Gomes expects new-look Cubs to 'come ready to win'
MESA, Ariz. -- Earlier this spring, when veteran Kyle Hendricks was readying for his first light bullpen workout of camp, catcher Yan Gomes made his way to the practice mounds. Gomes was not on the schedule to catch the right-hander that morning.
"It was awesome of him to take time out of his day," Hendricks said, "to see what it looked like and give me some feedback. I really appreciate that."
That is the kind of care Gomes has had for his pitchers at every stop throughout his career, and why it took little time for the veteran to win over Chicago's staff. Now in his second season with the Cubs, Gomes has an increased level of comfort and is looking forward to the "win now" expectations for the season ahead.
Gomes chatted with MLB.com earlier this spring about partnering up with veteran catcher Tucker Barnhart, the steps forward for the Cubs in the second half last year and the goals for the club in 2023. Here are a few highlights from that conversation.
1. Working with Barnhart
With long-time Cubs catcher Willson Contreras now with the rival Cardinals, Chicago brought in the two-time Gold Glove-winning Barnhart on a one-year deal with an option for 2024. Gomes and Barnhart will split the duties behind the plate and both bring reputations for strong defense and rapport with pitchers.
"You're trying to find ways we're going to complement each other in every way that we can," said Gomes, who had a double in Thursday's 8-6 Cactus League win over the Reds. "Obviously he brings a lot of experience, has had a lot of good seasons. So there's a lot of trust there in what he does. I'm excited to get to learn from him and get to work together.
"He can bring a lot of knowledge and, talking to a lot of guys, he brings a good track record. In a clubhouse that's trying to win now, that's really important and I'm excited we brought him here."
2. Building on last year
In the second half last season, the Cubs' rotation posted a 2.89 ERA, which ranked third in the Majors in that span behind only the Astros (2.70) and Dodgers (2.73). Chicago did that while dealing with injuries and leaning on rookies and some unexpected arms.
"If you start a season with five guys and end with five guys, that would be tremendous,” Gomes said. “But we understand now the depth that we are building in the Minor Leagues. And they've shown they can do it up here and carry a load that probably wasn't expected of them last year. They did it, and the reward was one of the best finishes in the league.
"Coming into this year, the coolest thing is we added some experience in [Jameson] Taillon. And then add another year of those young guys that we have, that's going to be helpful here. I'm just really excited just for the knowledge that our pitching staff and pitching coaches got from what we did last year.
"Instead of trying to still bounce ideas of, 'How can we get to that?' We showed there was a process that does work. And we've got the people for it."
3. Experience in the room
With Contreras and Jason Heyward no longer around, Hendricks is the last remaining player from the 2016 World Series team. Gomes has played in two World Series and boasts one ring. Chicago has also added World Series champions to the room in Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger and Trey Mancini, among others. The locker room now has a long list of All-Stars, past award recipients and other playoff participants, too.
"A lot of different voices now," Gomes said. "A lot of guys that each have our own experience in reaching those levels, whether it's playoffs or just really going through ups and downs. It's been mentioned, the accomplishments and amazing things that have been done to win already. When push comes to shove during this year, we're going to have guys that can voice an opinion. There's not pressure on one guy. We might have 10 guys that have experiences.
"The front office put a lot of effort in to build a team that's a win-now team. And we're trying to build that right now this spring -- not on an eye-wash basis. It's a lot of little things that we're doing. It's things to prepare us to play in the long run and go in there with the younger guys. It's going to be, 'Come ready to win. Get ready to win. Come ready to perform in any way you can and help build a selfless team, an egoless team.'"