Why Chicago Cubs believe in creating good chemistry

MESA, Ariz. - If baseball has a chicken-and-egg question, it's this: Does good team "chemistry" lead to winning, or does winning breed chemistry?

There's no doubt talent wins championships and that the Chicago Cubs' front office is one of the most analytical bunch of number-crunchers around.

But team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer value "character" players who add to good chemistry. That was evident Monday morning in the clubhouse, where players such as Anthony Rizzo, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist were conducting lengthy sessions with media members and talking up the team concept.

"Theo does such a good job," said Rizzo, who has been in camp well before Tuesday's reporting date for position players. "He brings in high-character guys. You see it already with Ben, Jay-Hey (Heyward) and (John) Lackey coming in. They just fit in. There are really no egos. That's what worked with us so well last year."

The Cubs won 97 games last season en route to an appearance in the National League championship series. By all accounts, that team enjoyed great chemistry as it won.

Joe Maddon is the manager and chief chemist - and sometimes alchemist - of the Cubs, and he believes good chemistry can be created.

"That's another good one," he said of the endless debate. "Me and Billy Bavasi (former major-league executive) used to go round and round about that. I always believed chemistry can be created because, after all, if you've never won before, where is the chemistry coming from? So I think the group that says that winning creates chemistry has never had to attempt to create it.

"What does that mean? We talked a lot about building relationships last year and creating trust, the interaction that leads to this open exchange of ideas. If you haven't had it before, how do you do it? You can't just say, 'I'm going to get a bunch of guys in the room and they're going to win and then we're going to have chemistry.' I don't believe in that.

"I believe it can be intentionally created or done. So I'm a big proponent of the point that chemistry can be created. I know there's a lot of people who will disagree with that because they've never tried to do it before. Once that occurs, hopefully the winning attitude and culture follows."

Zobrist played for Maddon in Tampa Bay from 2006-14. He came close to a World Series title with the Rays before getting a ring last year with the Kansas City Royals, who obtained him during the season from the Oakland Athletics.

He weighed in Monday on the two-sided coin of chemistry and winning.

"They go hand in hand," he said. "If you're playing well, you have good chemistry. And if you have good chemistry, you're more likely to play well. But I certainly think if teams win early on in a season, they feel like the chemistry is amazing regardless of whether you have a bunch of great guys in the clubhouse or not. You just get along better because you're winning.

"That being said, I do think there's a special group of personalities here that they all seem like they enjoy each other. They're very easy to get along with. And those kinds of players tend to want to win for each other. When you get out there and want to play for each other, you're more likely to sacrifice yourself in the moment you need to for the team. That's going to help the team win in the end. I think this team has it."

So please don't tell Anthony Rizzo chemistry is overrated. He will tell you differently.

"I don't think it's overrated at all," he said. "A lot of these (front-office) guys get paid to crunch numbers up top. They know how important it is to have chemistry.

"Every good team has that team chemistry. There are a few teams that win by talent, but the majority of teams, you look at the Royals last year, those guys played for almost 10 years coming up together. They're really good friends, and that's what we plan on doing."

• Follow Bruce's baseball reports on Twitter @BruceMiles2112.

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