MESA, Ariz. -- When Daniel Descalso walked into the Cubs' clubhouse earlier this week, he quietly dropped off an equipment bag at his locker and then disappeared down a hallway. It was a moment that was easy to miss amidst the buzz around the room that morning.
One of the reasons Chicago signed Descalso to a two-year contract this offseason was to inject some veteran leadership into a group that may let a sense of inevitability overtake a sense of urgency down the stretch. Throughout this past winter, the Cubs' front office was vocal about the need to improve the clubhouse leadership structure in order to help remedy the club's day-to-day focus.
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Descalso was not going to dive head-first into that assignment on his first day in camp.
"I'm not going to come in right away and stand up on the couch and be giving like a rah-rah Knute Rockne speech," Descalso said with a laugh. "They know it takes time. It's about building relationships and building trust, and then you can go from there and build on that."
On the baseball side of the equation, the Cubs very much feel the 32-year-old Descalso will help in a variety of ways. He will split time at second base at the start of the regular season while Javier Báez mans short in Addison Russell's absence. Descalso can also offer depth at third base and in the corner-outfield spots, and he can also provide some solid on-base ability (.353 on-base percentage in 2018) and pop (.436 slugging percentage) as a left-handed hitter.
All that said, the Cubs also were drawn to Descalso's strong reputation as a clubhouse presence. And that topic of leadership was indeed discussed with the utilityman during and after contract negotiations. Manager Joe Maddon said he talked to Descalso about the issue at the Cubs Convention, and it will undoubtedly be broached in their upcoming one-on-one meeting before camp is in full swing.
"It's always going to have to be based on his comfort zone, not mine," Maddon said. "I mean, my comfort zone is, of course, 'Go.' But you don't know that the player is equally as comfortable, especially when you walk into a new room. ... I think the real good leaders don't just jump in with both feet."
The idea is that Descalso can provide something similar to what Jon Jay brought to the table in 2017 and what David Ross did as a leader prior to that with the Cubs. Before last season, Chicago's roster setup did not make adding that kind of veteran player a priority. As the the year wore on, the Cubs' decision-makers felt that approach was "a miscalculation on our part," as general manager Jed Hoyer phrased it in December.
As that message was relayed publicly over the offseason, some of the Cubs' veterans took note.
"They made it clear to everybody. I mean, I read the stuff, too," Cubs lefty Jon Lester said. "I think we cleared the air on a lot of things this offseason with certain things -- as far as the front office to players -- and kind of understanding our roles a little bit more. Sometimes you need to do that, you need to sit down and actually go face to face and talk about what the expectations are. I think we're in a good place."
Descalso said the presence of the other veterans in the clubhouse will help him grow into his role, too.
"I think I just come in here and be myself," Descalso said. "There's a lot of guys that have been in this league for a long time, a lot of accomplished players in here. That's why they've been so successful the last few years. That's why the expectations are high. It's not like I'm coming in to a team full of rookies that haven't accomplished anything, so it shouldn't be too hard."