Cubs open camp with high expectations

February 12th, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- The daily sense of urgency officially begins right now for the Cubs. On Tuesday, Chicago's pitchers and catchers were required to report to Arizona, marking the first step in Spring Training's six-week build toward Opening Day.

After a winter with little roster turnover, the Cubs' leadership has made it known that there needs to be a renewed focus from the players in hand in order to learn from last fall's swift postseason exit. With contract extension talks on hold, manager Joe Maddon plans on leading the way with a more hands-on approach, and he'll do so with an overhauled coaching staff.

For Maddon, his players and the organization, this is a critical campaign. And a World Series ring is the goal.

"We've talked about it a lot. We did not like the way the season ended," Maddon said during a 45-minute press conference Tuesday. "And when you have that extra month to really mull things over, you get more determined to get back, more determined to prove yourself again. I've had a lot of conversations with different guys during the winter time and some even recently, and to the man -- I mean, everybody -- we want to make a statement this year.

"We want to get back on track -- meaning, of course, making the playoffs -- but the goal every year is to play the last game of the season and win it. And that's no different again this year. So, in order to get to that point, we have to own each moment."

That last comment plays into the mantra that Maddon is working on for the 2019 campaign. The manager said "Own it now" is a slogan he has been brainstorming about in recent weeks. Maddon explained that he liked the idea of taking ownership of every single pitch, at-bat or play. As a bonus, he liked that the word "now" is "won" in reverse. Expect to see that motto on T-shirts in the near future.

A slogan will not win more games, but Maddon said it is important to reiterate and emphasize a concept built around urgency.

The players are certainly on board in that regard.

"I think after the last few years, maybe it was a little bit expected where were going or where we should end up," Cubs pitcher said after Tuesday's informal workout. "It's never taking anything for granted. I don't think [complacency last year] was that extreme, in a way. Obviously, we were giving it everything we had. We just dealt with some adversity last year, some tough stretches. And I think we'll be able to use that to our advantage, just going through another year together."

Chicago's relief corps will garner much of the focus during the preseason in terms of roster competition. Closer (right elbow surgery in November) is expected to miss the first month of the season, opening a spot in the 'pen. The Cubs signed righties and , added a handful of non-roster invitees and have an assortment of rostered relievers who all will be jockeying for position.

Atop the list of storylines on the position-player front will be the progress by , whose power dropped off last season due to a shoulder issue. The third baseman is healthy and without limitations, but will remain under the microscope throughout camp. will arrive as the Cubs' most notable offseason investment (two years and $5 million guaranteed), offering leadership for the clubhouse and a versatile defender for the infield.

Shortstop (suspended until May 3 for violating MLB's Domestic Violence Policy) is on the restricted list, but will be able to go through workouts this spring with the Cubs. He also is still going through a treatment program that is being closely monitored by MLB and the team. The Cubs plan on making Russell available to reporters early in camp to discuss the serious situation and the steps he has taken behind the scenes.
The Cubs experienced a litany of setbacks in '18 (injuries and a second-half collapse by the offense being the main issues) and still managed to win 95 games. That was not, however, enough to win the National League Central, or enough to advance beyond the Wild Card Game.
The players want to remember how that ending felt, and carry that with them into this season.
"You certainly want to get started," Bryant said last month. "It's kind of good for us to go through that and get our teeth kicked in a little bit on our field -- Game 163 and then the Wild Card Game. It was really good for us. I think ultimately we'll all learn from it and come out with a chip on our shoulder, definitely."