Cubs' Bryant: We're coming in with a chip on our shoulder

Chicago Cubs fans have spoken, and team president Theo Epstein say he's heard them.

And if there's some restlessness in Wrigleyville, Epstein seems OK with it.

"I'm not blind to that," Epstein said Friday as the Cubs convention opened downtown at the Sheraton Grand. "I get it. We've had meetings the last few days internally, talking about the guys that we do have and the incredible talent that does exist in this organization and how we can learn from last year and continue to get the absolute most out of guys or take it to another level.

"We have to be excused for being excited because we are really optimistic about this season. But I completely get it from a fan standpoint. I know there are a lot of questions out there. I actually appreciate that, to have fans who are as passionate about baseball and about winning and about the Cubs as we are.

"You can't take that for granted. Even if the tone isn't always what you want to hear, it's coming from the right place. It also reflects that standards have been raised around here quite a bit."

Epstein pointed out that the Cubs won 95 games last year but that there are "loud, legitimate questions" about a team that lost Game 163 of the regular season before bowing out in the wild-card game two years after winning the World Series.

Not only that, the Cubs have not made a major acquisition this off-season, either through trade or free agency. Epstein said he'll be glad to answer questions directly from fans Saturday morning during the baseball-operations session.

"The results in terms of adding players aren't there, but we think we've done a lot of good behind the scenes to learn some lessons from last year and try to put our best foot forward," he said.

Cubs players echoed Epstein's sentiments. Outfielder Albert Almora Jr., who had to fight for playing time, said he changed his workout regimen to a twice-a-day routine.

Third baseman Kris Bryant, who was slowed by a shoulder injury much of last season, said the shoulder is "perfectly healed. It feels great. Everything about it feels right back to where it was before."

Bryant added there is a chip on the Cubs' collective shoulders.

"We should," he said. "Just how we went down, playing so many games in a row (in September), it's almost when you go through something like that, you kind of expect it to go your way. But sometimes you don't always get what you want. It's kind of good for us to go through that, get our teeth kicked in a little bit on our field in Game 163 and the wild-card game. I think ultimately we'll all learn from it and come out with a chip on our shoulder."

Of course, the elephant in every hotel ballroom and ante room this weekend is Bryant's Las Vegas buddy, free-agent right fielder Bryce Harper. All Bryant would offer is that Bryant "is going to be playing baseball somewhere."

Harper-to-the-Cubs has been a long shot all off-season, and Epstein said nothing Friday to raise the hopes of Cubs fans.

"I never said, 'extraordinary, unlikely' about any specific players because would violate baseball rules by talking about any free agent out there, so I would never do that specifically," he said. "But I was honest when asked about adding a monumental contract to our books this off-season. I said, and it continues to be, extremely unlikely given the totality of circumstances. I'm not running from that. I'm not trying to hide the ball. But I also would not talk about any specific free agent."•

• Bruce Miles will talk Cubs baseball with Julie DiCaro and Maggie Hendricks Saturday at 2:40 p.m. on WSCR, 670-AM.

Epstein: Russell's second chance is conditional

Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant talks with the media during the baseball team's annual convention Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, in Chicago. Associated Press
The Chicago Cubs fan convention opened Friday, and team president Theo Epstein said he has heard loudly and clearly the concerns of the fans this off-season. Associated Press
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