Expectations high as Cubs Convention returns

January 14th, 2023

CHICAGO -- Before the packed ballroom at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, where fans flocked for the opening ceremonies of Cubs Convention on Friday night, saw a few of his new teammates in a much quieter setting at Wrigley Field.

In a chat with reporters, Happ smirked and described new shortstop as a "pretty low maintenance guy." The veteran Cubs outfielder had asked Swanson where he might like his locker in Chicago's posh, circular clubhouse. The shortstop with the seven-year, $177 million deal said he did not have a preference.

"I was like, 'All right, well, I can tell you some good spots,'" Happ said. "He was super low maintenance. And I think that's it. I think he cares about winning."

After two years of rebuilding, and dismantling the last core group in the name of restocking the farm system and constructing "the next great Cubs team" -- the front office's refrain throughout -- winning is what the 2023 club now has in mind.

That was certainly the collective view from players on Friday night before Wayne Messmer gave his best midsummer rendition of the national anthem for an adoring crowd. After two years without a Cubs Convention, the event was back and buzzing with a crop of prospects and new faces for fans to learn.

An offseason after signing Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki, the Cubs went out and added Swanson, pitcher , center fielder , reliever , first baseman and catcher in free agency.

Maybe when this year's Trade Deadline arrives, the Cubs can be in a position to bulk up their roster again, as opposed to stripping parts for prospects.

"We want to get to that Deadline and be adding players, you know?" Cubs second baseman said. "You want to be making the moves. You want to be putting pressure in the division, leading the division, going from there.

"And obviously, this team has had a ton of changes. And I'm sure there's all sorts of different projections going on. But that's really up to us at this point."

There could be some moves yet to be made, but Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer noted that "the bones" of the roster are now in place. And the group assembled looks like it will be defined by pitching and defense, with some hope that the offense is better than anticipated.

With Swanson and Hoerner anchoring the middle infield, Bellinger taking over in center and the combination of Yan Gomes and Barnhart catching, the Cubs could field one of the elite defenses in baseball.

"We've got Gold Gloves all over the field," Cubs manager David Ross said. "It's probably as good a defensive team, obviously, as I've managed since I've been here. So I'm just excited about what we're going to be able to bring every single day."

Happ framed things this way: "You can see a path or a way that we can win a lot of baseball games."

After the player introductions -- during which the long list of prospects, Major Leaguers and Cubs alums have their name called, take the stage and high-five some fans -- Hosmer chatted with media in an adjacent ballroom.

"I've never seen anything like this," he remarked of the scene.

Cubs fans have, though. Cubs Convention and its raucous environment dates back to 1986 and serves as the final turn to Spring Training. And before the recent two-year hiatus, it was a celebration of a group of players who helped end a 108-year World Series drought in 2016.

On Friday night, when took the stage and raised a fist to the cheering fans, the pitcher did so as the last active player from that '16 squad.

"It's different," Happ said. "This event was very frequently a meeting of all of your buddies that you've been with for a very long time -- maybe one addition here and there. And so, to see all these faces -- obviously guys that I've played against for a while -- but to see all the new faces and their reactions to Chicago, that's super exciting."

Hoyer said he feels the Cubs "executed what we wanted to execute at a high level" with their moves this offseason, but he made it clear that, "ultimately, all that matters is how we play."

And after the way the past two seasons went, the Cubs are hoping 2023 is a stepping stone to another period of contention.

"I don't want to temper anything," Ross said of the expectations for his ballclub. "Winning's what it's all about. I don't' think we're going to win any ballgames here at Cubs Convention this weekend."