Rozner: Cubs are finally talking about winning

  • New Cubs manager Joe Maddon greets the fans during opening night of the annual Cubs Convention on Friday.

    New Cubs manager Joe Maddon greets the fans during opening night of the annual Cubs Convention on Friday. mark welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted1/18/2015 7:45 AM

Even before Anthony Rizzo's declaration that the Cubs would win the Central Division in 2015, fans were already anticipating a big leap for the North Siders this year.

And now Rizzo has put voice to the thoughts of many.

 

The reality is that might be a bit premature, especially if the Cardinals are really in the Max Scherzer sweepstakes. Nevertheless, the Cubs have gone from knowing they would finish last to talking about finishing first, and no one is sorry about that.

"It's better. You want expectations," a smiling GM Jed Hoyer said while the Cubs convention was in full swing at a downtown hotel. "We had a building process here and tried to be very transparent along the way. Through that transparency, we had lowered expectations in certain years.

"That's not what you want. You want expectations. You want to win. You want to be buyers at the deadline."

That's something the Cubs haven't been since Lou Piniella was manager -- remember him? -- but great expectations also bring trepidation this Cubs management team hasn't felt since arriving to gut an aging, expensive and failed roster.

"Certainly, there's a bit more anxiety that comes with that," Hoyer admitted. "But that's also why you do this. You don't do this to build something. You do this to win. And I think we're kind of moving into that next phase."

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The Cubs are moving that way, but they also understand where they were in the standings when the 2014 season ended. They finished fifth for the fifth straight season, 16 games under .500 and 17 games out of first.

Hoyer, however, believes those numbers are somewhat deceiving.

"It's interesting, because the way we played at the end of the season, I think you're not necessarily trying to make up 17 games," Hoyer said. "We struggled out of the gate last year and took ourselves out of any kind of contention early on in the season, and then played really well over the last couple months.

"I think if that team comes to play and those young guys maintain where they were, I think it's a very different equation."

The additions of manager Joe Maddon, pitchers Jon Lester, Jason Hammel and Jason Motte and catchers Miguel Montero and David Ross have fans wondering just how much better the Cubs will be. Team executives are just as anxious to see what they have in spring training.

"I think we're gonna be a really good team this year," Hoyer said. "We'll have some stretches where we probably show our youth, but I think we'll also have some stretches when we are really talented.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We're gonna run out as much talent as anyone, adding some stabilizing pieces in the rotation that will ease the burden a little bit on some of those young hitters, who will have some ups and downs.

"But listen, Anthony Rizzo said it at the end of the year and he said it again this week. We're looking to make the playoffs. There's no more hiding behind lowered expectations. It's time to expect to win."

There is absolutely no harm in that. In fact, when Rizzo said Thursday that the Cubs will win the Central, it changed the way players would think about the upcoming season and put them in a win-now mode.

"That's the mindset you want your players to have before the season," said Theo Epstein. "There's nothing wrong with a little swagger. That's the right frame of mind and we like that."

It doesn't mean it will happen, but it also doesn't hurt the Cubs in the process. On the contrary, even if they don't make the playoffs, it has changed the conversation and has players talking about something they might not have considered without Rizzo putting it out there for everyone to see.

If the Cubs fall short in 2015, players and fans still know the goal has changed.

And there's truly nothing bad about that.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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