Theo Epstein and Dale Sveum Expect the 2013 Chicago Cubs to Be Competitive

dale sveum head scratcherThe word “expect” is replete with semantic implications. When you say you “expect” to eat lunch today, it’s a pretty good indication that you’ll actually eat lunch today. But when a parent says she “expects” her young son to behave and sit still in church, there’s a different feel – the parent might not actually believe the son will be able to sit still, but she places those expectations upon him because that’s where she wants him to be.

So, when the men in charge of the Cubs – President Theo Epstein and manager Dale Sveum, for example – speak as though they “expect” the 2013 Chicago Cubs to be a playoff contender, I can cut them some slack, and pass on the easy jokes. They may not believe it will happen, but it’s fair for them to expect contention from their players, and from themselves. See? Semantics.

Each man was asked about the 2013 Cubs during the Cubs Caravan yesterday, and each essentially did say that they expect the team to be good in 2013.

Sveum started by taking issue with .500 as a goal for the 2013 Cubs.

“The one thing you hate doing is saying, ‘[finishing] .500 will be good,’ because it’s not good,” Sveum said Wednesday, per Carrie Muskat. “It’s not 101 losses, but .500 isn’t getting you to the playoffs. Just getting in the playoffs is satisfactory …. In a perfect world, if [Matt] Garza and [Scott] Baker are ready to go Opening Day, its not a bad staff to have [Jeff] Samardzija, Garza and [Edwin] Jackson at the top and the other guys in the four, five spots. Fujikawa would come in the eight inning, Marmol in the ninth, there’s so many things that are so much better going into this season than last year. [Finishing] .500 is, like I said, still not acceptable.

“You can’t fall victim to, ‘Yeah, we are obviously in a transition in the organization, and we’re trying to get healthy and do all this,’ but don’t fall into the category that we can’t win right now,” Sveum continued. “Baseball is a funny thing. Just last year, we close out some games in April and the start of the season is a lot different and you never know what happens after that. You might not have the exact same bullets as the guy actross the street, but all you need are guys to play up to their capabilities and have a starting staff and close out games, and you win a lot of games.”

Given that Sveum is in Year Two of a three-year contract, this is everything you’d “expect” him to be saying. Nothing wrong with any of it.

Epstein’s take was similar.

“There’s no reason to show up or build a team [if you don't believe non-playoff seasons are a failure],” Epstein said Wednesday, per Paul Sullivan. “It’s postseason or bust every year. That’s what our goal is. That said, we’re obviously building for something greater, which is a time when we can expect to get into the postseason every year.

“Behind the scenes, regardless of the results, there’s progress being made. But as far as 2013, you can define it as a success or failure by whether we make the postseason, and ultimately whether we win the World Series. But absolutely. There are stories every year about teams that don’t necessarily look like the favorites on paper that find their way playing meaningful games in September, playing into October, playing into deep October. Baltimore, Oakland last year, they are great inspirations for teams in our position.”

From my perspective, I neither “expect” nor “believe” the 2013 Chicago Cubs will be a playoff contender. Of course I “hope” it, and I do think it is within the realm of possibility (however small). But, in truth, I’d just like to see progress in 2013. That’s my “expectation.” That doesn’t necessarily mean a better record in 2013, though I think that will happen.

It means that, by next October, I’d like to feel much better about the Cubs’ chances of being competitive as soon as 2014 than I did this past October.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

34 responses to “Theo Epstein and Dale Sveum Expect the 2013 Chicago Cubs to Be Competitive”

  1. Stu

    Every team is going to say this. I do believe the Cubs are better this year because of the pitching. .500 would be a step in the right direction.

    Are the Dodgers considered the front runner now?

    1. North Side Irish

      I’d say the Nationals are the best team in the NL, followed by the Reds. You could make a good case to pick the Giants over the Dodgers too. And of course (sigh), the Cardinals. Dodgers are just big names thrown together and I wouldn’t be shocked if they missed the playoffs again.

      1. Noah

        Yeah, I unfortunately think people are underestimating the Cardinals. You do have the risk of Holliday and Beltran hitting major declines, but Shelby Miller and Taveras could both be in the Majors by mid-2012, plus even outside of them they have the prospects to add help if, say, Carpenter doesn’t come back from injury well or they need to add a mid-rotation starter. I think the Giants take a step back due to making the same mistake they did after the 2010 series (sticking with hot hands from late in the year instead of plugging holes). My top NL teams heading into the season are probably: (1) Nats; (2) Cards; (3) Red; (4) Dodgers.

        The Cubs are actually one of a whole host of teams you could make an argument for anywhere from say, 7 to 13 in the NL for, but if the Cubs look only like the 7th or 8th best team in the NL in July they’ll probably do another significant sell this July.

        1. hansman1982

          That is what happened last July with the Cubs, they were the 10th best team in the NL and then sold off to become the worst team in the league over the last two months.

          1. Norm

            heh, “10th best” is a much nicer way of saying “7th worst”.

    2. terencemann

      The Nationals look like the best team in baseball to me. The Reds seem like the 2nd best team in the NL. The Dodgers have an infield with a lot of question marks – Adrian Gonzalez is the only good bet to be a really good player. Their outfield consists of Matt Kemp, a right fielder who can’t hit lefties, and Carl Crawford, who barely played last season and was a disaster in 2011. Their rotation is pretty good. I think the Giants could still pull off another miracle in the West but I’d bet the Dodgers are the best team in that division.

    3. itzscott

      The usual rah-rah stuff to work the crowd into a lather going into the convention.

      When was it any different?

  2. TWC

    Larf. That penultimate paragraph reads like it was written by a certain … former … commenter.

    1. Spencer

      hahaha i thought the “same” thing.

  3. terencemann

    If making the playoffs really was an “all or nothing” goal, they wouldn’t be as conservative as they have been. It just sounds like they’re toeing the company line, so-to-speak.

    1. Norm

      That would be true if they were only looking at 2013. But they are looking at making the playoffs EVERY year, and that falls in with their actions.

  4. Canadian Cubs Fan

    If the Cubs, with this current configuration also had an all-star 3rd baseman (David Wright, Adrian Beltre, etc.) to slot in the middle of the lineup, I’d be willing to go as far as about 85 wins. Without that, 78-82 would have to be viewed as a major success. Assumimg health and performance of course.

    1. Voice of Reason

      And, if we had a speedy centerfielder and a right fielder with 40+ home run power to go along with that all star third baseman we might be one of the best baseball teams ever.

      The fact is, we don’t!

      I like what Sveum and Epstein said.

      At least they’re keeping it real. Playing .500 is a great goal for the team to have! It won’t happen, but at least they are being honest and not saying they are going to the playoffs or going to win it all!

      1. TWC

        That moment when you don’t comprehend the article you just read:

        Sveum said: “The one thing you hate doing is saying, ‘.500 will be good,’ because it’s not good…. .500 isn’t getting you to the playoffs. Just getting in the playoffs is satisfactory. … [Finishing] .500 is, like I said, still not acceptable.”

        You said: “At least they’re keeping it real. Playing .500 is a great goal for the team to have!”

        1. King Jeff

          Voice of Reason seems to be a somewhat ironic name.

          1. DarthHater

            You seem to be somewhat of a master of understatement.

  5. Norm

    I don’t know….without Jack Hannahan, they are pretty much tanking.

    1. terencemann

      LOL.

    2. hansman1982

      Or Jeff Baker, circa 2011.

  6. hardtop

    im going to try to forget about both these statements from these guys so i can try to enjoy the convention.

  7. MightyBear

    Epstein/Sveum is saying exactly what I’ve been saying all offseason. The Cubs could be a playoff team, I’m not saying they will be a playoff team. Which really is true of any Major League baseball team. The Nationals and the Blue Jays look stacked but injuries and down years by players could de-rail them both. The team that was the Las Vegas favorite to win the World Series at this time last year – the Philadelphia Phillies 6-1.

  8. jbalf19

    They are still building a culture. And with such a young core they need that to resonate with the big club and down. At your work there is a culture, whether it’s good or bad, it leads to things like engagement, belief, development that all turn into success.
    Frankly, if they weren’t saying these things I would be really worried. But Paul Sullivan will be the first guy, when the season is complete, to say that Theo and Dale didn’t succeed and use these quotes as evidence. It’s all about context.

  9. Idaho Razorback

    I agree. .500 would be a successsful season.

  10. Jon

    FO is participating in marketing speak. Time to move on.

  11. Curt

    who spiked the koolaid it is nice to have hope but realistically where are the runs going to come from, especially if soriano ends up traded .

  12. 2much2say

    With the new Wild card teams being added .500 will get you to the playoffs

    1. Dave

      “With the new Wild card teams being added .500 will get you to the playoffs”

      Extremely unlikely. Look at the records of last seasons wildcard teams.

    2. DocPeterWimsey

      The first sub-0.500 team to make post-season will not be a wild-card team. It will be the winner of a division full of equally bad teams that are getting trounced by the rest of the league while splitting games against each other.

      At any rate, we almost always have at least one division winner with a worse record than teams that missed the playoff altogether. For example, the Tigers had a worse record than either the Angels or the Rays. The extra-wild card game feature two teams with better records than the Tigers.

  13. willis

    I don’t think this is quite a .500 team, but I do like that he pointed to the pitching as a strength, which is the case for this roster. The offense has holes, but pitching wins and this staff will help keep the team in plenty of games, which will be nice to see.

    1. DarthHater

      I see it like this: The pitching – especially starting pitching – looks significantly improved over this time last season. The starting 8 position players look about the same level overall – there’s reason to hope that Rizzo and Castro will improve, but also reason to fear that an aging Soriano may decline. On balance, thought, I’d say the improved pitching should make this team better than the team the Cubs fielded in the first half of last season. How much better, I have no idea.

      1. DarthHater

        *thought = though

  14. Blublud

    I feel that if the Cubs can find a RF/CF (Bourn) they could win the central. I expect Stewart to be servicable at a minimun this year. Dejesus, Barney and Castillo are all average players at a minumun and probably above average this year. Rizzo, Soriano and Castro could all have monster seasons this year, with Castro going for 20 Hrs, Rizzo 30 and Soriano with the smaller bat and picking up from last season might go for 35+. Dont be suprise to see Castillo and Stewart, best case, around 15-20 either. This team has a lot of power potential. The only thing we are missing is a true speedster in the lineup. Bourn would be ideal, Campana, “if not better then shierholtz” to me offers more of what we need then Shierholtz. Those 2 or a trade for a speedy outfielder better then Shierholtz I think could put us around 84-88 wins which would have us in contention. Don add speed, or start Shierholtz over Campana and our projection drops down to around .500 or below baseball.

  15. THEOlogical

    Brett, I believe I get your point, on that the team will be improved from last season and the record should be better. The record might actually be worse, only because if we have a mediocre first half, then we’ll most likely have traded off our biggest assets the Fo deemed tradeable. Hence, possibly no Soriano, Garza, Marmol, DeJesus, Feldman and Baker. That’s plenty of turnover to have a downward spiral in the second half. So all in all, we could see a possibly 90+ loss record and still have a productive season. I believe our hopes of a highly competitive 2014 rests on the advancement of our upper Minor leaguers, the return we get for the traded players and how much improvement our core has done that’s already in the majors.

  16. OlderStyle

    So, are Theo and Dale essentially saying there is a Santa Claus, but we won’t be disappointed if there are no gifts under the tree this year?
    Or maybe it’s “sanity-clause”?