It was only a matter of time when the Truth would leak out about the Cubs disappointing post-championship seasons. Javy Baez recently ran out into the media highway to drop a few bombs on himself and his teammates.
The Associated Press reported that Baez said the Cubs
were lacking last year when it came to their pregame routines and work
ethic. “We had a lot of optional things, not mandatory, and
everyone kind of sat back on that — including me. I wasn’t really going
out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the
game, which is not good,” Baez said. “But this year, I think before the
games, everybody should be out there as a team, stretch as a team, be
together as a team so we can play together.”
Cubs President of
Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said last week he could think of only
two times in 18 years of running major league clubs that he felt “basic
organizational standards for work, preparation and behavior” were not
being met. (One can easily say that was a shot at Joe Maddon's management style, being a "player's manager.")
skipper David Ross said at the end of the day, from a manager's
standpoint, coaches try to get players prepared and put them in the best
possible situation to succeed, but baseball has “always been about the
“So for (Báez) to say that, and saying the group feels
they can turn it up a notch, I mean, that’s a powerful message they are
sending,” Ross said. “This is never about the manager. It never should
be about the manager. When you're in that locker room, the players are
the ones affecting the outcome.”
(Ross is defending Maddon because he is right: players have to take the responsibility themselves to prepare for games.)
If the lack of preparation was a problem, then the front office is also to blame. The baseball executives have spent millions on new analytical labs, new coaches and trainers to tell players how to hit and pitch. Theo hired and fired three batting coaches in three years. We suspect that after a while, the players just tuned out everyone.
Dusty Baker, also a players' manager, often said that he left his players alone in their game preparation. He often cited that the players are "professionals" and professionals know how to act. He was relying on his own experience as a player (in a vastly different time.)
Ozzie Guillen was a vocal leader. But he continually stressed the fundamentals and principles of the game. Before the first game of every series, he scheduled mandatory fielding drills for all his players.
Theo wanted performance over potential in 2019. He did not get it because his players did not get the message. The reason is simple. The lack of any farm system talent and budget constraints means that there is no new players pushing the existing core to play their best. There is no real competition for starting position roster spots. There is a lack of urgency and drive if you know that there is no one on the team ready, willing and able to take your job.
The Cubs organization is in a total mess. Ross brings back the championship cred, but it may not translate to a strict manager berating his friends and former teammates to tow the line. How will he change a culture that has had the players merely going through the motions? It is not that Ross can sit players for not trying hard because he has to win now.