We have finally started the annual ritual of Spring Training with Pitchers and Catchers reporting to Fitch Park/HoHoKam Park, the Spring Training home of the Cubs. So what the heck has been happening since the end of the 2011 season? Well, unless you have been living under a rock, there is quite a bit that has happened.
The first and foremost major acquisition of the 2011-12 off season was getting Theo Epstein, formerly of the Boston Red Sox, in as the President of Baseball Operations. With the slide at the end of the season in Boston last year, this turned out to be the best move that the Ricketts siblings could make to help right what has been wrong with the Cubs since the Wrigley Family owned the team. Epstein is known as being on the forefront of baseball knowledge in regards to running a team and Epstein helped to change the atmosphere in Red Sox Nation around and exorcise the Curse of the Bambino. It was in 2004 that Boston finally recaptured the title of World Series Champion for the first time in quite a few decades. Will Epstein be able to exorcise the Curse of the Billy Goat? That is unknown for sure right now however, with Epstein’s implementation of the new “Cubs Way” philosophy, things are hopefully going to get better for our beloved North Side team. Epstein has brought in two of his top lieutenants from his former Boston Staff that will be instramental in changing the philosophy within the entire Cubs organization. Will things turn around completely in 2012 for the Cubs? Probably not, however, give Epstein et al until at least 2014 to start seeing potential playoff contention from this team year in and year out. When will the Cubs finally recapture baseball glory? That is too soon to tell, but with Epstein in charge, we hope to see better upside relative to when Andy MacPhail (McFailure) was brought in.
A couple of the big moves in the positive in the off season after Esptein’s arrival was the dispatching of Carlos Zambrano to the Miami (formerly Florida) Marlins. This is giving Zambrano the opportunity to be managed by Ozzie Guillen whom he apparently likes and wants to play for. All I know is that this imploding pitcher who has never lived up to his potential on the North Side is finally out of our hair and we won’t have to wait to see how soon he blows up on the mound.
Another change that was made was letting Aramis Ramirez leave in a Free Agency move. Granted I am grateful for the time Ramirez spent on the North Side handling the Hot Corner, it definitely was time for Ramirez to move on with the new culture that is being brought in. I also like the fact that the Baseball Management decided to let Carlos Pena leave as well. Pena was all right, however, past his prime or ability in my view and did not do enough to warrant being retained with such a high priced contract. The only move that I was not really excited about (but still understand the science of the business of baseball) was trading Sean Marshall to divisional rival Cincinnati. There were other moves that happened however, there were no other moves that I felt were that significant in blowing up the team and starting over. The one thing that I confidently say is that every Cubs player or for that matter employee should read Ryne Sandberg’s Hall of Fame induction speech as Ryno talked about playing baseball the right way versus the way that most of today’s prima donna athletes play the game which is with respect for the game and the people that came before them. Epstein and company are apparently going to make this a priority in changing the philosophy through out the organization.
The Cubs have a new manager as well in Dale Sveum (pronounced Sway-m) who replaces minor-league lifer Mike Quade who deserved an opportunity to manage the 2011 Cubs after Lou Pinella walked away in 2010. Sveum was a coach for the Milwaukee Brewers last season and seems to have a lot of upside as a baseball manager and will be given every opportunity to become to Chicago what Terry Francona become to Boston before the end of the 2011 baseball season. This is not saying that Sveum is a reincarnation of Terry Francona however, everything seems to point that Sveum is the type of proto-typical manager that Theo Epstein wants in place to run this team in a more enlightened way. Sveum has learned from a lot of the top managers of all time in recent history of the game. Sveum has either played for or learned managing from none other than Tony LaRussa, Lou Pinella, Joe Torre and Jim Leyland just to name a few who have been most successful. I know there are a lot of people out there that are still upset that Ryne Sandberg did not get an interview nor job running this team especially since it was rumored that Epstein wanted Sandberg previously. I know I am still suprised by the hiring of Sveum and think that if things do not progress in the time frame that Epstein is anticipating that Sveum would be gone and Cubs Nation will do an all out campaign to have Sandberg return home. I also think that Sandberg is a potential Hall of Fame manager as he seems to improve and win at every level he has managed so far. I would like to see how well Sveum does in 2012 with expectations very low for this team and whether or not the team will compete day in and day out. The clock is ticking for Sveum to prove Epstein right in making this hire to initially run the newest version of the Chicago Cubs.
So there is a little bit of what has happened since the end of the 2011 season and some small thoughts on the upcoming season. As we get closer to Opening Day against the Washington Nationals, I will do a more in depth look at the projected 25 man roster that will be in place and reflect on the changes from the 2011 team to the 2012 team. It is going to a very interesting year in 2012 as the Cubs supposedly have a new franchise savior in Theo Epstein and his staff to right the struggles that this team has endured since last winning the World Series in 1908 and playing in a series in 1945. I personally go into every year hoping that the Cubs will be at minimum 81-81 and anything more would just be icing on the cake. I am not even sure right now that .500 baseball is a truly obtainable goal for this team as the overall team is limited in Major League experience and not a lot is going to be expected in 2012. I personally feel that in another season or two that things will start to turn around quite significantly if Epstein et al is able to find the right type of players and develop the right atmosphere for this team to play within. I also feel that Epstein has a better proven tract than Andy MacPhail did in changing the atmosphere and finding the right pieces to the puzzle to put into place to do what every Cubs Fan would like to see happen. It is a long time running mantra that all Cub Fans know, “Please, Just Once In My Lifetime.” I think that with the start in 2012 that I feel more confident that it will happen. I am just not sure specfically when it will happen. I just wish that Jack, Harry, Arne, Ronnie and my mentor in writing about our team, Stephanie Leathers who was the former Publisher and Editor of the Bleacher Banter would be alive to witness it in person. I know that five of them and every other Cubs Fan will be watching to see what happens. When it finally comes together and the Cubs reach the ultimate goal, there will be one giant party in and around the Chicagoland area. People ask me if there will be riots in Chicago when it happens and I tell them there won’t be any riots only one huge week long at minimum party and celebration. I just hope that I am able to see it.