As usual, plenty of hope at Cubs Convention
New location. Same old optimism.
The Cubs convention moved its headquarters a mile or so up the Magnificent Mile to the Sheraton after 27 years at the Hilton.
The ballrooms here are a little less ornate, but that didn't stop the Cubs and their fans from bringing another house down Friday evening during the opening ceremonies.
"I'm excited, really, about this team, to tell you the truth," said pitcher Jeff Samardzija. "It's a whole other aspect to it."
Pressed on that one, Samardzija couldn't quite put his finger on it.
"I don't know, really," the big right-hander said. "It's just a feeling I have, just because of the way things happened last year, but also there were a lot of things that went against us last year that we had to deal with and we had to battle through. I just don't see that happening this year.
"I think it's a more set team, a more set roster and a roster that really has jelled already in a short amount of time with the new guys that are here and the guys that were here last year."
The "way things happened last year" was that the Cubs lost 101 games. A repeat of that seems unlikely, with the additions of Edwin Jackson, Scott Baker and Scott Feldman to a starting rotation that also includes Samardzija and Matt Garza.
Earlier this week, team president Theo Epstein proclaimed it "postseason or bust." General manager Jed Hoyer tried to temper that, even if just a little bit.
"One of the comments that was picked up the other day was 'playoffs or bust,'" Hoyer said. "Ultimately, that is the truth. We get judged on going to the playoffs. We get judged on championships. It's hard to feel really good about a season that doesn't end up in the playoffs.
"At the same time, we are building something long term. We feel our goal, ultimately, is to get to the point where we're a team of great young players and we're going to make the playoffs every single year or eight out of 10 years. There are a lot things you can do over the course of the summer to increase that: having great years in the minor leagues from some of our prospects. Our young players in the big leagues taking a step forward is a success.
"But those are small successes that we talk about internally. Externally, the success comes down to playing October baseball."
The Cubs will have no players going to salary arbitration this year. Garza and the Cubs agreed late Thursday to a one-year, $10.25 million deal. On Friday, the Cubs settled with Samardzija and lefty reliever James Russell.
Samardzija gets $2.64 million plus a possible $125,000 in performance bonuses. Russell will get $1.075 million after establishing himself as one of the better left-handed setup men in the game.
"I'm happy it's over and done with," Russell said. "I feel like I made a big step last year, and I'm looking to progress off of last year and keep it going."
Raring to go:
Garza arrived at the Cubs convention and proclaimed himself ready after being shut down last July because of a "stress reaction" in his right elbow.
"I've been champing at the bit," said Garza, who said he saw team physician Stephen Gryzlo, who told him to "let it go."
Garza said he is about a week-and-a-half away from full bullpen-mound sessions.
Although he's entering his free-agent season, Garza said he is not yet thinking about a long-term extension, and Hoyer added that "now is not the time" for those talks.
"That's always open," Garza said. "But right now my focus is on Feb. 9 and being healthy and getting ready to throw that ball.
"I just want to pitch. I'm happy that this year is settled and that (the 2013 contract) is settled. But to even get thinking about (an extension), I need to pitch."
No to the Classic:
Left fielder Alfonso Soriano heard mostly cheers during the player introductions, but there were a few boos.
Neither Soriano nor shortstop Starlin Castro will play in the upcoming World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic.
"I am 37, and I think it's better for me to be in spring training with the Cubs," Soriano said. "I have to take it a little slow. For me, it's better to get in good shape and get ready for the season. I wouldn't be ready to play in the World Baseball Classic because I need at least two or three weeks to get my body in shape."
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