Trade talk involving Kris Bryant and other core players ‘makes the job real,’ David Ross says

Still flush with the power of a new career direction and freshness of a new season to dream on, the Cubs’ first-year manager seems to embrace a continued pressure to win on the North Side, despite significant roster uncertainty.

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David Ross meets the media Tuesday.

Gordon Wittenmyer photo

SAN DIEGO — One day after former Cubs manager Joe Maddon talked with optimism and anticipation about the rising fortunes of his Angels, his successor in Chicago, David Ross, took his turn with the media at the winter meetings.

The first question Tuesday on the first day of Ross on the national stage as a manager: What about Kris Bryant and other stars being on the trading block?

“It makes the job real,” Ross said.

Talk about the end of an era.

If the Cubs aren’t starting over in 2020, Ross certainly is — a first-time manager taking over an iconic franchise without any certainty two months before spring training about whether his core players will be back, much less whether he’ll have reinforcements.

“Trust me, I look at this roster all day every day and start studying these guys,” said Ross when asked if it feels like the Cubs are taking a transitional step back after five consecutive winning seasons. “And it doesn’t feel that way to me because I’m seeing a lot of the same names. I don’t know what that picture is going to look like on Opening Day. None of us do. But every day that I start looking at what I love about our team, there’s a lot of things to like.”

For now.

Twenty-nine teams and countless agents have received clear signals for weeks that the Cubs must move payroll obligations to make roster additions. And a severe lack of well-regarded prospects in the system only exacerbates their flexibility problem.

But whatever that might mean for the attitudes of a fan base already smarting from the city’s lousy football, basketball and hockey seasons, Ross won’t acknowledge lowered expectations.

Still flush with the power of a new career direction, Ross seems to embrace a continued pressure to win on the North Side.

Transition? Bridge season? A step back?

“I hope not,” he said. “My goal is to win. As the roster stands right now, this is a group that is expected to win. I think we’ve got a chance to win the division and the World Series. There is a lot of talent in this group, and my expectations will never falter from that.

“I would not not expect to win the World Series; that’s for sure.”

Not for at least 3½ months, when he manages a game that counts for the first time at any level.

Until then, Bryant is in play for a possible trade, pending a free-agent market at his position that includes Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson.

The Braves, Angels and Nationals all have explored that market, along with the Phillies, whose signing of shortstop Didi Gregorius took their payroll flexibility out of the Rendon-Donaldson-Bryant deep end of third-base options.

And despite one national report Tuesday, sources insist the Nationals are not interested in the combination of player capital and two years of salary for Bryant, focusing instead on the free agents.

“When you get to bear down and look at it, you try to look at the big picture,” Ross said. “Obviously, you want more guys like Kris Bryant on your team and that relationship I have already with Kris.

“But I know Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer] and these guys got a job to do, and they look at every option of how to make this team the best team they possibly can for this year and long term. If I know anything about baseball, the rumors aren’t always as true as they seem. I see that even more now that I’m behind the curtain, so to speak.”

And even if Bryant remains on the Opening Day roster, not even the Cubs can predict what other core players might still be around.

“Right now it’s a fluid roster,” general manager Hoyer said. “There’s going to be change to our roster. We don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like.”

And whatever fans and media might expect, Hoyer suggested the same competitive optimism Ross expressed and praised the new manager’s approach.

“And Joe was the exact same way,” Hoyer reminded. “Joe came into a situation in 2015, with a very different roster construction. But he was like, ‘Hey, we’re here to win and try to make the playoffs.’ No one at that time was putting those kinds of expectations on the team.”

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