MESA, Ariz. — Maybe “reckonings,” managerial changes and narratives about fresh voices have their places in changing clubhouse dynamics.
But if the Cubs are going to return to the playoffs, these players are going to have to do it themselves. They know it, and so does their new manager, who was a teammate as recently as 2016.
“The last two years we’ve been talking and saying all these things that we need to change,” sixth-year veteran Kris Bryant said. “All we do is just talk. No one really acts on it. I think as a team we should act on it.”
He’s talking about players themselves, without influence from the front office, coaches or the manager.
Bryant, for one, is willing to put his money where his mouth is on this point. He has discussed with teammates a players-only system of meting out fines for gaffes and mental mistakes to incentivize focus on some of the little things that got away from the team in recent years.
“For me, it’s all about effort,” Bryant said. “Running hard to first, beating out a double play so the next guy can hit you in from first. That’s stuff that we all need to embrace.”
As teammate Anthony Rizzo said when camp opened, “Money talks.”
“We were talking the other day about it,” Bryant said during a recent conversation with the Sun-Times. “If there’s a ball that you hit that you think is a home run and you want to watch it, you better make sure that ball goes over the fence, or there’s fines. Stuff like that. Everybody wants to look cool and do this and that, but let’s just play baseball. It’s just, ‘Do the fundamentals right now.’ ”
Bryant’s comments came a few days after teammate Javy Baez suggested he and some other Cubs players were not always fully prepared when games started because they abused the privilege of optional pregame work on the field to follow individual programs under former manager Joe Maddon.
Maddon and players such as Bryant and Rizzo say they never saw anything to suggest that Baez — an All-Star starter the last two years — was anything but prepared for games.
On the other hand, general manager Jed Hoyer called a team decline on defense and a league-leading total of outs on the bases last year a “massive failure” that demands greater attention to detail.
Whatever the front office might think about the value of a new managerial voice in that effort, Bryant said areas like that are about the players, period.
“We need to learn from past mistakes, grow up a little. We all have the talent for it,” he said. “Just focus a little better, try a little harder.
“I don’t think we should rely on our manager or the front office telling us to do something. We’re all professionals.”
They’re also all back after that year of “reckoning” team president Theo Epstein promised, whether the front office wanted it that way or not.
So maybe it’s time for these guys who are entering their fourth, fifth and in some cases sixth seasons together to start paying more attention to detail — or simply paying.
“I think it would be something smart to do,” Bryant said of a fine system that the Cubs haven’t had in his five seasons but that has been common in baseball for as long as players have been paid.
“Hold us accountable. Obviously, you’d like to just throw the phrase out there [and have it happen]. But when you actually attach something to it, it’s a whole ’nother level. I think we should totally do that.”
New manager David Ross hasn’t been included in those early conversations, but he’s on board.
“It really should at the end of the day come from the players, right?” Ross said. “The ideal scenario is it never gets to me, and I don’t have the tough conversations.”
Newcomer Jason Kipnis, a two-time All-Star and playoff veteran, had a similar system with teammates in Cleveland, with both fines for transgressions and rewards for heads-up contributions.
“The accountability part shouldn’t come from fear of having to pay $100. It should come from fear of letting down your teammates, playing the game the wrong way,” said Kipnis, who’s expected to talk to Bryant along with having his own ideas.
“I don’t want to give too much of it away.”
The timing could be ideal, with so many familiar faces still in the room — and knowing a slow start might mean blowing up the roster.
“Nobody is taking it personally. No one ever takes it personally,” Bryant said of clubhouse relationships. “We’re all in this together. We want to win.
“And if someone sees something on the field where you’re not giving it your effort, you’re not focused, you’re out too late the night before, you’re not putting yourself in the best position to help the team, that’s when you go, ‘Let’s tighten this up.’
“No one wants to stink and lose. That’s not the culture that we have here.”