MESA, Ariz. – Nate Schierholtz keeps his 2010 World Series ring in a safe-deposit box. But he had a replica made and will wear it around occasionally during the offseason. He showed off his bling at a 49ers game.
Schierholtz hung out at his home in the Bay Area last October watching the Giants get hot again and win another title. Three months earlier, he had been shipped to Philadelphia in the Hunter Pence deal at the trade deadline. His ex-teammates took care of him and voted him a full postseason share, which amounted to a record $377,002.64.
Schierholtz could have signed with a contender or taken a multi-year offer. But after a recruiting pitch from manager Dale Sveum, he elected to grab a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Cubs for the chance to prove he’s an everyday outfielder.
A few weeks ago, Schierholtz gave the Giants his ring size, though he doesn’t know when he will get it. The Giants visit Wrigley Field in the middle of April, while the Cubs will be in San Francisco in late July.
For a team that just lost 101 games, this is part of a bigger plan.
The Cubs didn’t sign any A-list free agents this winter, but they did pick up several complementary pieces. Within this group, there may not be a name to put on the marquee or a single player that will make you buy tickets. But together they have been part of winning environments.
“The one thing as an organization (we try to do is) bring in people that are always trying to make themselves better every day,” Sveum said Wednesday. “The character and the work ethic (has to be) there. Those are the things we want (here, whether) you’re either bringing in six-year (minor-league) free agents or we’re signing big free agents.
“They have a lot of character and they’re all-in to win.”
Edwin Jackson has pitched for three different teams in the postseason and won a World Series ring with the 2011 Cardinals. Dioner Navarro caught Jackson for the worst-to-first Rays in 2008. This gives some insight into how the Cubs remodeled the rest of their pitching staff.
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The Twins won three division titles during Scott Baker’s time in Minnesota. Scott Feldman watched the Rangers develop gradually into winners of back-to-back American League pennants.
Carlos Villanueva still doesn’t quite understand why the interim manager – Sveum – didn’t keep the job after the 2008 Brewers went on a playoff run
Scott Hairston was part of the Padres team that surprised everyone by winning 90 games in 2010 (and he handled it professionally when Ryan Ludwick cut into playing time in the outfield after a deadline trade).
James Russell broke into the big leagues as part of Lou Piniella’s bullpen in 2010, a time when the franchise still had big names and big expectations.
The Cubs were still in first place as late as August 2009 and coming off back-to-back division titles. They had built their lineup around Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. Their rotation orbited around Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly.
“You look at it on paper and you’re like: ‘Why don’t these guys win more?’” Russell said. “I’m a big believer that the team that stays together wins together. The guys they brought in this offseason – we all kind of mesh and have similar personalities. Everybody kind of gets it. That’s what you need to start building.
“Nobody’s going to start a big fit about anything. And if it does happen, it will get taken care of in its own way and nobody will hear about it. It will be (handled behind) closed doors.”
[More from spring training: Before Soler and Baez, Darnell McDonald was the next big thing]
Schierholtz said Matt Cain and Buster Posey held it all together for the 2010 Giants. The Cubs don’t have a No. 1 starter like Cain or an MVP-level catcher like Posey. Elite talent means more than character guys. But these experiences can’t hurt the dynamic.
“The clubhouse chemistry was very close-knit, relaxed,” Schierholtz said. “No matter what was going on – whether we were winning or losing – we all came together. There were a lot of different personalities, but somehow we found a way every night to go out there and win.
“We never let any of the outside pressures get to us.”
One morning last April, Sveum wrote a reminder on the dry-erase board in the visiting clubhouse at Busch Stadium: Ring ceremony, 11:30.
Sveum wanted his players out there watching, showing some respect to the world champs as the Cardinals – and Cubs first-base coach Dave McKay – received their rings.
Sometime this season, the Cubs could get a little more motivation, another reminder of what it takes, when Schierholtz collects his ring.
“I’m excited to get it, there’s no doubt about that,” Schierholtz said. “I think everyone wants to see what it looks like. It’s something that’s priceless.”