CHICAGO – With that “World Series hangover” no longer hanging over the Cubs this year, it’s onward to 2018.
That seemed to be the collective mindset Friday during the opening evening of the annual Cubs fan convention in downtown Chicago.
Last year’s convention – followed by the White House visit right afterward – was a continuation of the never-ending party that came on the heels of the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series.
On the field, the team got out of the gate slowly last year before righting itself and advancing to the National League Championship Series for the third straight year, losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“The World Series is still fresh in our minds, but it happened awhile ago,” said third baseman Kris Bryant, who agreed to a one-year, $10.85 million contract earlier Friday. “It’s ‘Do it all over again.’ You can’t use that as an excuse anymore. It’s never good to use it as an excuse. I don’t like excuses, but I guess you look at what we did last year. I don’t know if many people expected us to make it that far because of where we were in the first half [of the 2017 season]. We weren’t playing the best baseball, but NLCS three years in a row is pretty special.”
The Cubs said there were lessons learned from last year.
“You can do a lot of great things, even when it’s hard, because last year was hard, coming off winning the World Series,” said right fielder Jason Heyward. “I just feel like a lot of different things we had to go through to make sure we wanted to get where we got. We didn’t get where we wanted to be. Live and learn from that. I feel like experience is going to be our best asset.”
Manager Joe Maddon said earlier in the week that he would stress “energy and enthusiasm” in spring training and beyond. Team President Theo Epstein talked Friday of another important piece of business.
“The importance of getting off to a good start,” he said. “And how if you don’t take care of business in the first half, you have to put the foot on the accelerator hard the whole second half. And that can leave you a little bit worn out as you enter the most important time of the year, which is October.
“It gets lost in the shuffle, but we played great postseason-type baseball in mid-September to win the division. We played some great games against the Cardinals and the Brewers. By the time we got to October, we weren’t able to consistently replicate that.”
Avoiding salary arbitration: The Cubs have come to terms with five of their six players who are eligible for salary arbitration.
The headliner was Bryant, who set a record for a player in his first year of arb-eligibility.
He topped Ryan Howard’s $10 million deal in 2008.
“I don’t look at money records,” Bryant said. “I guess the records on the field are way more important, because when you’re doing that, you’re helping the team. It really is the cherry on top when you get paid millions of dollars to do something you’ve loved since you were 4 years old. I just feel so grateful and so honored to be with this team.”
Bryant made $1.05 million last year.
Others settling were pitcher Kyle Hendricks ($4.175 million), reliever Justin Wilson ($4.25 million), infielder Tommy La Stella ($950,000) and shortstop Addison Russell ($3.2 million).
Reliever Justin Grimm is seeking $2.475 million, while the Cubs offered $2.2 million.
“With all our guys, we prefer to get deals done rather than go into a hearing room,” Epstein said. “I’ve never been in a hearing room since starting to run teams. Not that we’re afraid to. We might end up there someday if you have to, but you’re on the same side as these guys 99.9 percent of the time. You’d hate to let that 0.1 percent of the time change your relationship or get in the way of winning and helping each other out, and that’s what we’re in it for.”