There’s a quote about the definition of insanity that’s widely attributed to Albert Einstein, I’m sure you know the one. Something about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Kind of like my son asking me if he can have an all-sweats week at school and then acting as if “No” actually means “Please ask three more times.”
You know, I kinda wonder if that’s what it was like around the Cubs offices this winter, with Theo Epstein repeatedly asking Tom Ricketts for more money to make a big splash. Absent a major roster addition, the Cubs are going to have to make things work with what they’ve got. But that doesn’t mean repeating everything they’ve done before, particularly when it comes to urgency.
Whether it was achieving ultimate success or simply being lulled to sleep by supreme confidence in themselves, the Cubs haven’t looked the same these past two seasons. Epstein said in 2014 that he was going to provide an annual feast rather than just cookies, but those hungry groups of ’15 and ’16 gave way to teams that looked at times like they were suffering through a collective food coma.
That’s why we’ve heard all the talk of looking for veteran leadership to replace what was lost when David Ross retired and Dexter Fowler decided Chicago was a little too exciting. A dearth of significant player additions and a shift in Joe Maddon’s staff to younger, less experienced coaches means that leadership void has to be filled by players currently on the roster.
Kris Bryant will surely assume a little of that role, though he’s more of a behind-the-scenes guy serving as the team’s union rep. And even if Jon Lester has apparently spread his wings more, whatever that means, he’s not suddenly changing his approach at age 35. Besides, he’s a pitcher and pitchers are weird.
Then you’ve got Anthony Vincent Rizzo, the man many have said would wear a “C” on his chest if that was a thing. And I don’t mean the logo, since every Cubs player has one of those, but the mantle of team captain that he essentially assumed when he tried to fight the entire Reds dugout in July 2014. Addressing the media on the morning of their first full-squad workouts, the first baseman touched on the need to change things up.
“We didn’t win last year,” Rizzo deadpanned. “What are we gonna do, sit back and do the same thing? That’s insanity.”
One could argue that moving forward with the same core roster after lamenting a broken offense is more or less sitting back and doing the same thing, but there’s something to be said for shaking things up mentally. Some of that may well be spurred by the Cubs’ newfound underdog status, something that hasn’t been the case since that 2015 breakout that saw them shoot to 97 wins and an NLCS berth.
While various outlets still have them among the favorites in the National League, the PECOTA projections of an 80-82 record and last-place finish have stuck in a craw or three. Never mind that we don’t know the specific factors that led to those conclusions, nor the delta involved, no NL Central cellar-dweller has ever finished with more than 73 wins.
“Yeah, and Bryce Harper is coming to the Cubs,” Rizzo joked with reporters Monday when asked about PECOTA’s validity.
By the way, Harper is not coming to the Cubs. Unless Rizzo knows something and just pulled off the most perfectly timed troll job since Bryant hinted at Fowler coming back well before he actually did. Although it would sure change the outlook for this season if the slugging outfield suddenly came strolling in.
Anywho, while the Cubs have laughed publicly about the sub-.500 projection, you can rest assured that they find the lack of faith disturbing. It’s even turned into literal bulletin-board material.
On lower left corner of Cubs workout schedule: pic.twitter.com/oOJfhKyo0q
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) February 18, 2019
Listen, I’m not going to sit here and wax poetic about how citing the results from computer model in mid-February could have the same impact as peeling pieces of clothing from a provocative cardboard cutout of the team’s owner. Lord knows the prospect of seeing a mostly-naked Tom Ricketts probably wouldn’t achieve the desired outcome. At the same time, it can’t hurt for the Cubs to have a big-ass chip on their collective shoulder this season.
Even the New England Patriots, the furthest thing from an underdog in professional sports since Michael Jordan’s Bulls, managed to parlay a manufactured slight into yet another Super Bowl victory. So by all means, play up the disrespect angle for all it’s worth and sharpen the edge that seems to have worn dull after Rizzo put that 30th out in his back pocket.
The key, at least from my perspective, will be to bring everybody in and own it now while embracing the target and trying not to suck.