The inimitable John Lackey once quipped that he didn’t come to Chicago for a haircut, he came for jewelry. The idea worked so well that one of his former teammates flattered him Monday by paraphrasing it while framing up the shortened season to come. Speaking to reporters just two days prior to the start of summer camp, David Ross made it clear that his goals won’t be swayed or diminished.
“If they’re passing out a trophy, I want it,” Ross said. “If they’re handing out rings and we’re all starting from the same point, I don’t care if it’s a five-game season. This is competition and it’s what we enjoy doing. It’s why we suit up.
“Everybody else can put [an asterisk] on it, but if we win the whole thing, I’ll still get a ring and a trophy.”
In order to make that happen, the rookie manager plans to stick with the same script he’d prepared heading into the season. That means playing with respect and trust, doing all the little things right, and coming out of the gate hot. It was a message that had Kris Bryant ready to run through a wall back in February and you have to imagine it still rings true more than four months later.
Though the cast remains nearly identical, some of the roles have changed and lines have been rewritten to account for the shorter season. That means using a DH, which Ross said will be a committee effort likely headed up by Kyle Schwarber. As simple as it sounds to just go out there and hit, baseball players are creatures of habit and Schwarber loves being able to contribute in the field.
“I don’t see Kyle as a huge outfield risk for us,” Ross said after explaining that he’s assured Schwarber that his role will not be limited to the DH. “We do have some guys that are better defensive outfielders than Kyle, but he plays a solid left field. I don’t have hesitation with putting him out there.”
Among the other options in play to serve in that role are Steven Souza Jr., Willson Contreras, and Victor Caratini, though it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see that group expand even further.
The pitching staff and Ross’s management of it will have to flex as well, especially early on as starters aren’t stretched all the way out. Though there’s obviously a lot left to figure out, the skipper said he felt confident that a standard rotation will be able to get it done.
“I think it’ll be unrealistic to expect guys to get to maybe 100 or so pitches right out of the chute,” Ross admitted. “That may be a little bit of a challenge. But right now we’re just going to stick with our five-man rotation and continue to move forward.”
There are still so many questions about the season that remain unanswered, particularly those 10 vacant spots on the Cubs’ 60-man roster. Initial confusion about the seemingly light list cleared up with the realization that it’s merely procedural and gives the team a chance to add from both the outside and inside.
“I don’t have a feel for whether there will be movement or not,” Jed Hoyer said Monday.
Since a player can’t be removed and brought back, Hoyer said the Cubs will see how the big league roster takes shape and then look to add more prospects to the taxi squad in South Bend. That could mean the additions of Zack Short, Trent Giambrone, Tyson Miller, Burl Carraway, and others who seemed like locks to make it.
That’s perfectly illustrative of the season as we know it, which is to say that it’s being approached with an abundance of caution and that nothing is certain until it’s certain. Unless, that is, it then becomes uncertain again. This whole thing is like trying to catch mercury with tweezers and it’s being complicated by trying not to catch COVID-19.
Two Tier 1 — that’s essential on-field personnel — Cubs staff members actually tested positive and will miss the start of camp as a result, but Hoyer explained that the tests were administered at home and were not part of the team’s protocols. Intake testing has just begun, so Hoyer admitted that there’s still obvious concern for the possibility of additional positives in the coming days.
How the Cubs and the rest of MLB will deal with that is yet to be seen, but it’s a reality that is going to put more than a little stress on the health and safety guidelines the league put together. No matter how it all ends up shaking out, the one thing I can guarantee you is that this season will be unlike any other we’ve ever experienced.