By Tim Baffoe–
That’s the theme as the Chicago Cubs enter ready for their first full-squad workout at spring training this week. There’s an anxious vibe permeating the good tidings that usually come with each baseball season anew.
The team had an eventful offseason, attempting to improve on a solid group that was ousted by the New York Mets in the 2015 National League Championship Series, yet there are still a bevy of “ifs” and “buts” to be answered about this squad. And after 100-plus years of futility, Cubs fans have no choice but to be skeptical about their favorite team and all its unsurety.
Really, let’s consider these. Here are just a few of the gaping holes and screaming question marks for the 2016 Cubs.
Is the team too pacified?
The club has a “mental skills program director,” Darnell McDonald, who has these guys meditating and doing yoga. Like a bunch of weak high schoolers, Cubs players are wearing thematic T-shirts that they swear isn’t a shot at the St. Louis Cardinals. A tough team would own the diss to its rival. With manager Joe Maddon bringing in magicians and petting zoos last year, one has to start to ask if this team is emblematic of the wussification of America.
What’s next? A pantless Clark the Cub engaging in tantra?
Will Jorge Soler be able to overcome April and October weather conditions?
It’s nothing short of a miracle that Soler is alive today after enduring October baseball in Chicago and New York that saw temperatures drop into the 30s. What’s problematic about surviving the chill is that it requires Soler donning 20 or so pounds of extra gear and his infamous balaclava (I learned a new word!). With ski mask-mate Starlin Castro traded to the New York Yankees, Soler has lost a body heat huddling partner on the bench. Having recently defeated Johnny Cage and Liu Kang, it will be interesting to see if Soler will have enough left in the tank to take on Scorpion in October.
How many Brothers/Grimm puns is too many?
That many is.
Jake Arrieta’s regression
It’s nearly impossible for Cubs ace Jake Arrieta to repeat his Cy Young season of 2015. Even a rudimentary understanding of metrics suggests that regression will occur. It’s safe to assume Arrieta’s beard will hit a few more stumbling blocks in the 2016 campaign. Expect periods of patchiness and control issues with length uniformity. Gray hairs here and there will pop up. His jawline will appear less chiseled at times. He may even take the mound with crumbs in there. That’s not to say the beard can’t still be magnificent overall, but Arrieta’s a razor nick away from Cub fans’ worst nightmare.
Dontcha just hate him? I bet he smells bad.
Theo Epstein’s contract situation
The elephant in the room this year is a marquee name working without a new deal. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein’s contract expires at the end of the season. This has been an obvious point of contention in-house that risks boiling over.
“Status quo in that we are completely on the same page,” Epstein said in January. “We just haven’t gotten around to like hammering out an actual contract. But, again, I only really think about it when you guys (in the media) ask. I see myself as staying in the exact same role for a long time – and I think Tom sees it the same way.”
This could be quite the distraction if no new deal is in place by Opening Day. Players and coaches will be hounded with questions about it to the point where they could lose focus. Sides will inevitably be taken, seams potentially ripped in the organizational fabric.
“At some point, we’ll get around to doing a contract extension,” Epstein has said. “But I actually think players deserve contracts first before front-office guys. And we’re not done with our players yet. Jake (Arrieta) probably deserves a contract before I do. In fact, I know he deserves a contract before I do, so we’ll take care of that first. And at the right time, I’m sure we’ll address my situation.”
It’s napalm being thrown like that that threaten to burn this whole project to the ground.
What if the Cubs only hit 5,000 homers?
David Ross’ final season
Speaking of distractions, 2016 is now basically The David Ross Farewell Tour. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant have already taken their minds off of the game because of it. There will be hullabaloo at all the road series, kitschy parting gifts bestowed on the old catcher who will retire after 2016. Teammates are going to have to keep their minds sharp while going through the endless parade of tributes and trying to say all the right congratulatory things.
Then there’s the final home weekend in which the Cubs could be in a playoff race yet celebrating one of the greater careers in Wrigley history. An argument could be made that Ross’ retirement is pretty selfish in such a critical year for the Cubs, and maybe he could have held off for five or so more years when the team wasn’t so ready to contend for a championship.
Pedro Strop’s mound antics
Could this be the year a middle-aged white guy dies of an aneurysm watching Strop and his emotional displays on the mound and his crooked cap that’s a metaphor for how Obama has ruined this country? Can he be jailed if so?
I mean, why does the league put up with this? Somebody needs to greet Strop with a line drive to the face that breaks his cheekbone, if you know what I mean. That will teach him that All Lives Matter, including sensitive batters who have just struck out and the founding fathers of baseball like Ty Cobb who played the game the right way and could dress themselves.
Is Kris Bryant too handsome?
Asking for a friend.
A lack of criticisms for old columnists and beat writers
What will media have to be crusty about with this team? Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer proved all the questioning of their process foolish. Their brains trumped the skepticism-mongering of “The Plan.” This team has drafted well, signed well and traded well. The roster has no serious holes. Everything team brass said they were going to do five years ago has been done. The nerds beat the critics.
So now what for the scribes struggling through dead narratives and team-provided buffets? How are they to find a Cubs version of global warming to tsk tsk? #writerproblems
We know baseball is a long season, and in this case, that just means more time to hold our collective breath about this ramshackle Cubs team so full of doubts. The fear is inevitable, so might as well accept it.
The 2016 Cubs: Embrace the worry.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.