As Cubs launch caravan, optimism takes hold
When the Cubs' truck leaves for spring training in a couple of weeks, it may have a sign on the side of it.
"It's 'postseason or bust' every year," team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday at the start of the team's winter caravan, leading up to this weekend's fan convention. "That's what our goal is."
Of course, the Cubs talked that way last winter, and you saw how things turned out: a record of 61-101, the Cubs' first triple-digit losing season since 1966.
But if pennant fever runs rampant in spring training, it starts incubating about now. If nothing else, the Cubs were well-protected Wednesday as execs, manager Dale Sveum, coaches and players served lunch to members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces on the North Side of Chicago.
Epstein and Sveum both addressed the media before donning aprons and serving food to the honored guests.
The Cubs beefed up their starting rotation this winter, adding right-handers Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman and Scott Baker. They join righties Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija, and left-hander Travis Wood.
Although the team might seem as far away from winning as Chicago is from Mesa, Ariz., Epstein wasn't looking past 2013 while looking down the road toward the future.
"We're obviously building for something greater, which is a time when we can expect to be in the postseason every year," he said. "Behind the scenes, regardless of the results, there's progress being made, but as far as 2013, you can define it as a success or failure by whether we get to postseason or ultimately whether we win a World Series.
"Absolutely, there are stories every year about teams that don't necessarily look like the favorites on paper that are playing meaningful games in September and playing into October, playing into deep October. Baltimore, Oakland last year, they're great inspirations for teams in our position."
Sveum enters his second year as manager
While the rotation looks competitive, there are still concerns about the offense.
"We've got a lot of assets going in," Sveum said. "Obviously, the depth of the starting pitching we have, going into it with a couple of question marks with Garza and Scott Baker, how they're going to be built up toward the end of spring training, being ready.
"Then the offense, getting (outfielder Nate) Schierholtz and getting (third baseman) Ian Stewart back. Obviously, we need some production out of that spot, just like going into last year. The younger guys have already played one more year, to where those prime years are coming up, and they've already had their 1,000th or 1,500th at-bat, or some guys have pitched in the big leagues."
Rizzo for Italy:
First baseman Anthony Rizzo will play for Team Italy in this spring's World Baseball Classic. Rizzo is an American, but he has Italian ancestry.
"It's a pretty cool opportunity to get," he said. "Speaking with Dale and the management, they're fully supportive of it. People can say the risk factor and getting injured, but it's just like spring training. I play every game as hard as I can. It's no different."
Epstein gave it his blessing.
"We're supportive of it," he said. "It's certainly something he's taken pride in, and we support the WBC as a whole. If he pulls a miracle and is gone a month, it will be another story. I have a lot of faith in him, but they're (the Italians) in a tough group."
Hoping to settle:
Pitchers Samardzija, Garza and left-handed reliever James Russell have filed for salary arbitration. Like former Cubs GM Jim Hendry, Epstein likes to avoid hearings.
"I like to be on the same side as our players on these things," Epstein said. "I think I went to arbitration one time or zero times maybe. I think it was zero in Boston. We'll see. Certainly not afraid to go. Sometimes you have to go just to make the point. I don't anticipate anything getting contentious this year."
This and that:
Epstein said Garza and Baker, both of whom are coming off elbow injuries, would be ready to go at the start of spring training. Neither will be rushed, but the Cubs anticipate both being ready to start the season in April … The Cubs are likely to announce updated plans on renovating Wrigley Field at the convention. "I don't want to be a spoiler," Epstein said. "We'll see what happens this weekend."
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