What was supposed to be a season of reckoning ended up as a wrecked season when the Cubs couldn’t hone an edge sharp enough to chop even Theo Epstein’s word salad. Which is to say they let us draw our own conclusions about what it meant when they said they were going shake things up over the winter. Now we’re going to move on from this particular pun theme before I talk about anyone having egg on their face or how Victor Caratini looks so far this spring.
In any case, the idea behind not spending in free agency — well, other than the obvious financial concerns — was that increased adoption of player-led accountability initiatives would improve performance. Last year saw the implementation of more mandatory batting practice and increased clarity when it came to setting lineups, among other directives Joe Maddon recently described as the front office meddling with his style.
Except that it was the players pushing those changes after feeling as though the only real accountability was taking place as the business side calculated how much more money Marquee Sports Network was going to generate. Javy Báez admitted that he and other players weren’t as well prepared as they could have been, and we can probably all point to instances in which someone just seemed to be dogging it.
Please understand that I’m not pointing fingers or singling out any particular player for pimping a long fly ball or disrespecting 90. Maybe it’s the application of revisionist history to the last two years, but there just seemed to be a sense of malaise hovering over the club. That’s not something a new manager can eradicate all on his own, which is why Kris Bryant is leading a player-based charge to hold themselves accountable.
I’m going to repeat part of that for those out there still laboring under the opinion that the man who volunteered to be the Cubs’ union rep after Jake Arrieta left doesn’t have a strong voice in the clubhouse. Kris Bryant is leading the charge. But, you know, he’s soft-spoken and doesn’t cuss so he’s just a follower, right?
“The last two years we’ve been talking and saying all these things that we need to change,” Bryant told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Sun-Times. “All we do is just talk. No one really acts on it. I think as a team we should act on it.”
Okay, cool, but what exactly does that mean? Apparently they’re working on expanding the judicial power of kangaroo court by working out a system of fines for mental errors and other undesirable behavior. Man, it’s almost too bad Addison Russell isn’t around. The fines from his play alone could have subsidized what Marquee stands to lose in Comcast carriage fees.
“If there’s a ball that you hit that you think is a home run and you want to watch it, you better make sure that ball goes over the fence, or there’s fines,” Bryant explained. “Stuff like that. Everybody wants to look cool and do this and that, but let’s just play baseball. It’s just, ‘Do the fundamentals right now.’”
Damn, KB. They should print STRAP IT ON AND DO THE FUNDAMENTALS RIGHT in scarlet letters on a t-shirt repeat offenders have to wear during practice or warmups. Cubs players are already familiar with serving as walking apparel advertisements, so the barrier to adoption is pretty much nil. It’s just a good thing Mike Napoli is a coach and not a player, because good luck getting him to wear a shirt at all.
Speaking of former Indians players, Jason Kipnis told Wittenmyer his old team had a system of penalties for mistakes that included rewards as well.
“The accountability part shouldn’t come from fear of having to pay $100,” Kipnis said. “It should come from fear of letting down your teammates, playing the game the wrong way.”
I know I’ve joked about this a lot here, but I really do think it’s a great idea. If it spurs the Cubs to get their collective crap together, maybe this is something we’ll look back on a cause of their improvement. And if they’re not playing well, they can use the funds from their piggy bank to help the front office afford a new player at the trade deadline. That’s a win-win situation if ever I’ve seen one.