Cubs should count on accountability from new regime
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com February 17, 2012 10:10PM
Former Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, responds to questions after Epstein was named president for baseball operations during a news conference Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Updated: March 19, 2012 10:11AM
MESA, Ariz. — Among the pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training Saturday for the Cubs, you won’t find any C.J. Wilsons, Mark Buehrles or any other big-ticket free agents.
Or Carlos Zambrano, for that matter. In fact, the Cubs are spending more money this season ($15.3 million) to make sure Carlos Zambrano pitches somewhere else (Miami) than they are on any one other guy to actually pitch for them.
As much as anything, that might underscore the new organizational attitude of the 2K12 Cubs, the tone the new regime is trying to set as manager Dale Sveum starts his “building not rebuilding’’ project this spring — with first official workouts scheduled Sunday.
The Cubs’ new manager and coaching staff aren’t promising pennants or World Series timetables. And nobody’s going to look at this roster this spring and predict MVPs or Cy Youngs.
But as they prepared to unveil Theo Epstein’s first Cubs model since taking over as president of baseball operations in October, the field staff has been emphatic about promising what they believe will be a different fans will see immediately.
Whether it’s zero tolerance for double standards, lollygagging or Z-like lack of self-control, Sveum and his coaches have spent the last month or two promising — like many before them have — to change the so-called culture of this team.
Now the Arizona heat is on to prove it.
“They’re going to be held accountable,’’ Sveum said during Cubs Convention. “Whether you’re going to be able to make guys do it on a consistent basis, I don’t have a magic ball. But it’s not going to be OK [to lollygag].
“They’re not going to be able to walk by me in the dugout without me saying something when they do it. And it might be something where you pull somebody out of a game, too. If it’s going to embarrass the Chicago Cubs and the other 24 guys that are busting their butt every single day, I’m not going to allow that to happen.’’
New pitching coach Chris Bosio vowed a tough approach to the game from his staff, including knocking a few hitters down if they start looking a little too comfortable.
How much difference any of this makes in the standings this year is questionable at best, considering a roster reloaded with possible-upside young guys, underachieving bounce-back candidates and discount depth.
The Cubs’ top home-run hitter (Carlos Pena), top RBI producer (Aramis Ramirez), best relief pitcher (Sean Marshall) and top pitching prospect (Andrew Cashner) are gone since last year.
The top returning hitter, league hit king Starlin Castro, starts the spring dogged by at least the distraction of a sexual assault allegation — which he strongly denies — and police investigation — which remains unresolved.
Will a pitching staff that looks deeper than last year, if uninspiring beyond ace Matt Garza, leave Mesa as a competitive factor? Will the fielding be improved enough to make a difference?
Will David DeJesus at the top of the lineup and Bryan LaHair in the middle do much to compensate for the losses of Pena and Ramirez?
That’s the idea. That’s the hope during this most optimistic week of the baseball calendar.
But no promises, say the guys in charge.
No promises, that is, except when it comes to the head-in-the-game effort, first-to-third energy and run-out-the-damn-popup mentality the new staff plans to enforce.
“This isn’t the first time we’ve heard some of these things,’’ said new first base coach Dave McKay, Tony La Russa’s longtime former coach in Oakland and St. Louis. “A lot of it is just staying on top of it and not accepting it. All we can do is tell you that we are going to do something about it. It’s not going to be something that’s ignored.
“It’s not going to happen. You’ve heard that before,’’ he added, his voice growing sterner. “All you can do is trust us that it isn’t going to happen. It is not going to happen.’’