I was in Boston, they went out and got Jake Peavy in ’13,” said Ross, who won a World Series a few months later with pitching pal Jon Lester. “It just showed [the confidence] that they went out and got the best available pitcher at the time. It does send a message.
“I’ve been on teams that have been really good teams and the front office doesn’t send a message like, `we believe in you guys.’ “
If there’s one universal truth inside the Cubs’ clubhouse it’s that the players believe after three years of organizational tanking that they’re on the way toward a pennant race.
The next month or so will say a lot about whether the front office agrees.
Already, they’ve traded for relief help, taken a free-agent flier on a former closer with possible late-season upside, and have kicked the tires on so many possible additions that they’re even making the rumor mills for old talks that didn’t result in deals (think Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon).
Get used to it. For the first time in this front office’s four seasons, the Cubs are everybody’s favorite buyers as the calendar creeps close to the midseason mark. And general manager Jed Hoyer said the team has the resources, both financially and with its rebuilt farm system, to make deals if club is in position to contend.
“In regards to them making moves, I don’t think any of us really care,” said starter Jason Hammel, who has been a big reason why the Cubs went 5-4 on their recent three-city trip and were in wild-card position entering Thursday’s opener of a six-game homestand.
“We all know we’ve got something good going on in here right now.
The fact is this team isn’t going anywhere long-term this season without more pitching help, and probably not without some bench help.
It’s why the front office traded catcher Welington Castillo for right-hander Yoervis Medina to add eventual bullpen depth and why it committed a potential $2 million (plus incentives) to Rafael Soriano, a former All-Star closer who slumped the second half of last year and was bypassed by the rest of baseball until the Cubs signed him Tuesday.
Manager Joe Maddon said Thursday it’s probably reasonable to think that if Soriano joins the pen, it’ll be just after the All-Star break.
Until then, the Cubs continue to talk to teams like the Phillies, who also have the top starting pitcher (Cole Hamels) on the trade market and even teams such as the Athletics, who haven’t decided they’re sellers yet – much less that they’ll sell coveted multi-position talent Ben Zobrist.
But if anything Cubs players believe they’re doing their part to send their message to the front office that this idea a deep competitive run is legitimate – even as they have tread water at 19-19 since April 28, winning impressive series against the Mets, Pirates and Nationals along the way (despite series losses to Miami and twice to Milwaukee along the way).
“I definitely think this team is proving that we’re capable of winning and we’re very capable of beating very good teams,” Ross said, “and that as long as we keep doing what we’re supposed to be doing, then we’ll be right there in the mix come the trade deadline when all this stuff goes down.”
It doesn’t look like it’ll get any easier before the All-Star break, with a stretch of 13 consecutive games – and 17 of 20 – against winning teams, starting next week at Minnesota. That stretch includes seven against the best team in baseball, the NL Central-leading Cardinals.
“We don’t have an easy schedule,” Ross said. “But the more we keep playing up to our capabilities and hanging with these teams and keep winning, I think it’s a clear sign of how good we are and how good we can be.”
And how aggressive team president Theo Epstein’s front office should get between now and the July 31 trade deadline?
“You never know what their plan is,” Ross said. “Knowing Theo and Jed and the front office here, they’re probably a few steps ahead of even us. They do their homework and they plan ahead.”
Ross, Hammel and others say they’re not looking to replace anybody on the roster and like what they’re doing with what’s in house.
But Ross echoed Thursday a sentiment that has arisen continually over the last month – that they believe they could have done more so far this season.
On the other hand, a strong case could be made that they’ve overachieved considering the shaky defense of a young infield, the ongoing problems of a bullpen that no longer has an identifiable closer, the problems with the fifth-starter spot, struggles of $155 million ace Jon Lester, and the lack of contribution all season from short, injury-ravaged bench.
“Whatever they want to do, that’s really not our realm,” Hammel said of the front office. “We’re just out here to win ballgames.”
“We just want to keep playing good baseball,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.