Rozner: Frustration not a weight on Cubs' Maddon
The fan base is ready to burn down Wrigley Field.
That was the narrative presented to Cubs personnel this weekend at the annual convention, which might be slightly overstating the unease among the faithful about where the team is positioned heading into 2019.
Some are upset that the Cubs haven't spent $300 million on a player this offseason, but most of those at the weekend festival were pretty comfortable with a World Series already in their pocket and a team that's averaged 97 wins the last four years, reaching the postseason in four straight seasons for the first time in franchise history.
"I don't know. When I talk to the fans themselves, they don't demonstrate that (anger) to me," said manager Joe Maddon in a quiet moment at the Sheraton Hotel. "You hear about it, but I don't know if that's exactly how the fans feel."
As is almost always the case, Maddon was extremely relaxed in discussing a number of topics regarding the Chicago National League Ball Club.
In regards to the bullpen, which hardly resembles the Yankees' relief corps at the moment, Maddon admitted that it's not good enough yet.
"No, we have to augment it a bit," Maddon said. "We have a lot of nice pieces, but we have to augment it a bit."
That would seem to be a bigger area of need right now than the offense, which has received the most convention attention.
"I love this team," Maddon said. "We played really well (in 2018). We just didn't hit up to our capabilities.
"I want to see us play the same game, pitch like that, catch it like that, run the bases like that, and really look to improve the offense.
"What does that mean? A lot of it is approach-based. It's not about changing mechanics of guys' swings. It's about how we attack situations."
On this, it seems, there will always be a fundamental disagreement with Theo Epstein, who said last year that "launch angle is not a fad."
As the Red Sox were winning the World Series, manager Alex Cora talked about their "humble" approach as hitters, willing to drive in a run instead of looking for the long ball during every plate appearance.
Now on their third hitting coach in three years, it will continue to be a focus of conversation for the Cubs.
"Obviously, it's a big part of where the game has gone," Maddon said of the effort to elevate the ball. "But I think it's going to come back and go full circle. Guys will learn to hit the ball the other way and beat the shift, so eventually teams will come out of the shift.
"Guys will learn how to not strike out and put the ball in play more.
"Part of that is compensation. If you as a player are compensated for doing the little things, you might see guys trying to do the little things more often.
"If you're compensated for hitting home runs -- or throwing 97 mph as a pitcher -- then that's what you're going to do."
There was a time not that long ago when players were compensated for driving in runs, which seems like a good thing.
After all, runs are good, right?
"It's really bizarre that RBIs are discounted among the literati," Maddon said with a chuckle. "RBI guys are few and far between, man. When you have one of those guys, you embrace him.
"There's something about guys who know how to drive in runs. There's an art form to it, going the other way to bring in a pair.
"You have to know how to drive in runs with outs. You have the bases loaded, you have to make sure you get at least one, and not worry about three or four at that moment."
As ugly as the ending was for the Cubs in 2018, as they limped into the postseason unable to score and with a bullpen on fumes, it's fair to remember that the Cubs were still among the best teams in baseball and led the National League standings for a healthy portion of the season.
"I feel great about this team. I haven't forgotten we won 95 games," Maddon said. "I try to maintain objectivity about everything. We know we have to get better, but for the most part I like a lot about what we did last year."
As for the current state of the fan base, a portion of which has used social media to voice its anger, Maddon doesn't believe it tells the entire story.
"Social media is a minority. Not everyone is into that," Maddon said. "You get people looking for likes and retweets and clicks. I don't worry about stuff like that. That's one of those uncontrollable things.
"Only thing we can do is go out and play well. As a group, c'mon, what we've done the last four years, I can't be happier about that."
Amid the snow downtown, there was plenty of warmth and coziness at the Cubs Convention, while those who are frustrated during their winter of discontent had the chance to wonder aloud why the Cubs seem to be falling behind this offseason.
Welcome to a new world of Cubs baseball -- and a world of expectations.