Waiting game: How Cubs players are preparing for uncertain spring-training start

The Cubs are well-represented at the Arizona facilities the MLBPA reserved for players during the lockout this spring.

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Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks is among those training at the MLBPA site in Mesa, Arizona. File photo.

Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks is among those training at the MLBPA site in Mesa, Arizona. File photo.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs players’ group chat has been abuzz with updates from Ian Happ, their Major League Baseball Players Association team representative, and questions and feedback from the rest of the group.

“I’m sure I have some [messages] right now,” third baseman Patrick Wisdom said as he left Bell Bank Park, a multisports complex where the MLBPA has reserved fields and facilities during the lockout.

Other than that back-and-forth, they’re following along on social media and in news reports just like their fans.

The Cubs’ presence at the Arizona players association site grew this week, with Wisdom joining Monday. The Cubs’ ranks Tuesday morning included him, Kyle Hendricks, Nico Hoerner, Justin Steele and Brad Wieck. Happ also has utilized the facilities, and Hoerner said Alfonso Rivas was there last week.

Under the bright Arizona sun Tuesday morning, players threw bullpens, took batting practice and fielded ground balls, not knowing when spring training would begin.

Reports from multiple outlets made it clear that Major League Baseball had pegged Tuesday as another deadline day, this time for a 162-game season, full pay and full service time. But even that wasn’t cut and dried.

Two weeks ago, an MLB spokesperson told reporters that if the league and players association didn’t reach a deal by the owner-imposed deadline of Feb. 28 to start the season on time, “missed games are missed games. Salary will not be paid for those games.”

The league then moved the deadline from Monday to Tuesday evening, citing progress in negotiations the night before. And without a deal in place, commissioner Rob Manfred announced that the league was canceling the first two series of the season.

Now, the new deadline implied missed games weren’t actually missed games

White Sox alternate MLBPA rep Liam Hendriks described that moving target as, “an interesting concept,” expressing frustration with the process.

In the meantime, players were left to balance being ready for spring training at a moment’s notice, while not overworking themselves long before the season. Pitchers especially have a tricky equilibrium to hit.

“It feels similar to COVID in a lot of ways, from our standpoint,” Hendricks said, referring to the shutdown in 2020. “I’m one of those guys that really likes to throw and just be sharp, and be ready to go. So, the more I can throw, the more hitters I can face even right now is gonna benefit me.”

Starting last week, Hendricks has been using the MLBPA facility to throw bullpens twice a week. Weick and Steele are on similar schedules, throwing bullpens twice a week but also going by feel.

The calculus is simpler for position players, whose ramp-ups don’t need to be as precise.

“I can just keep doing what I’m doing, get at-bats when I can, and that’s the mindset,” Wisdom said. “Just making sure I’m ready, sprint work, making sure the arm’s in shape. And so when that time does come, we’re ready to go.”

All five Cubs players at the MLBPA site Tuesday morning said as soon as the owners lift the lockout, they’ll be ready to jump into spring training. Of course, the players at Bell Bank Park are already working out just 25 miles away from Sloan Park, the Cubs’ home for spring training. So they don’t have to worry about travel

And even with the new deadline, talking about the lockout lifting by “tomorrow” may have been optimistic Tuesday. Hoerner chuckled when a reporter pointed that out.

Said Hoerner: “We can have fun with that idea, though.”

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