A lot of what Dansby Swanson said at his introductory presser about the importance of winning was completely cliché – which is not an insult, mind you, because he himself said it was very cliché. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true, and I want to leave myself open to the idea that there are some players who are so driven by the idea of their team winning that day’s game that it DOES make a difference in their actual chances (1%? 2%?) of winning. Some kind of extra push, before, during, after, between games. I guess I just don’t want to pretend that I know everything about what goes into winning baseball just because we can now quantify so much of it.
To that whole point, I want to share some of what Swanson said on this topic during his presser, because it sparked in me something very specific about what the Cubs are trying to do in their farm system. As transcribed at Marquee:
“Winning starts with the mentality,” he said. “It starts with the belief each and every day that you’re not showing up wanting to win, you’re showing up that you’re going to win. It’s never a matter of ‘if.’ It’s just a matter of ‘when.’
“And then when you start to win, it really starts to build confidence in the organization; it starts to build confidence within your teammates. Winning baseball is really just about playing the game to win. I know it sounds super cliché, but there are so many times and examples where you can tell like, ‘Oh, this guy is doing this for himself.’ Or, ‘He was wanting to do this to get the RBI instead of moving the runner or whatever.’
“There are so many instances where there are teaching moments. Where instead of me saying, ‘I’m gonna go out and strike out 6 guys today,’ it’s like, ‘No, I’m gonna pitch to win today.’ Sometimes it might be 8 strikeouts, 9 strikeouts. With the mentality of pitching to win, hitting to win, playing defense to win — you just have to have more runs on the board than they do at the end of the game.”
If any of that sounds vaguely familiar to you like it did to me, it probably made you think about the last couple years where the Cubs have made it more of a priority to see their minor league teams actually win games. We all know that the record of the teams in the farm system is not the priority – it’s all about individual player development. But the Cubs have increasingly bought into the philosophy that part of the development that will help your organization in the long-term is if your minor league players do get to experience winning baseball on the regular.
It not only creates an expectation, but it – I think – can probably teach guys how to win together as a team in a sport that is sooo individualized in so many ways. I won’t pretend to know some of those precise mechanics (beyond the obvious examples we could come up with, some of which were suggested by Swanson), but it doesn’t strike me as crazy that the more you get your youngest players to participate in winning, the more winning becomes a fundamental part of who you are. Yes, this is a little bit of magical thinking, but I think there’s probably something there.
To make a more grounded point, though: I think it’s crystal clear that this was a topic the Cubs and Swanson discussed in the recruiting process. So whatever YOU may think about the importance of having players who have experienced winning at all levels, it is obvious that the Cubs’ front office now views that as a developmental priority.
Oh, not that it’s ALL about player development on the path to competitiveness. Swanson, of course, also pressed the Cubs’ front office to learn more about their plans for continuing to add to the team. After all, winning at the minor league level isn’t the whole of what he was talking about – obviously the guy also wants that winning culture at the big league level year in, year out. Surrounding Swanson with great players in the years ahead, including by way of spending money, is also pretty important.
“I left that conversation feeling better than going into it, honestly,” Swanson said of a discussion he had with the front office, digging in on their plans, as recounted by The Tribune. “They definitely have a clear plan for what they want to do, the types of people, the types of players that they want to bring on board. I feel like the first step is fully building a winning culture. You’ve got to show everybody that you want to win, that you’re going to win and then people really start to buy into that vision. But, yeah, there’s definitely a vision to spend money. It’s always so easy to (say) spend money, do this, do that, but there are a lot of really good players that will be here in the next couple of years in terms of minor-league guys and prospects.”
So. Build that winning culture from within, but, yes, there will be money to spend.