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Signs of recovery are gratifying to Cubs players

Updated: September 4, 2014 6:55AM



LOS ANGELES — Depending on which high-level industry official you talk to, the Cubs are poised to start showing results in the Theo Epstein rebuilding process by 2016, maybe 2017, or perhaps just a little longer.

“When do the Cubs start winning?” One longtime executive replied: “I’d say 2037.”

OK, so maybe that estimate should be considered an outlier.

But whatever the perception from the outside is, those closest to the process say they sense an imminence that wasn’t there even a year ago.

Epstein called it a “light at the end of the tunnel” a month ago.

And with touted prospect Arismendy Alcantara joining the lineup and many of the other top prospects due within the next year, the expectations are changing quickly, players say.

“Winning is the only expectation I have going into next season,” said cornerstone first baseman Anthony Rizzo. “That’s all I’m going to focus on — no numbers, no stats, just winning. Whatever it takes.”

It’s going to take more players, specifically more pitching.

“It also helps that we’re the Chicago Cubs,” Rizzo said, “and we’re capable of having a $100-plus-million payroll. It’s no secret that we have money to spend.”

With more than $60 million in expiring contracts and a firewalled baseball-operations account in which Epstein has squirreled away close to $20 million, the Cubs expect to have more payroll flexibility than they have since the third-year front office took over.

Among the pitchers expected to be on the free-agent market are Jon Lester and Max Scherzer. Sources say the Cubs have had internal discussions about Lester, while Scherzer is a less likely option.

“It’ll be interesting,” Rizzo said. “With the big guys that are going to be on the market, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re going after one, two or three of them.”

Role players such as veteran pitcher Carlos Villa-nueva said the high-end possibilities are why they hope to stick through the process.

“The future, if they want it to be, might be closer than it [seems]. If they want to wait a little bit more, they can wait,” he said. “But there’s no denying that they’ve built an empire down there in the minor leagues. It just depends on if they can deliver once they get up here.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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