MESA, Ariz. -- If recent history is any indication, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon likely will unveil his 2017 spring training slogan on Tuesday, when pitchers and catchers officially report. It will undoubtedly appear on a T-shirt, as so many Maddon-isms have over the years.
As the Cubs begin after the shortest winter in team history, one saying that won't be inscribed on a shirt could be the most important: Less is more.
“I’m going to be really aware of resting people,” Maddon said at the winter fan convention. “I am. You hear me say it all the time. There are natural reasons built in to rest people. I really want to be cognizant from the beginning of not stepping on anyone too hard.”
That shouldn’t be hard for Maddon, as it plays into his overall theory regarding baseball. He believes -- more than most managers -- that players get worn out over the course of the season, and putting in more hours simply isn’t the answer. With the World Series just 104 days in the past, the message shouldn’t be difficult to deliver, especially for the pitchers. Maddon has said he won’t use his main guys very much early in the Cactus League season, which begins Feb. 25.
With a stacked roster, the Cubs have little reason to go all-out. Not many jobs will be won or lost over the next six weeks.
“The fewer positional battles you have in camp, the better,” general manager Jed Hoyer said on ESPN 1000 last week. “The fewer guys we have trying to air it out and trying to impress, the better we have it. They know it’s a long season, and it becomes really long when you’re airing it out in mid-February.”
It’s possible that Mike Montgomery or Brett Anderson will push themselves, as the No. 5 starter spot isn’t set in stone, but overall, Hoyer’s point is a good one. The champs can ease their way into spring training knowing they have much bigger battles to fight than the Kansas City Royals in late February or March. That hasn’t stopped many players from showing up early, but it also doesn’t mean they’re going all-out. Pitchers are due on Tuesday and position players on Friday. Before and until then, it has been light workouts and some batting practice.
“Given we played so late into the year, some guys are taking the attitude ‘I’m going to show up at the last possible minute because I want the full offseason,’ and some guys, their natural schedule brings them out here early,” Hoyer said. “We’ll have a pretty full house before the reporting date, but the shortness of the offseason [means] some guys are going to show up when they have to.”
It wasn’t long ago that the Cubs were in the complete opposite mode and positional battles were the norm. With an All-Star at nearly every position and a top-heavy starting rotation, the organization knows what it has.
More importantly, the players know what it takes. They played late into October in 2015, then brought home a championship in early November 2016. That’s a lot of baseball. Repeating as champions will require a deliberate approach.