The Cubs’ front office says it wants to see more urgency this year.
Does a war of words in January count?
In what figures to wind up as the highlight of an otherwise mundane winter for the Cubs, their rivalry with the Cardinals was stoked 3½ months before they’ll see each other in a game.
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant ripped “boring” St. Louis on Friday night, and former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster piled on as they bantered on stage during Dempster’s annual Friday night talk show kicking off the Cubs Convention at the downtown Sheraton Grand.
By Saturday, Cardinals players were firing back from three cities, including star catcher Yadier Molina — who for the second consecutive year took to Instagram angrily to rip Cubs players, this time calling Bryant and Dempster disrespectful and “stupid players.”
Who needs a hot stove when you can have exchanges this heated?
Start stockpiling the fire extinguishers for that weekend series at Wrigley Field in May.
Bryant started the whole thing when he described meeting Cards fan Nelly through mutual pal Bryce Harper in Las Vegas.
“He was trying to work the magic on Bryce,” Bryant told Dempster, with a smile, after Cubs fans booed at the notion of Harper going to the Cardinals.
“Who would want to play in St. Louis?” Bryant added. “Boring. So boring. I always get asked, ‘Where would you like to play? Where would you not like to play?’ St. Louis is on the list of places I don’t like to play. It is rough.”
Dempster eagerly played to the crowd by piling on with a story from the summer the Cubs tried to work around his no-trade clause as they shopped him.
“They were like, ‘Hey, how about St. Louis?’ I’m like, zero chance in hell. Nothing. No way. Won’t even go there as a free agent. Not happening,” said Dempster, who was eventually traded to Texas.
After the video was shared on social media, Cardinals players responded from all over the map, including pitcher John Brebbia during an appearance in Peoria:
“Cry me a river, loser,” he said.
After that comment went viral, Brebbia explained he was just joking.
The Cubs’ company line?
“John who?” said multiple Cubs officials at the convention.
Except not all involved seemed to be so light-hearted about the exchange.
Cards catcher Yadier Molina, who had a tense social-media exchange with Cubs catcher Willson Contreras a year ago, took exception in a serious tone on -Instagram, presumably from his home in Puerto Rico, writing:
“All-stars, elite players and leaders of their teams do not speak bad about any city. There should be respect and you should play and compete with respect … Only stupid players and losers make comments like the ones made by Bryant and Dempster.”
He added the hashtag: #ceroRespectforthisstupidplayers.
Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna responded on Molina’s post: “From outside, they speak and talk like tiger, but at the end, they gonna be like little cat.”
Talk about bitter rivals.
Even ex-Cub Dexter Fowler responded from the Cardinals’ fan convention in St. Louis: “I think it’s good for the rivalry. These are going to be some fun games. … Yadi is a fiery guy, which is awesome.”
The Cubs-Cardinals intensity already was expected to ramp up significantly after the Cardinals responded to missing the playoffs for three consecutive seasons by trading for star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and signing two-time All-Star reliever Andrew Miller.
The Cubs have been conspicuously -quiet this winter — to the growing frustration of fans at various microphones during panel discussions Saturday.
“It’s going to make the division a lot more competitive,” Bryant said Friday of the on-paper improvement of the Cards, Brewers and Reds this winter.
“But I like our chances.”
Who knows? Maybe St. Louis won’t even be so boring for the Cubs when they get there next time around.