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One more time? Cubs start ‘year of transition’ with offensive core entering final run together

The Cubs are betting on their core one more time with Javy Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo entering their final season before joining the free-agent market.

The Cubs are looking at one more go-round with Javy Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
The Cubs are looking at one more go-round with Javy Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

MESA, Ariz. — Fans have heard all the evaluations about the Cubs’ offensive performance in recent years, from ‘‘projection over performance’’ to the infamous ‘‘year of reckoning’’ after the 2019 season.

But as the Cubs open spring training Wednesday in Mesa, Arizona, their fans will have to ride it out with this group one last time.

The ‘‘year of transition,’’ as president Jed Hoyer has come to call 2021, has seen the Cubs undergo several changes organizationally. Their rotation, for example, will be different from what it looked like last season, with three starters gone.

But their offense, which has been the cause of fans’ ire, has seen little change during the offseason, other than the swap of Kyle Schwarber for Joc Pederson in the outfield. Still, despite players’ recent individual and collective struggles at the plate, the Cubs are betting on the group to rebound in 2021.

‘‘We believe in this group,’’ Hoyer said Tuesday. ‘‘And there have been moments that we’ve been proven right, and there have been moments recently that we haven’t been proven right. But, ultimately, I think this is a really talented offensive group.

‘‘We’ve struggled in certain aspects of the game that we have to improve on. And I think [manager David Ross] and I have spent a ton of time over the course of the winter talking about how we can get this group back to where they belong.’’

Shortstop Javy Baez, third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo — all of whom will be eligible for free agency after the season — still represent a significant part of the Cubs’ offense. All had down seasons in 2020 and were nowhere close to the hitters the Cubs need them to be.

While the situation could be a distraction for a player looking to bounce back in a season before free agency, Ross sees it as one that will take care of itself — both for the Cubs and the players involved.

‘‘I know if all those guys get their numbers, we’re going to be in a really good place,’’ Ross said. ‘‘If Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant get their numbers and Willson Contreras gets [the] numbers that’s on the back of their baseball card, we’re going to be a really good team.

‘‘These guys know how to win. That’s all they’ve really done since they’ve been here. Maybe not to the level of their expectations and what we’ve created here as the expectations, but they’re still winners, and they’re winners virtually every year. Last year, we won a division in a year where they didn’t have their years at all and didn’t get their numbers. So that, to me, speaks volumes about the defense and the little things that they do well to find a way to win a game.’’

Rumors, specifically about Bryant, have surrounded the Cubs all offseason, but Hoyer shot down some of them Tuesday. The Cubs will continue to answer the phone if it rings, but the roster as currently assembled is likely the one that will head north for Opening Day on April 1 against the Pirates.

‘‘Could someone make that phone call? Yeah, someone could, but I am not anticipating it,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘Right now, we’re not engaged in anything. And we haven’t been for a bit. So, you know, I don’t expect it. . . .

‘‘But you never know. Who knows what injury could happen or what thing could change in someone else’s camp? But I’m not expecting it. I’m expecting that, for the most part, this is going to be the group that we open up against Pittsburgh with.’’