Cubs brace for change: ‘You go on the internet, it’s in your face. ... It’s going to be hard’
Players can’t predict who might be traded or who will be left standing from their 2016 championship core when spring training starts.
Players knew what was coming this winter long before Cubs president Theo Epstein spelled it out Monday, essentially saying that changes this winter could involve anybody on the roster.
“It’s hard. It’s definitely going to be hard,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of what he expects to be “a lot of noise, a lot of rumors” all winter involving core pieces to the Cubs’ recent championship run.
“You go on the internet, it’s in your face. You put on the TV. … But it’s the position we’re in right now. It’s unfortunate. But it’s part of the gig.”
And this time the rumors will be more than rumors.
The worst part for the players in this core might simply be how far they have fallen –at least relative to the other good teams in the league – since they became the youngest World Series champion in 2016 since the 1969 Mets.
With an average age among position-player starters (27.4) that only got younger with the free agency departure of Dexter Fowler, the word “dynasty” was being thrown around liberally – and realistically.
They had a second-year MVP in Kris Bryant (24), second-year All-Star shortstop in Addison Russell (22), rookie starting catcher in Willson Contreras (24), second-year World Series hero in Kyle Schwarber (23), one of the most dynamic young middle infielders in Javy Baez (23), an emerging rookie center fielder in Albert Almora Jr. (22), and team leaders in Rizzo and Jason Heyward (both 27) just entering traditional prime years.
They fought a World Series “hangover” in 2017 to return to the National League Championship series, with the help of mid-season reinforcements, then watched the rest of the league catch up the last two years.
It wasn’t for any lack of effort or complacency, Rizzo insists, despite outside – and even some internal – speculation to the contrary.
“The Astros won [in 2017], and then they didn’t win last year. If they don’t win this year, are they a bust?” Rizzo said. “They’re one of the best teams in baseball.”
The Astros front office, by comparision, traded for Justin Verlander instead of Jose Quintana in 2017, then added Zack Greinke this summer.
“It sucks that we haven’t won another World Series,” Rizzo said. “It was the best thing. It’s the most addicting thing. But when you give it everything you have, that’s what makes it sting even more. It’s like it just wasn’t good enough.”
DID YOU KNOW
- Get smart: If Cubs president Theo Epstein (Yale) hires Will Venable (Princeton) or Mark DeRosa (Penn) as his next manager they will be the only Ivy League-educated tandem of baseball exec and manager in the majors – unless Philadelphia’s Matt Klentak (Dartmouth) replaces Gabe Kapler with recently fired Angels manager Brad Ausmus (also Dartmouth).
- Epstein has hired four managers in 17 years running baseball departments in Boston and Chicago. The two with previous big-league managing experience (Terry Francona, Joe Maddon) won three World Series combined under him. The two others (Dale Sveum, Rick Renteria) were fired after two years and one year, respectively, after mixed results during rebuilding/tanking efforts.
THAT’S WHAT HE SAID What we’ve done over the last five years is pretty spectacular, and I guess it’s unprecedented in Cubs baseball. None of that’s lost on me. – Joe Maddon, who was fired Sunday after five years as Cubs manager. I don’t know. You’re just trying to hit the ball hard. And it went that way. I’m a pretty simple human. – Kyle Schwarber on how he more consistently hit the ball the opposite way in 2019. We’re also going to tell them that Gordon Wittenmyer wants them to rub some dirt on it and get after it.—Epstein on efforts to take the organization’s great culture to the next level. About time. – Press box wag.
64 – Major-league leading outs on the bases the Cubs ran into this season (does not count 24 times caught stealing or nine times picked off).
.438 – Cubs’ winning percentage against the seven 2019 playoff opponents faced this year. They had a winning record against only Oakland (2-1).
3 – Home runs hit by rookie Nico Hoerner in 82 big-league plate appearances, same number he hit in 315 minor-league PAs before that.
.294 – Cubs on-base percentage from the leadoff spot, worst in the majors in 2019.