The Cubs may be sending out mixed signals this winter, trying to sell the rebuilding plan while insisting they can compete for a playoff spot in 2013.
While few believe the Cubs can make the leap from 101 losses to the postseason, the players said all the right things Friday on opening day of the Cubs Convention.
The pressure of trying to pull off a miracle and end the 104-year championship drought, pitcher Jeff Samardzija said, was a challenge he embraces.
“If you don’t want that (pressure) that comes along with (playing in Chicago), then go do something else,” he said.
Optimism is always on display at the annual fan fest, which moved this year to the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers.
The fans who attend every year are usually the type that goes into each season believing this is the year they have been waiting for all their lives. But they also realize it’s Year Two of the new regime, and the long-term building of a foundation from within is still in its infancy.
“We have very intelligent fans in Chicago,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “They know this is part of a process.”
If the Cubs do have a fighting chance in 2013, Samardzija, Matt Garza and newly signed free agent Edwin Jackson probably are going to have to lead the way. Near the end of 2012, the rotation included Jason Berken, Justin Germano and rookies Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley.
Jackson received a four-year, $52 million deal earlier this month, a surprise move considering how little the Cubs had spent on free agency over the past two winters.
“I don’t think they liked what they saw (in the rotation) last year,” Garza said. “If you want pitching, you have to pay.”
The lineup is mostly the same as last year, and everyone but Alfonso Soriano and Anthony Rizzo will have to improve, while Rizzo needs to prove himself over an entire season. The key may be Starlin Castro, who said he learned a lot from 2012, including the importance of staying focused.
Castro brought up the famous brain cramp in San Francisco, where he forgot the number of outs, saying that won’t happen again. He put up some of his best numbers last year, with career highs in triples (12), home runs (14) and RBIs (78).
Castro said he wasn’t satisfied and is determined to get back to .300, after finishing at .283.
“This is an important season for me and for the team,” Castro said. “Last year was not a season I was happy with. Yeah, I had the highs in home runs and RBIs, but I know I’m the kind of player who can hit for average.”
Soriano is entering the seventh year of his eight-year, $136 million deal, coming off his best overall season with the Cubs. He said he had no regrets about not agreeing to be traded last summer to the eventual World Series champion Giants, citing the chilly San Francisco weather that “is not good for my body, or my knees.”
A wild card in the Cubs’ lineup will be third baseman Ian Stewart, who missed most of 2011 after undergoing wrist surgery. Before that, he struggled. Stewart was non-tendered but re-signed because of the shallow market for third basemen.
“They probably could have got me back for a lot less,” Stewart said of his $2 million deal, which includes $500,000 in incentives. “It shows what a first-class organization this is.”
Whether a “first class organization” will translate to a winning season for the first time since 2009 is open for debate. But with the unofficial start of the 2013 campaign underway, the Cubs were feeling pretty good about themselves.
“Right now, we’re sitting on top of the pole at 0-0,” Garza said.
By Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune reporter
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