MILWAUKEE – What if Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro really aren’t part of the core? Where would that leave the Cubs in this process? Should the fans wait until, uh, 2020?
Those are the questions that have to be asked after seeing the early returns in Year 2 of Theo Epstein’s rebuilding project. Manager Dale Sveum felt enough urgency to turn up the heat on his two potential franchise players.
Sveum sent the carefully calculated message that all options are on the table for shaking up a 5-12 team, though it’s hard to imagine Rizzo getting shipped to Iowa or Castro being moved in the first season of a seven-year, $60 million contract. And it’s not like the Cubs have impact players knocking down the door in the upper levels of the system.
“Find options,” Sveum said Sunday before the Cubs got swept out of Miller Park. “If people keep playing like that, you have to find options. You give people playing time in Triple-A to figure this stuff out.”
Rizzo went out in front of 37,123 fans and hammered a two-run homer, generating all the offense in a 4-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs have invested a lot of capital in the idea of Rizzo and Castro and put them front and center in their marketing campaigns.
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Sveum’s voice became hoarse after arguing with home-plate umpire Chris Guccione and getting ejected from Friday’s loss. The manager chose to not eliminate the possibility of Des Moines and seemed to want that idea out there.
“I don’t think anything’s invincible if you’re not performing,” Sveum said. “It’s not about what we think can happen in three or four years from now. Guys have played a lot of baseball. It’s time to perform on a consistent basis. Not a good game and three bad ones. That’s not what we want.”
Rizzo is hitting .210 and made two costly defensive mistakes over the weekend. But he’s also leading the team in homers (six) and RBI (14) and no one else is really close. He hasn’t had the conversation with his manager.
“You can’t think about that,” Rizzo said. “Everyone here is in the big leagues and no one wants to go down to the minor leagues. Whatever happens, happens. I’m sure this team is going to have a lot more transactions throughout the year. That’s every team.
“Guys are going to come and go. That’s part of the game. But you can’t worry about getting sent down. I’ve done it before and it never works out when you think about that. You just got to go out and play.”
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Chairman Tom Ricketts has guaranteed that the Cubs will win the World Series if they can push through their Wrigley Field renovation deal. But projecting revenues for a 6,000 square-foot Jumbotron isn’t the same as projecting players.
You can’t just flip the switch and decide the organization’s ready to win and spend money and then begin planning parade routes down Michigan Avenue.
“We got to perform at the big-league level,” Sveum said. “There are reasons why people play in the big leagues and have long careers, because they perform on an everyday basis.
“We got to obviously find that out and make people aware that there are things that can be done if you don’t start performing.”
The baseball operations department knows the franchise can’t just dream about the prospects at Class-A Kane County. Ricketts has already been noncommittal about when Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer will get a piece of the revenues generated in the remodeled ballpark.
[THE FOUNDATION: Hope drives 2013 Kane County Cougars]
That’s when Rizzo and Castro are supposed to be in their prime. The Cubs have looked at 2015 as a breakthrough year, but what if they don’t have their first baseman and shortstop already in place?
Sveum doesn’t appear to have options now, but he wanted to plant seeds of doubt in their mind, to make sure they don’t get too comfortable.
“There’s still accountability,” Sveum said. “It’s a performance-laden occupation. That’s what makes the world go round. That’s what makes our country what it is.”