Can Cubs newcomers ever truly be ready for the Chicago market?

Can Cubs newcomers ever truly be ready for the Chicago market?
November 9, 2013, 4:15 pm
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Tony Andracki

The market surrounding the Chicago Cubs is a different beast, unlike any other in American professional sports.

Fans, media and the entire city have lofty expectations and patience that runs thin, especially around September. Any grace period allotted to new arrivals is gone in the blink of an eye.

Of course, 105 seasons without a championship will do that.

[RELATED: Learning from Cubs history, Renteria keeping his eyes forward]

So can a new Cubs manager ever be truly ready for Chicago? Heck, can top prospects like Javier Baez or Kris Bryant even be prepared for this market?

"We're very mindful of what we're getting our prospects ready for," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Friday. "Preparing them for Wrigley Field and not just playing in front of the crowd here, but playing playoff baseball here and getting ready for the media, as well."

After soaring up the prospect rankings and dominating headlines in 2013, Javier Baez — who hit 37 homers and drove in 111 runs in 130 minor league games — could make his MLB debut for the Cubs in 2014. If he struggles early, there's bound to be some leniency from the fanbase and media. But what if those struggles last a month? Or a year?

To reference a favorite phrase from CSN's David Kaplan, this town can chew you up and spit you out. While players could draw the ire of fans, the pressure is undoubtedly higher for managers.

[MORE: Epstein: Renteria the 'clear' choice for Cubs]

"I think I have to be (prepared that it's a different job)," Rick Renteria said after he was introduced as the new Cubs manager Thursday. "One of the things I have to do is go out there on a daily basis and do what I do. My personality is not going to change. The approach I take with players is not going to change.

"Coming in as a visiting player and coach in town, this is a great place to be. The fans are always into the ballgame; they understand what's going on, they cheer you when you're doing great and they also let you know when you're not doing so great."

Renteria has said he is very secure with who he is and when speaking with Cubs media, declared himself an optimist with an everlasting smile. He did spend one season managing the Kane County Cougars — stationed 40 miles west of Wrigley Field — so it's not like the 51-year-old is brand new to the Chicagoland area. But the corner of Clark and Addison is quite a bit different than managing a Class-A team in Geneva.

[MORE: From first round to Wrigley: The Rick Renteria Timeline]

Who knows how long that positive attitude will last. Many skippers have come before him, entering Chicago with a lot more managing experience than the California native has and leaving worn down from the pressures of the job.

But Renteria's sunny outlook might be exactly what a young rebuilding team needs.

"One thing you can expect from him is he's going to be consistent with his positive energy," Dave Roberts, a former big league player who coached alongside Renteria with the San Diego Padres, said in a video message to Cubs season ticket holders Friday. "He's going to back his players and every single guy is going to play hard. It doesn't matter how much money you make, where you come from, guys gravitate to him. Guys want to play hard for him.

"He's so good with young players and with veterans. He just has this way about him that people should come to respect him. There's not a player that has come across Rick Renteria that hasn't gotten better."

[RELATED: Bud Black on Renteria: '(Players) will know where he stands]

Renteria believes the team he's taking over — a squad that has lost 197 games the last two seasons — can compete immediately. For his part, though, he realizes that positivity might sound crazy or naive to Chicagoans.

"I know you might think I'm nuts, but I feel like any team has a chance to move forward if you really believe in the concept of playing as a team, going out and preparing on a daily basis, knowing what you want to do and giving yourself a chance to fight and play," Renteria said.

"I don't make the assumption (the Cubs can't play at a high level) ... One of the things we have to do to continue to move forward with the club we have is lay expectations before them. If I was to come in here and assume I was going to lose, what kind of expectations am I laying for the players that are here?

"My assumption is we're going to go out and do the best we can and execute every action that we're supposed to and make the least amount of mistakes and have a chance on a daily basis to win a ballgame."

[MORE: Renteria believes he's ready to tackle Cubs youth movement]

The Cubs big league roster is deep with journeyman-type veterans and short on core pieces. The next wave of young talent — headed up by Bryant and Baez — is still months away, and the system entered the winter light on impact pitching. But down on the farm, things have gotten better since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over the front office. The Cubs boast a consensus top 5 farm system and four players — Bryant, Baez, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler — could be ranked among the game's top 20 prospects.

"I look at this like I've done every other thing my whole life. My biggest concern is what I have, not what I don't have," Renteria said. "Quite frankly, I think the players that are here are very good athletes, very good potential baseball players and they just need something to bring it out of them.

"I take that responsibility with a lot of pride and understanding that everybody is possibly going to count us out, but my personality doesn't allow us to be counted out. What we're going to try to do between the lines (on the field) will speak for itself.

"In the end, obviously, we're all judged in one fashion or another. I don't preoccupy myself with what I think is going to happen. I focus on what I want to do, and it's always going to be in a positive way."

So will Renteria survive Chicago? Will the Cubs' top prospects be able to handle the unrealistic expectations set forth from this fanbase?

Stay tuned. Only time will tell.