The Rundown: The Winter of Our Discontent, Seeking Shelter from Harper, Fans Deserve Answers

The craziest winter in memory just keeps getting crazier, so let’s see if we can’t lean on our old pal John Steinbeck to quote our way through this winter of our discontent.

“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.”

You know, the Cubs won a World Series just two years and three months ago, and though people tend to forget that, it does seem to fade more and more into the distance. I suppose had Cleveland won that seventh game in 2016 and the following seasons played out the way they did, we’d probably be talking about a never-ending Cubs curse and wondering why even Theo Epstein couldn’t get this team a championship.

But they did win a championship and now, as fans, we are familiarizing ourselves with something different. The inability to win a second championship has suddenly become more urgent than winning the first, and mind you, that ended a drought of 108 seasons. Nobody knows how difficult and heartbreaking it can be to wait so long to win a title, except maybe Cleveland. Now we know just how difficult it is to scale that mountain again, especially when everything is in place to win repeatedly.

“Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.” 

When I hear the name Tom Ricketts, the first interrogative clause that pops into my head is “I don’t know why…” as in:

  • I don’t know why the Cubs aren’t spending money.
  • I don’t know why the Cubs can’t afford Adam Warren.
  • I don’t know why Ricketts has been so silent this winter.
  • I don’t know why the Ricketts family won’t participate in a Q&A session at Cubs Convention.

I suppose I can listen in this morning on what will probably be the highest rated sports radio segment since Pat Hughes called the World Series victory two years ago, but I fear that interview will leave me with even more questions. How much clarity can the Cubs owner provide? I am guessing not much, unless his intention is to throw his entire executive team to the wolves this weekend.

But Tom, if you are reading, we need some answers!

Someone asked me yesterday, “Do you think he is going on the radio to announce a Bryce Harper signing?” Are you rolling your eyes right now? Because that’s what I did.

“There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.”

Just a reminder, again, that the Cubs won 95 games last season despite a myriad of setbacks. This is a very good team with a lot of players nearing their prime seasons. Last season looks a lot uglier than it really was. I blame Epstein’s “broken” comments for the meltdown this hot stove season by Cubs fans. The Brewers signed Yasmani Grandal. The Cardinals traded for Paul Goldschmidt. The Cubs get the return of a healthy Kris Bryant and the repaired wing of Yu Darvish. Let’s see how it plays out before we remand the team to third place. Certainly very good teams can have mediocre seasons (see Washington Nationals, 2018). It happens. That’s baseball.

“I guess I’m trying to say, Grab anything that goes by. It may not come around again.” 

Still, Epstein needs to sign somebody to help this team. Even the best teams have holes to fill and the Cubs are no exception.

“It’s all fine to say, ‘Time will heal everything, this too shall pass away. People will forget’—and things like that when you are not involved, but when you are there is no passage of time, people do not forget and you are in the middle of something that does not change.” 

Hello, Addison Russell. To every Cubs player who will be asked about Russell this spring, remember that words are powerful and social media is the most powerful amplification platform in modern history. Once words leave your lips, they cannot be retracted. Candor can make you a pariah if you present yourself as tone deaf.

“To be alive at all is to have scars.” 

We shouldn’t discount the fact that, to a man, this Cubs team will enter the 2019 season with huge chips on their shoulders. The Brewers are the new bullies of the division. Let’s see how they do with the target firmly attached to their backs.

“Anything that just costs money is cheap.”

The Cubs didn’t get a whole lot of value for the money they spent last winter did they?

I witnessed a process vs. results argument on Twitter earlier this week. Spending in free agency is not process, though I suppose by definition spending could be process. The front office has defined process differently. Their course of action is based on an overhaul of the coaching staff, some key additions to the executive team, and the signing of Daniel Descalso to replace Tommy La Stella.

By no means should that appease Cubs fans. We have a right to be upset and here’s why. Epstein didn’t express much confidence in this team in November, and now he has reversed course and is asking us to have confidence in the same team.

“Do you take pride in your hurt? Does it make you seem large and tragic? …Well, think about it. Maybe you’re playing a part on a great stage with only yourself as audience.” 

The idea of the Cubs as lovable losers is no longer a thing in Chicago and it never will be again. I think we all know that now more than ever. I doubt fans will fully bail on this team, but in a winter that has exposed the machinations behind the team that takes the field, we are seeing for the first time, maybe ever, that fans are seceding from their blind allegiance.

“I shall revenge myself in the cruelest way you can imagine. I shall forget it.”

Epstein and Ricketts have put the onus squarely on the coaching staff and the roster for 2019. It’s time to seal the coffin on 2018 and face the upcoming season, ready for battle.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Despite everything we’ve read and heard, Jim Bowden said the Cubs are not in play for Harper, nor have they ever been.
  • Somebody at the Weather Channel has impeccable timing and, quite possibly, a mean streak. The network names winter storms and has dubbed the one currently moving across a large part of the country Harper. It is expected to hit Chicago at the same time CubsCon ’19 kicks off.
  • Welcome back Ian Clarkin, at least for now.
  • Paul Sullivan would like to see the Cubs create some additional panels for their annual fan fest this weekend.
  • “One of the more endearing qualities of the Ricketts family since it took ownership in late 2009 has been its transparency and willingness to meet with fans and face questions at the convention,” Bruce Miles wrote for the Daily Herald, though that has been obviously shelved this year. “(The) decision was made months ago based on fan feedback and desire to try something different with (Dempster),” said Dennis Culloton, spokesman for the Ricketts family.
  • The broadcaster who called Cubs fans the most obnoxious in baseball will retire after this season. So long, Marty Brennaman.
  • I know there has been a dearth of Cubs news that hasn’t been rehashed a thousand times these past few months, but kudos to CI writers for not stooping this low.
  • Could the Blue Jays be a Harper mystery team and is that why the Cubs are out on the all-star right fielder?

Thursday Stove

It was another slow day of what’s been a dreadfully slow MLB offseason, with no major-league signings or trades being announced. In case you missed it, Melvin Upton Jr.’s decision to once again go by B.J., a name he used from the time he was drafted through 2014, caused a bit of a stir on social media.

The Red Sox are likely to go over the $246 million threshold and will pay the consequences for doing so.

The Diamondbacks have agreed to a contract with former Nets infielder Wilmer Flores.

The decisions of Harper and Manny Machado will have a ripple effect on future moves by the Phillies this winter and next.

If you’re sick of sick the two-player circus that has been ensuing all offseason, here are 10 storylines to follow throughout the rest of the winter.

Royals pitcher Eric Skoglund has received an 80-game suspension after testing positive for two performance enhancing drugs, Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators S-22 (Ostarine) and LGD-4033 (Ligandrol), The Athletic’s Emily Waldon reports.

The Dodgers have big plans to make baseball games more of an all-around entertainment experience for the team’s fans.

Extra Innings

Kudos to Dan Lozano for nipping the distribution of misinformation in the bud, and for calling out Buster Olney and Bob Nightengale, who have genuinely been all over the place this winter when it comes to player gossip, rumor, and innuendo.

“I have known Bob Nightengale [USA Today] and Buster Olney [ESPN] for many years and have always had a good professional relationship with both,” Lozano said via the post. “But their recent reporting, like many other rumors in the past several months, have been inaccurate and reckless when it comes to Manny Machado.

“I am well aware that the entire baseball universe — fans, players, teams and media members alike — are starved for information about this free agent market for all players, including Manny,” Lozano’s statement continued. “But I am not going to continue to watch the press be manipulated into tampering with, not just with my client, but all of these players’ livelihoods as they have been doing this entire offseason.”

“Moving forward, I will continue to respect the CBA’s prohibition on negotiations through the media and hope that others would do the same.”

Thursday Walk Up Song

Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones. From Harper, both the storm and all the baseball rumors.

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