Ross looks past roster holes, sees bright future for Cubs
So much has changed with the Cubs since they ended shortened 2020 season with a whimper, losing two straight to the Marlins in the opening round of the playoffs while being outscored 7-1.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein stepped down. Popular players like Jon Lester, Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. are free agents.
Former general manager Jed Hoyer, who replaced Epstein, is still trying to determine who he can add to the roster and how much money chairman Tom Ricketts is going to allow him to spend.
No matter what happens, manager David Ross is staying his usual optimistic self, trying to make the best of an uncertain situation and guide the Cubs to their sixth playoff appearance in seven years next season.
"Jed is committed to working in the boundaries that is provided for him and trying to make us the best possible team we can be," Ross said. "And I think there's a lot of different ways to look at that."
Many are looking at it as a rebuild, something Ross quickly dismissed.
"Retool, whatever you want to call it, none of those words are on the radar for me," he said. "Jed has been working hard from the top to the bottom of the organization to make us the best."
Hoyer is going to have to work overtime to fill gaping holes in the outfield and starting rotation.
After Schwarber and Almora were non-tendered, Jason Heyward and Ian Happ are the only two experienced outfielders left on the roster.
Kris Bryant is a natural third baseman, but he's played all three outfield spots in his six seasons with the Cubs, a total of 172 games.
Assuming he's not traded, Bryant is an obvious candidate to play left field.
"I've talked to Kris multiple times about playing the outfield, but I have not talked to him recently about playing it more next year," Ross said. "We all know how good he is out there. I think he can play any position in the outfield, to be honest with you. He's a guy that we could definitely put out there and feel confident."
The Cubs haven't completely shut the door on bringing Schwarber back, but there are obvious obstacles.
After leading the Cubs with 38 home runs in 2019, Schwarber hit 11 last season while batting .188 and striking out 66 times in 191 at-bats.
"Unfortunately for everybody, it didn't turn out the way he wanted or we wanted," Ross said. "We all love Kyle and what he's done here for the Cubs and would welcome him back with open arms. But I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of teams picking up the phone to call his agent."
Schwarber is likely to land in the American League as a designated hitter. The National League used the DH last season but is expected to drop the spot in 2021.
As for Lester, the door is also cracked for a return that is not expected.
Last season, the 36-year-old lefty was 3-3 with a 5.16 ERA over 12 starts. The Cubs declined Lester's $25 million option for next season.
"I'm optimistic," Ross said. "I hold out hope. I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy."
Before Ross met the media, the Cubs announced their 2021 coaching staff.
Willie Harris, an outfielder with the White Sox from 2002-05, is the new third-base coach. Harris managed in the Giants' minor-league system from 2017-19.
Assistant hitting coach Chris Valaika is the other newcomer. He was the Cubs' minor-league hitting coordinator the last two seasons.