Cubs Players Know They Need to Win Early … or Else and Other Bullets

jeff samardzija gatorade showerWe’re headed home from the hospital this morning, bringing The Little Boy home to meet The Little Girl (yay). That should be a lot of fun.

  • The Cubs’ players know that, if the team doesn’t start out surprisingly well in the first couple months, another sell-off is likely to happen. “Without a doubt,” Samardzija said, per Patrick Mooney. “It’s very, very important [to win early], especially with guys like [Matt] Garza and these different dudes that are about to be free agents. We need to show that when they’re on this team, we’re a more capable team – to win games and make the playoffs and go from there. That’s for us to prove on the field. And as long as we can do that, then you can add pieces instead of taking them away …. Our plan is to put [the front office] in a tough situation on what they want to do halfway through the year. [If] we’re doing our job and we’re winning ballgames, they’re going to have a tough decision.” I love that attitude, and I love that it’s coming from Samardzija – someone who knows he’s highly likely to be around for a long time. Of course, I’d rather the front office’s decision wasn’t tough – I’d rather it was easy, in the direction Samardzija means. Which is to say, if we’re tossing coins down a wishing well, I’m going to wish the front office is in a position that they know they HAVE to add pieces, since the Cubs are 15 games over .500.
  • Last year, Carlos Marmol’s season turned around when he came back from an early-season “injury,” and was told upon returning that (1) he had to use his fastball more, and (2) he was not allowed to shake off the catcher. The approach worked, and Marmol was dominant for some four months. Going into this season, the rules for Marmol are the same.
  • Dale Sveum says Steve Clevenger will see time at first base in Anthony Rizzo’s WBC-induced absence, and will also see some time at third base and second base throughout the Spring. He might also see some time, at least in practice, in the outfield. The Cubs want to know what kind of value he’d offer as a utility guy (who can also catch, obviously) before deciding whether or not to keep him on the roster. (I wonder: if the Cubs feel like Luis Valbuena can adequately cover shortstop, they might be less likely to keep Brent Lillibridge (or one of the other shortstop-able back-ups) on the roster, and could instead keep Clevenger. Alternatively, if Valbuena wins the third base job and Ian Stewart is cut, another bench job opens up for someone like Clevenger.)
  • Sveum likes what he sees so far from Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon. ”He has legitimate stuff,” Sveum said, per Cubs.com. “[Thursday], he was 92, 93 [mph] with a good slider, he threw strikes. He’s always been a strike thrower. That’s nice to have in your back pocket. The guy’s always been a strike thrower, and now that he’s completely healthy — the only kicker is we have to get him to be able to throw two innings.”
  • Alfonso Soriano talks about what it’s like to be in Spring Training with so many youngsters (spoiler alert: he likes it).
  • Dontrelle Willis, who left his only Spring appearance after seven pitches with an apparent injury, is back to throwing and good to go. Whether he actually gets into another big league camp game, however, remains to be seen.

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

46 responses to “Cubs Players Know They Need to Win Early … or Else and Other Bullets”

  1. THEOlogical

    Obviously I’d love to see the Cubs be contenders and 15 games over .500, for the sake of being 15 games over. 500. But also to see what kind of moves the FO would make to help the team win this yr and not hinder future seasons.

  2. DocPeterWimsey

    The Cubs actually have one of the tougher early season schedules: 27 of their first 41 games are against teams that were 0.500+ last year, and most of the teams that they play in April were contenders last year.

    So, if you are projecting the Cubs to be (say) a 76 win team, then do not expect them to get 19 of those 76 victories in the first quarter of the season, and maybe do not even expect them to get 38 of those victories in the first half.

    (And if you are about to say “Don’t use the schedule as an excuse,” remember that if you expect a team to win 81 games, then you expect them to win more than half of their games against the lesser teams and lose more than half of their games to the better teams: when you play your betters or lessers is pot-luck.)

    1. Dude

      I really miss the Astros.

      1. Die hard

        If you “liked” the beatable Astros you’ll “love” the Cubs unfortunately

  3. Die hard

    Not going to happen because team is being manufactured with built in 3 mo obsolence like American cars used to be built until Toyota came along. When team falls apart about June as planned parts will be replaced

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      Actually, the Cubs should be picking up in June: their schedule the second half of May and the first part of June is much weaker than it is up to mid-May.

      1. cubchymyst

        That might actually work out well this year. If a few of the potential trade pieces have a good first few months they might bring back a decent prospect or two. Then the prospects and mid summer call up can play against the 2nd tier teams and gain some confidence.

        1. Die hard

          Hope springs eternal which keeps us Cub fans going…. Hope ur right

  4. 5412

    Hi,

    I see where the closer for the Indians came up sore. Wonder if they could use Marmol?

    regards,
    5412

  5. Tommy

    Three things:

    1) Trying Clevenger at 2nd base. WOW! That seems a stretch, but it would be awesome if he could pull it off.
    2) If the Cubs really want to give it a go at winning this season, I don’t think selling Marmol off before the season starts is a good move. He clearly still has closer stuff based on his 2nd half numbers from last year, so why not start the year with him and see how things go first?
    3) I hope we get another chance to see Dontrelle Willis. I don’t know why, but I have always really liked that guy. Doubt he could help the big league club at this point going off of what you’ve been saying here, Brett, but still would be nice to see what he can do.

    1. frank

      Didn’t Clevenger actually come into the system as a second baseman?

      1. Tommy

        Did he? I didn’t know that! He sure doesn’t look like he’s got the build to play 2nd base, but interesting if he started there. Thanks Frank!

        1. frank

          I read that today (in the Sun Times or Trib) and was wondering if anyone else had seen it as well. I too, don’t think that he looks like a second baseman–maybe that’s why he was moved . . .

  6. cubfanincardinalland

    I predict Hector Rondon will prove to be one of the best moves the Cubs will have made.
    This is a very talented young pitcher. He was a highly touted prospect with the Indians, played in the Futures All Star game. Was the Indians minor league pitcher of the year in 09. He was dominate in AA at 21 and held his own at AAA. Then the injuries to his elbow.
    Shows how goofy these prospect lists can be, he went from a top ten Indians prospect, to nowhere. His arm didn’t fall off, he had surgery. The talent is still there.
    Could see him working out of the pen, and moving to a starter ala Samardzija over the next couple years.

    1. cubchymyst

      I hope your right.

  7. Die hard

    Looking forward to this repeated headline in sports pages- “Another moon shot by Soler causes eclipse “

    1. Tommy

      Die hard – I have to admit, you used to really get on my nerves, but lately, you say some pretty funny and clever things. I hope you can forgive me for judging you so harshly in the past! ;)

      1. Die hard

        I subscribe to the axiom “life is too short” and since we all share the same goal of a WS Champion in our lifetime ur kind words are appreciated

  8. college_of_coaches

    LOL

  9. Jono

    Really niceto article today.

    I have the feeing that it’s a 100% certainty that they’ll sell off and all this talk is simply saving face, making it look like they’re not completely giving up this year (it’s not a good marketing idea to tell the fans that this is a throw away season). Of course I may be proven wrong, like I am way too often.

    1. Jono

      “Really nice article today” please forgive the confusing auto correct

      “Feeling” not “feeing”. Typing on a phone doesn’t work out so well

  10. ruby2626

    I agree with Hector Rondon. Didn’t I read where he was throwing upper 90′s in winter ball. Johan Santana #2, just kidding, wasn’t he the most famous Rule 5 pitcher pickup.

    Read on the other site that Appel had another dominating performance. 3 hit shutout against a good Texas team with double digit K’s. Kind of a catch 22, you want him to do well but if he does too well Houston will probably grab him.

  11. Bill

    Looking at the schedule now and saying the early part of the schedule is tougher is silly. It’s the same nonsense we hear from Bears reporters talking about the Bears having a brutal schedule in Nov. Who knows? Some teams predicted to be good will be bad, and some teams predicted to be bad will be good. Until you start playing a lot of games, you don’t know. Did anyone think Bal and Oak would be good teams last year?

    This doesn’t even take into account what a team looks like when you face them. For example, in football the Patriots look like a tough opponent, but if Tom Brady is out with an injury the week your playing them, they aren’t as tough. In baseball if the opponent is without 1-2 of their big bats, because of injury, and/or 1-2 of their starting pitchers, the team isn’t as tough as when everyone is healthy.

    Looking at the schedule before the season, to determine which half is tougher, is a fools game.

  12. TJ

    Re Dontrelle Willis – Why do you suppose the Cubs gave him a chance at comeback and didn’t afford Mark Prior the same?

  13. Die hard

    Would a Soriano for ARod make sense if Yankees pay the difference so doesn’t cost Cubs a dime?

    1. Coal

      This would be interesting, but the respective lengths of the contracts would make it pretty tricky (I don’t think the Yankees would eat all the extra years). But if you are asking which would the Cubs prefer – the next 2 years of Sori’s performance or the next 2 years of A-Rod’s performance, probably A-Rod? Yanks might actually prefer Sori, so that’s where it’s interesting. But I think the Cubs have enough of a PED circus going on with Sosa etc., and enough of a “youth movement” going on to where they probably don’t want to rock the boat with a wild card media hog. But could probably sell some tickets, still protect Castro and Rizzo in the line-up and wouldn’t be a terrible option at 3rd.

  14. BAIRSDEN

    Being an Iowan I truly believe signing Mark Prior and putting him at AAA would have helped the I-Cubs sell tickets. Hopefully Mark can get it going with Cincy.

    1. CTS

      Mark who? Come on brother! This is 2013.

  15. cubfanincardinalland

    They have 55 games in April-May. 26 of them are against the Pirates, Brewers, Marlins, Mets,
    Padres and Rockies. All projected to be .500 teams or worse.
    And the 4 games against the Giants are at home, 6 against the Reds, who I would rather play early in the season.

  16. Larry Bittner

    I’ve read a lot of quotes from Jeff Samardzija and I must say, he’s probably a really nice guy, you can say he’s competitive, confident, even cocky, but to me he comes across as a complete ass. Is anyone else thinking this as well? It would serve him to dial it back a bit.

  17. DPRagen

    In a sport as unpredictable as baseball to base personnel decisions on a two month period at the start of the season, all the while claiming to be thinking long term, is as lunatic a concept as can be imagined. I suggest a takeoff on the old Lucky Strike advertising slogan for the Cub faithful: LSUFT or “Lord save us from Theo”!