The Cubs, Konerko and the game of expectations

686766.png

The Cubs, Konerko and the game of expectations

MESA, Ariz. Paul Konerko is a cerebral player who speaks in full paragraphs, but one line stood out: This could be a very successful year without making the playoffs.

It doesnt really matter if the White Sox are All In or not, but the captains words went out into the echo chamber. Just like in political primaries, its all about managing expectations.

After a winter spent looking toward the future, the Cubs have changed the narrative in Arizona. New president Theo Epstein, first-year manager Dale Sveum and Pacific Coast League MVP Bryan LaHair have essentially said the same thing: This is a team that can win the World Series.

Perhaps the Cubs could be looked at in a different light with Wednesdays reports that Major League Baseball and the players union are getting close to adding an extra wild card in each league.

But in listening to people around the team the past two weeks, you get the sense that things could immediately get better in 2012, not just in some hazy distant future where theyre selling The Cubs Way books and Theo-logy T-shirts out of the Triangle buildingMcDonalds lot on Clark Street.

Privately, one player admitted that the Cubs are in a great position, simply because they can play loose and surprise everyone. If theyre bad, well, no one expected them to do anything anyway.

Several have said this is a team that will play for each other, that a clubhouse without Carlos Zambrano will be a better place and a distraction-free zone.

They point to how the Tampa Bay Rays have shocked the world. They remind you that no one expected the Cincinnati Reds to win the division in 2010, or the Arizona Diamondbacks to go from worst-to-first last season.

Rebuilding is one of those terms that the media uses, but every year you come to play to win, new outfielder David DeJesus said. Baseballs one of those things that if everyone comes together (and) fights for the same thing, it makes for a fun year. Who knows what can happen out there?

To be clear, Mike Quade promised to drive home fundamentals last year. And Lou Piniella didnt enter the Hall of Fame discussion by stressing sloppy, careless play.

But maybe some of the details stick this time. Between Sveum and his new coaches Jamie Quirk (bench), Chris Bosio (pitching) and Dave McKay (first base) they have 101 combined seasons of experience as a major-league player or coach.

The Cubs also feel like they will have a credible starting pitcher on the mound every night, no matter who grabs the final two spots, and even if injuries hit the rotation again.

Jeff Samardzija who believes he belongs in the rotation understands how the hype can get out of control, as both a Chicago guy and a former Notre Dame football star. Hes probably in the minority, but he actually thought the Epstein coverage wasnt over-the-top.

I feel like everybody had their heads on straight, Samardzija said. We need to understand as Cubs players and Cubs fans (what) we need to set our sights on. Saying that were going to win the World Series thats cool and thats all fun. But we need to look at having a strong start the first month of the season. (We) need to be clean early.

That way the summer rolls around and were in position to be battling to get an opportunity to make the playoffs and go on from there. We (definitely have) the guys (and) the personalities to do it. We just need to take it one step at a time.

You can wonder how some of these sensible, incremental moves would have been received on Chicagos airwaves if Jim Hendry had made them, and just how patient the fans will really be with Epsteins team after a couple of losing streaks.

The track record these guys have is proven, so theyll have some patience if there are some growing pains, utility man Jeff Baker said. (But) I dont think that learning curve or that window of having to be patient is going to be as big as people think. I know a lot of people are writing us off for this year.

I dont want to say not giving us respect, because we have to earn it. But you never know what can happen. I played on some teams in Colorado where we werent expected to do anything but finish dead last. Its amazing what happens when you get 25 guys pulling on the same end of the rope, whether youre the best (or) the worst player on the team.

A lot of things can happen from doing the little things, running the balls out. I know its a clich and everyone says that, but it really can change.

There is a lot of time to kill here, with media personalities taking pictures of other media personalities taking pictures of spring training, and then posting it on Twitter.

Its all just noise now, something to fill the air space until April 5 at Wrigley Field. Its a brutal schedule, 162 games in 182 days, with the blur of constant travel. This game will find you out.

Whats the point of playing if people are just going to decide where you finish? pitcher Ryan Dempster said. We can talk about everything in the world, but at the end of the day we got to do it out on the field.

Sights and Sounds from Cubs visit to Donald Trump's White House

Sights and Sounds from Cubs visit to Donald Trump's White House

The 45th President of the United States Donald Trump welcomed the 2016 World Series champion Cubs to The White House on Wednesday afternoon.

While attendance was optional due to the Cubs already holding a formal ceremony with former President Barack Obama last January, several Cubs players and manager Joe Maddon attended Wednesday's gathering. 

Check out some of the sights and sounds from the Cubs busy day in D.C.

Vice President Mike Pence gets his own Cubs jersey.

Trump wants to know who the best hitter on the Cubs is so he can pick them up for his fantasy baseball team (we made up that last part).

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert crashes the party.

The Cubs display a card displaying No. 45 for President Trump.

Who is the Cubs owner in this picture?

Who is Victor Caratini? Breaking down the Cubs' new catcher

Who is Victor Caratini? Breaking down the Cubs' new catcher

Miguel Montero is out and Victor Caratini is in.

The Cubs made a shakeup at catcher Wednesday and will have to forge the last half of the 2017 season without the presence of veteran Montero, who has 1,149 MLB games under his belt and was hitting .286 with an .805 OPS this year.

But Montero talked his way out of town and Caratini is the immediate choice for a replacement behind starting backstop Willson Contreras.

[Where it all went wrong with Miguel Montero and the Cubs]

Caratini is a 23-year-old switch-hitter whom the Cubs acquired from the Atlanta Braves in 2014 as part of the Emilio Bonifacio/James Russell deadline deal. The Braves initially selected Caratini in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Miami-Dade College.

The Puerto Rican native has mostly played catcher (297 games) in his minor-league career, but has also seen time at first base (76 games) and third base (57 games). 

Caratini got his first taste of big-league spring training action this season, impressing with a .379 average and 1.175 OPS in 16 games (29 at-bats).

He is enjoying the best offensive season of his career in Triple-A Iowa, hitting .343 with a .384 on-base percentage and .923 OPS.

Caratini has already set a career high with eight home runs while clubbing 20 doubles and driving in 54 runs in 68 games. He also has only 40 strikeouts in 245 at-bats.

The Cubs named Caratini the organization's minor league player of the month in May after he drove in 17 runs in 24 games while hitting .366 with a .573 slugging percentage.

Caratini also should help the Cubs running game — an area where Montero was 0-for-31 in throwing out baserunners. Caratini has nabbed 28 percent of would-be basestealers in Iowa, a mark that is directly even with the MLB average.

Contreras is throwing out 34 percent of would-be basestealers in 2017.

Caratini figures to be the short-term answer for the Cubs at catcher given the organzation doesn't have many other options. Kyle Schwarber has not been a viable option behind the plate after recovering from major knee surgery that sapped almost his entire 2016 season. Taylor Davis — a 27-year-old catcher/infielder — is currently on the disabled list and has yet to make his MLB debut.