101 losses later, Cubs aren’t looking in rearview mirror

101 losses later, Cubs aren’t looking in rearview mirror
February 16, 2013, 9:45 pm
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MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs aren’t here to talk about the past.

Manager Dale Sveum doesn’t plan to mention the 101 losses when he addresses the team before Sunday’s first full-squad workout at Fitch Park. Tom Ricketts is also expected to speak with the players and the media. The chairman will be asked about the Wrigley Field renovations plans and the television deals that are supposed to help make this franchise matter again.

Everything is Mesa is looking toward the future, from the new facility being built at the Loop 101 and 202 freeway intersection, to the cars Jorge Soler will hit during his batting-practice shows. It will be all blue skies and Arizona sunshine.    

“The bottom line is last year is last year,” Sveum said. “We have so many different players, a year under all our belts. Some of the young guys that didn’t perform as well last year – you can already tell the maturity in them from those ups and downs last year, to where there’s no need to bring anything up that has no relevance to this year at all. It’s all about 2013.”

It wasn’t quite a “Horrible Bosses” revenge plan after the front office left him with a roster that leaned heavily on Triple-A Iowa. But Sveum did make sure to match team president Theo Epstein against general manager Jed Hoyer in Saturday’s play-in event for the 64th spot in his second annual bunting tournament.

Epstein defeated Hoyer, but went down with a string of f-bombs, losing to baseball operations director Scott Harris in the second round. Nate Halm, a video/advanced scouting staffer, beat strength coach Tim Buss in the final.

With all 62 players ticketed for big-league camp already checked in, the bonding will continue across the next several weeks, until the 25 guys leave Arizona on March 28.

The Cubs will play two five-inning intrasquad games on Thursday and Friday at HoHoKam Park. The next day Travis Wood will start the Cactus League opener in Tempe against the Los Angeles Angels, followed by Jeff Samardzija in Game 2.

For a team that has so much to prove, there may only be a bullpen spot and a bench job up for grabs. There will be injury updates on Matt Garza and Scott Baker, and depending on that at least one open spot at the back of the rotation.  

The Cubs largely return the same cast of position players, banking on Anthony Rizzo putting up 30 homers and 100 RBI across a full season, Starlin Castro not “chasing hits” and Ian Stewart at full strength with his “brand-new” wrist.

After sending mixed signals about just how aggressive they’d be in free agency, the Cubs guaranteed more than $80 million to four starting pitchers – Baker, Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva – and Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa.  

“I’m not surprised at all,” Rizzo said. “The front office knows the plan, the route we want to go. They’re smart. They didn’t bring guys in just because of the numbers. They brought them in because they’re good character guys and they can also play. That’s what’s most exciting about it.”

Epstein and Hoyer have made it easier for Sveum to maintain that distraction-free zone. Sveum, the former Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach, hadn’t heard about the ESPN report linking Ryan Braun to another Biogenesis document until Darwin Barney mentioned it to him.

“Unfortunately, it sounds like he’s in a little bit of a pickle again,” Sveum said. “You don’t even comment on it, because basically it’s all hearsay.

“It’s news and all that, but it’s very irrelevant unless somebody’s tested positive for HGH or basically a PED. It’s an unfortunate situation if it’s not all true or whatever. It’s all word of mouth or something on a piece of paper, but that doesn’t mean anybody took anything.”   

The Cubs – an afterthought for the national media – would love to make it through a quiet camp and get to Pittsburgh healthy for Opening Day on April 1. Baseball is here. The fans back home in Chicago can adjust their expectations later.

“They should have high hopes,” Samardzija said. “They should expect a team that’s going to compete for this pennant (and) start quick. It’s a long baseball season. Anything can happen at any point in time. But if we don’t have our eyes set on October and playing in the playoffs, then we need to really re-assess our goals. We have the team do it.”