Cubs players determined to be good before the sell-by date
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org March 2, 2013 1:14AM
David DeJesus (right) could stay or go this season, depending on how the Cubs perform. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 4, 2013 6:32AM
MESA, Ariz. — Anthony Rizzo might be the face of the Cubs’ future. Or maybe it’s Javy Baez. Or Jorge Soler.
What’s for sure as the Cubs creep within a month of the second Opening Day of Theo Epstein’s regime is that the face right now with this team is David DeJesus.
‘‘I understand that this game’s a business,’’ the veteran outfielder and leadoff hitter said. ‘‘I want to be a Cub for the rest of my career, but my job right now is to take these young guys under my wing — like Rizz, like Matty [Szczur] — and give them that sense of [big-league] routine. . . .
‘‘I understand that Theo has a process.’’
The realities of the Cubs’ present and the promise of their future collide every day in the home clubhouse at HoHoKam Stadium, from Alfonso Soriano lockering next to prospect Junior Lake or eating lunch across from former first-rounder Baez to newly arrived veteran Scott Feldman laughing in another corner of the clubhouse with top pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino.
DeJesus is in the final year of a two-year deal, and at the trade deadline he could be a valuable piece for a team with an eye on October. Once Matt Garza proves he’s healthy and dealing again this season, he becomes the most valuable of commodities at the deadline — proven starting pitching — along with maybe Feldman, who, like Garza, is pitching on a one-year deal.
The story line has been so well-documented for so long that when asked Friday if he’d seen a newspaper story about the possibility the Cubs could blow up the roster again if the team doesn’t start well, pitcher Jeff Samardzija said, ‘‘Is that the Obvious Paper?’’
This is what spring training has become to many of the players in this clubhouse.
While teams such as the Detroit Tigers assume they’re preparing for another playoff season, and while teams such as the Houston Astros engage in free-for-all scrums to fill bottom-feeding rosters, the Cubs have no idea what they are yet.
Five months removed from finishing with 101 losses, they figure to open a new season with new players filling nearly half the roster, veteran pitchers replacing Class AAA guys, Rizzo here from the start, the back end of the bullpen strengthened.
It should be better, but by how much? Enough to avoid another selloff in July?
Whether the Cubs choose to sell off short-term veterans at the deadline if they’re out of the race is not the salient question.
The big question is, how do you define ‘‘out of it’’ at midseason with two wild-card playoff berths in each league? With one week left before the deadline last year, four teams were within four games of a playoff spot with records of .500 or one game better than .500.
‘‘In a good way, it makes our jobs harder,’’ Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. ‘‘We have to really know our team and really evaluate our team and how we’re playing. The way you got to that record may have a lot to do with it.’’
Run differential, perceived luck, how health issues affected the start — and figure to affect the finish — all come into play.
The short answer to the question is the Cubs can’t really answer the question.
‘‘Correct,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘It’s really difficult.’’
The outside perception in the game is that this is already a dead team walking.
Soriano, for instance, already has faced a two-day blast of trade rumors — in February. And he’s a guy with full no-trade rights.
Closer Carlos Marmol has been considered to be on borrowed time since former Japanese All-Star closer Kyuji Fujikawa was signed as a free agent in the offseason.
‘‘But that’s not what our plan is,’’ Samardzija said. ‘‘Our plan is to put then in a situation — a tough situation — on what they want to do halfway through the year. . . . If we’re doing our job and winning ballgames, then they’re going to have a tough decision on what they want to do.’’
It probably will take a lot more than being .500 and within four games of a playoff berth on July 24. Given the long-term plans of this front office, don’t count on any more patience than the White Sox showed in that infamous ‘‘White Flag Trade’’ of 1997 when they were a game under .500 but just 3½ games out of first.
‘‘The beginning of the season could be as important of a first couple months as we’ve had,’’ Samardzija said. ‘‘It’s very important. It’s very, very important. Especially with guys like Garza and these different dudes that are about to be free agents.
‘‘We need to show that when they’re on this team, we’re a team that’s more than capable of winning games and making the playoffs.’’