Epstein's focus on Chicago Cubs returning to playoffs

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Scot Gregor/sgregor@dailyherald.com David Ross and Theo Epstein today in Mesa.

    Scot Gregor/sgregor@dailyherald.com David Ross and Theo Epstein today in Mesa.

 
 
Updated 2/11/2020 7:28 PM

MESA, Ariz. -- Kris Bryant is getting traded.

Anthony Rizzo is getting traded.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Throw Willson Contreras, Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber in there as well.

That has been the Cubs' main storyline throughout the winter, and club president Theo Epstein brought it to a screeching halt Tuesday on the first official day of spring training.

"There still is some chatter going on across the industry, but we're kind of turning the page, honestly, with our focus," Epstein said on a cool, cloudy day at Sloan Park. "We're starting the 2020 season, we're excited about the group we have in camp, and it's time to pull together and focus on winning games.

"That off-season narrative will just kind of stay upstairs."

Stung by ending the 2019 season with 10 losses in the last 12 games and ending a run of four straight playoff appearances while exceeding the luxury-tax threshold, Epstein was quite clear payroll had to be cut and everyone on the roster was a trade candidate.

Throughout the winter, Epstein has also said he's not going to give anyone away.

"I'll be honest, there hasn't been as much turnover as we expected," Epstein said. "All along, we weren't going to force change. We were seeking it in certain areas, but I feel like anytime you go out there and say, 'We need to accomplish change just for change's sake,' you probably make bad deals and make a tricky situation worse."

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Epstein said the Cubs are more likely to be adding players during spring training, albeit on minor-leagie deals. Former Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, a Northbrook native, is close to signing.

"We have a lot of good things going for us, we have a lot of talent on the roster, and I think we have a new environment now," Epstein said. "It feels like a bit of a new beginning. I think the key is to preserve all the things we've done well that led to a lot of success over the last five years or so, but add new elements, new standards."

Keeping a star player like Bryant obviously makes the Cubs a better team, but moving his $18.6 million salary likely gets them from absorbing another luxury-tax hit.

Bryant is eligible for free agency after the 2021 season and reportedly turned down a contract extension offer from the Cubs two years ago.

He also lost his service-time grievance late last month. Had Bryant won, he would have been a free agent after the upcoming season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Epstein texted Bryant after the ruling.

"No hard feelings on either end," Epstein said. "I don't resent Kris or hold it against him in any fashion. In fact, I respect he was willing to do that even though it probably wasn't easy."

The last two seasons have been tough on the Cubs, but Ross takes over for Joe Maddon and he sees enough talent to win the NL Central.

"I think the main thing is there has been a lot of success here, these guys have had a lot of experiences to pull from," said Ross, who played for the 2016 World Series champion Cubs. "Just come back and pay attention to some of the details, grind at-bats, focus on cleaning up our baserunning a little bit.

"I think some of the small details have maybe gone awry the last year or two. Nothing earth-shattering. I think it's just attention to detail, working together, getting back to respecting one another and being accountable to your at-bats and your teammates."

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