The Rundown: Cubs Talk World Series Goal, No ‘Nefarious Motive’ with Bryant’s Service Time, BenZo Comes Back to Camp

I’m fired up that David Ross and his charges are talking about the World Series this year. The rookie manager sounds 100% believable, though it’s possible he just hasn’t realized the magnitude of the job in front of him. The attitude and outlook is refreshing to see and hear.

As far as Ross is concerned, how can he not be fired up? In his last official game wearing a Cubs uniform, he homered — in his final career at-bat — in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

The only way he could possibly top that is to lead his team to its second championship in five years, only this time as manager.

“Who turns down the job to manage the Chicago Cubs?” Ross said after he was hired to replace Joe Maddon. “Not this guy.”

Even Theo Epstein is in World Series-or-bust mode. Is this team really talented enough to believe its two biggest hype men?

Epstein usually takes a more realistic approach toward each season, so to hear him even mention the game’s ultimate prize is somewhat surprising. After all, he’s only made marginal changes on the periphery of a roster that disappointed in the final months of each of the last two seasons. But before you get too excited, the president of baseball operations admitted that Chicago could very well have to go into fire sale mode come July if the team is not a legit title contender.

“In the middle of this season, if we have a legit World Series contender, that is really meaningful,” said Epstein. “But if we don’t, you can’t be blind to the realities of the following 18 months.”

Those realities are the limited guaranteed futures of some of the team’s best players, including Kris Bryant and Javier Báez. Tom Ricketts said earlier this winter that it’s up to Epstein if the Cubs intend to keep their two superstars. The owner completely trusts his front office and wants the team’s fans to likewise trust in their process.

The Nationals proved last season that making it to the big dance is all that is necessary to go home with a piece of metal, and you’d have a hard time convincing me that the North Siders aren’t good enough to at least make the Wild Card this year, let alone win the NL Central.

When Epstein was hired, he said four things I’ll never forget: “Baseball is better with tradition. Baseball is better with history. Baseball is better with fans who care, but baseball is best when you win.”

Though the team is only halfway through its rookie manager’s first camp, it seems that the fire has returned to those charged with restoring glory to the organization.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Arbitrator Mark Irvings accepted Epstein’s rationale for delaying Bryant’s debut at the start of the 2015 season, concluding there was no proof of “a nefarious motive” to delay the third baseman’s eligibility for free agency.
  • Ben Zobrist showed up to camp yesterday as a special guest of Ross. The first-year skipper has been bringing in some of the ’16 heroes in what may be an attempt to rekindle some of the magic from that season’s great playoff run. John Lackey was last week’s guest.
  • Zobrist will be with the Cubs for the rest of the week in an advisory capacity. There has been no indication that the team might sign him to play.
  • The Rockies beat the Cubs 11-10 in Cactus League play yesterday, but Ian Happ hit another home run.
  • The battle for second base is wide open and no one has emerged as a clear favorite. “I’ll let them prove to me who deserves that spot. And I’m not talking about stats, I’m talking about how they go about their business, who they are in the clubhouse. There’s a lot of factors that go into that,” Ross said.
  • Jason Kipnis is enjoying the opportunity to revive his career with the Cubs and holds no preconceived notions that his seniority gives him a leg up on his competition at the keystone. David Bote and Nico Hoerner have both had good camps, and Daniel Descalso is on a guaranteed contract.
  • Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors published his offseason review of the Cubs in case you lost track of all the team’s non-roster invitee signings.
  • The Cubs and Comcast are playing a game of chicken with considerable risk for both sides as negotiations continue while the beginning of the regular season draws closer and closer.

Odds & Sods

I’ve been digging on old Marx Bros. movies as comfort television during the times I’m not feeling well and when I get bored with spring baseball. It was a surprise to hear a baseball-related exchange in the movie Duck Soup.

Zeppo Marx: “Now, Chicolini, I want a full detailed report of your investigation!”
Chico Marx: “All right, I tell you. Monday we watch-a Firefly’s house, but he no come out. He wasn’t home. Tuesday we go to the ball game, but he fool us – he no show up. Wednesday he go to the ball game, but we fool him – we no show up! Thursday it was a double header – nobody show up. Friday it rained all day. There was-a no ballgame, so we stayed home, we listen to it over the radio.”
Zeppo: “Then you didn’t shadow Firefly?”
Chico: “Sure, we shadow Fire…  we shadow him all day.”
Zeppo: “But what day was that?”
Chico: “Shaddaday!”

MLB Spring Training Notes

Despite a fraudulent past of his own when he was a ballplayer, ESPN analyst Álex Rodriguez ripped Astros players for their participation in the team’s sign stealing scandal.

The Pirates conducted a deep cleaning and sanitizing of their spring training facilities due to the potential threat of the coronavirus.

The Brewers and Christian Yelich are close on an extension that would pay the outfielder $215 million over nine years, with a mutual option for a 10th season, though some of that money could be deferred. With Yelich already guaranteed $27.75 million through 2021, that’d put the new deal at around seven years and $187.25 million in new money.

Baseball’s obsession with power pitching may actually be hurting interest in the game.

Red Sox starter Chris Sale will undergo an MRI on his ailing elbow.

The A’s have shut down heralded rookie pitcher A.J. Puk due to shoulder soreness.

Yankees outfielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are both likely to miss the start of the regular season due to injuries.

Extra Innings

I’ve got nothing.

They Said It

  • “Every year before I come to spring training, I watch the [2013 Red Sox and 2016 Cubs] World Series videos, so it hits me hard. I laugh and cry. Every year, it never fails. The emotions pour out. It gets me excited for baseball, because I know that’s what it’s all about.” – David Ross
  • “Not to bring up a sore subject, but the Cubs went 108 years without winning — we’ve gone three. I don’t want to bring light to losing, but I think it’s the ebbs and flows of the game. Other teams get better.” – Jon Lester
  • “When [the Cubs] won it in ’16, you’re starting to think dynasty. These guys were going to be good for a long time. They are good, they just haven’t won it. It’s hard to win it all the time. But this is still a very good team. I think they’re more than capable of accomplishing anything they want to.” – Jason Kipnis

Wednesday Walk Up Song

Miracles by Jefferson Starship

  • What went wrong? Not so much the video here but the song itself, as Jefferson Starship goes full-tilt boogie with the sexual innuendo and overt metaphors. For you Gen-Xers, just knowing that your parents may have hit the three-foot bong, shared a bottle of Boone’s Farm, and then spent 30 minutes knocking boots one night in 1975, and you’re the result, should be enough to drive you to therapy. Sorry.
  • How does it play today? I suppose there are lyrics in modern rap music that are more X-rated than “I had a taste of the universe (just a drop of it) when I went down on you first,” but the creep factor is a lot lower because unlike this mid-70s FM hit, those songs don’t carry Marty Balin’s over-the-top, forced sustain.
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