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Quiet winter not dampening Cubs' expectations

@MLBastian
January 16, 2020

CHICAGO -- The arrival of Cubs Convention each January is supposed to inject warm optimism into the cold Chicago winter. Given the tough finishes to the past two campaigns, the lack of roster movement this offseason and all the talk of financial inflexibility, this weekend's event comes with some angst

CHICAGO -- The arrival of Cubs Convention each January is supposed to inject warm optimism into the cold Chicago winter. Given the tough finishes to the past two campaigns, the lack of roster movement this offseason and all the talk of financial inflexibility, this weekend's event comes with some angst within the team's fan base.

You wouldn't know it from discussing the 2020 season with new Cubs manager David Ross.

"If you're looking for a negative mindset, that's not going to be me," Ross said on Thursday morning. "We're going to talk about winning a World Series. We're going to preach winning a World Series. We're going to do our work to win a World Series. Those are the things that I focus on."

Ross was in attendance at Horner Park Fieldhouse on Thursday, along with first baseman Anthony Rizzo and a small group of Cubs players, to assist in packing more than $115,000 worth of equipment to distribute to 50 Chicago-area youth programs and schools. It served as the unofficial start to this weekend's activities, which will be centered around Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago.

The cast of Cubs that helped with Thursday's event was fitting under the circumstances.

There was Trevor Megill, this winter's Rule 5 Draft draftee, and Brad Wieck, the under-the-radar trade pick-up from last summer. Top prospect Nico Hoerner -- in the mix for the starting job at second base -- was on hand, along with Minor Leaguers Tyson Miller and Zack Short. Utility man Daniel Descalso (the only position player signed to a Major League contract dating back to last offseason) was there as well.

It was a snapshot of Chicago's relatively unchanged roster, and of the idea that the Cubs will be counting on many of the same players (plus internal depth) to improve upon last season's 84-win, third-place finish in the increasingly competitive National League Central.

Don't expect Ross -- in his first year as the replacement for manager Joe Maddon -- to say anything other than he believes in the core group that remains in place.

"The lack of moves excites me," Ross said. "I love the guys in that room. I know there's a lot of talent there. I've got a lot of relationships with those guys, so definitely, I kind of enjoy just looking at that roster every day and it looking the same, because I know there's a chance to win the World Series right there."

Ross expects to write 'Bryant' in his first lineup

One reason Ross believes that is because he has won the World Series with a key group of this Cubs team. That includes players like Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras, who are among those to have had their names included in trade reports and speculation all offseason.

The Cubs might still look at making an impact trade to ensure they stay under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold ($208 million), while balancing planning for future seasons. Dealing from the core group would be an avenue for Chicago to potentially improve its rotation or add young, controllable talent in an effort to sustain the team's realistic window of contention.

"There's a lot of guys that are going to be floated around. We don't know," Rizzo said. "As players, you can't control that. Obviously, as players, you want payroll to keep going up, keep going up, keep going up. I don't know if that's the case right now. We need to focus on what we can control for the next nine months now -- really, even for the next couple months, because who knows what’s going to happen between now and Spring Training?

"And once we get to Spring Training, you just never know. So it's on us to just keep doing what we do. We've been through a lot as a unit -- guys that have been here."

So the Cubs -- still without a player signed to a true Major League contract this offseason -- will take the stage at the convention's opening ceremonies on Friday night and do their part to stir more optimism for the coming campaign. There have been sweeping changes behind the scenes, including installing Ross as the new voice of leadership.

Ross feels those adjustments to the culture and process -- whether it involves player development, the front office or field staff -- can get more out of the team in place.

"There's a lot of talk that goes around. I don't feel like, in general, we've had that nice excitement," Ross said of the public's response to the Cubs' quiet offseason. "I'm excited as heck. I hope the fans are, because I can't wait to get started. I know, like I said, we've got a chance to put another banner out there in 2020. I'm excited about that."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.