New Cubs manager Maddon: ‘Bring on the expectations’
Cubs fans got on their feet and roared, a rousing ovation for the person they hope will lead their favorite team to prominence.
Joe Maddon was the man of the moment Saturday, and the reception for Chicago’s new manager was every bit as warm as it was loud.
Maddon is quite popular around town these days, particularly on the North Side. After all, many believe the long-suffering franchise is poised for bigger things and he’s just the guy to lead them there.
"Bring on the expectations," he said.
The Cubs did just that this offseason, signing ace Jon Lester to a six-year deal worth $155 million at the winter meetings in December. But the move that signaled they really were ready to accelerate their rebuilding project happened in late October, when they hired Maddon away from Tampa Bay.
Never mind that they had already told Rick Renteria he would be back for a second season. The Cubs couldn’t resist going after one of the game’s top managers.
Now, he’s got a team that features a three-time All-Star in Lester at the top of the rotation, established young players such as shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo in the lineup and a line of promising prospects that the Cubs hope can help them end a World Series championship drought that dates to 1908.
All that optimism aside, the fact remains — Chicago has five straight fifth-place finishes in the NL Central. The Cubs won just 73 games last season, although that was an improvement from 66 in 2013. And while prospects such as Javier Baez and Jorge Soler arrived at the majors, there are still big questions surrounding this team.
"Please hold us accountable," President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein told fans. "We’re trying to win. We’re also continuing to try to grow the organization. That means we’re going to be throwing a lot of young players out there. We ask for your patience with them because it’s a process. But hold us accountable."
It’s not just the roster that has a different look.
The long-awaited renovation to Wrigley Field is finally underway, a five-year, $575 million overhaul of a ballpark that turned 100 last season and the surrounding area.
President of Business Operations Crane Kenney said the organization discussed playing a year or two at Miller Park in Milwaukee but decided against that.
The left- and right-field bleachers are being replaced this winter, but they won’t be ready until May. The center-field bleachers will also remain closed until then because of the construction.
The team also said the left-field videoboard should be ready by April 5, but the smaller one in right won’t be until May.
Meanwhile, Chairman Tom Ricketts confirmed the Cubs bought several neighboring buildings and plan to run them as rooftop businesses.
He also said Sammy Sosa remains estranged from the organization and that some things have to change before he is welcomed back. Ricketts would not say exactly what those things are for the former slugger whose huge home run totals were tainted by drug suspicions.
The Cubs’ arms are wide open for Maddon, a two-time AL Manager of the Year.
He deftly guided several young Tampa Bay teams to contention in the AL East, leading the Rays to two division titles and a pennant in 2008, and his new bosses are looking for similar results.
There are some differences.
Instead of managing in a dreary stadium, he will be working at what he referred to as the "finest cathedral in all of Major League Baseball" — Wrigley Field. He will have to contend with more day games, which he acknowledged won’t be easy for someone who is not a morning person.
On Saturday, he faced a wide range of questions.
One young fan wanted to know who will play third base — Luis Valbuena, Mike Olt or prized prospect Kris Bryant?
"Who do you want?" Maddon said.
"Kris Bryant," the boy responded.
Maddon praised Bryant as a "wonderful young man" who is a "huge part of our future" but said who plays third will be determined at spring training.
Another fan asked if he would go for a shot and a beer. In fact, Maddon offered to buy a shot and a beer for everyone at his introductory press conference at a bar across from Wrigley.
There was another question about his RV — the Cousin Eddie. Maddon’s interview with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer happened outside the Winnebago at an RV park in Pensacola, Florida.
Cousin Eddie is in Mesa, Arizona, near Maddon’s children and the Cubs’ spring training complex. He is not sure if he will have someone drive it to Chicago.
"I’ll keep you posted on that," Maddon said.