MESA, Ariz. — With pitchers and catchers reporting to Cubs spring training Wednesday, team president Jed Hoyer and general manager Carter Hawkins addressed the media to officially kick things off.
Though the rest of the position players aren’t required to report until Monday, Hoyer estimated that all but 8-10 players had already made their way down to camp. What’s more, Hoyer thought the guys who’ve already shown up were already ready to hit the ground running.
“Guys are in great shape,” Hoyer said. “Spring training has really changed I think over the years. It’s no longer a time to get ready. It’s go-time already. Guys are here ready to go. I do think it kind of goes to the expectations or the excitement that guys want to be here. People are excited to get going.”
With the beginning of the preseason always comes questions — both short-term and long-term — about what lies ahead. To answer some of them, here are the highlights from Hoyer and Hawkins’ media availability.
Extensions still a possibility
After Hoyer first discussed the possibility of extensions with Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner at his end-of-season presser, it became one of the main topics of discussion over the winter. The Cubs mostly weren’t able to come to agreements on extensions with the previous core. But now, here are two potential building blocks for Hoyer’s “Next Great Cubs Team.” Can he lock them down this time around, and will that come before this season begins?
At the same time, Hoyer has also mentioned wanting to have extension talks prior to spring training, which of course begged the question heading into Wednesday: Did the start of spring camp mean those talks were over?
“Definitely not a hard-line thing,” Hoyer said about spring training being a deadline. “We have had discussions. I’ll stick with what we always do, which is not talk about where we are with them, but we’ve had good dialogue with both sides. We’re not going to cut it off because we’re here today.”
That means there’s a scenario in which the Cubs get extensions done with one or both of Happ (final year of team control) and Hoerner (two more years of arbitration) before Opening Day. But then again, Hoyer doesn’t necessarily want to let those negotiations extend too far into spring training.
Hoyer has witnessed firsthand how timing affects those discussions. Anthony Rizzo, for example, told his agents to halt negotiations as spring training came to a close in 2021, and the Cubs traded him to the Yankees four months later. That situation isn’t one Hoyer and Co. want to let happen again, so if any extensions are coming during spring training, they may have to come sooner rather than later.
“My preference is really not to get towards the end of spring training and get to a place where I feel like it’s affecting the preparation and mentality for the season,” Hoyer said. “I do think that has happened. I’ve seen that happen before. So, that’s something we’ll be aware of, and we’ve talked to both camps about that.
“But like I said, the conversations are good. We’re not going to set some kind of firm deadline.”
WBC provides an exciting opportunity
The World Baseball Classic presents a wrinkle in what was supposed to be the first “normal” spring training in a few years, but the Cubs weren’t going to be the ones pushing for their players to pass on the opportunity.
In total, 17 players from throughout organization will participate in the WBC when pool play begins on March 8. That includes five members of the 40-man roster on top of a dozen other players from the system. Despite the fact that these players will have to leave Mesa at some point over the next few weeks to join their WBC teams, the Cubs have given them their full support.
Perhaps the biggest concern for a player missing a chunk of camp involves Seiya Suzuki. Last year, the lockout shortened spring training considerably, and Suzuki still didn’t sign with the Cubs and make it to Mesa for a week after the lockout ended. So, this was going to be his first normal offseason with the team. But the WBC will interrupt that.
Still, the Cubs aren’t worried about Suzuki missing some time to play in the tournament. They don’t yet know when Suzuki will leave Mesa, but he did arrive to camp early, and they plan on getting him as much work as possible before then.
“I think he realizes that he wants to be around our club and our resources as much as he possibly can, while honoring a commitment to his country, which is so special to him, which we certainly support,” Hawkins said. “We’re just excited to get him going and have as much time as we can, and hopefully, he has a great tournament and gets back here and gets ready for the season. He’s such a great worker and a great preparer, and we have zero concerns that he’s not going to be ready to hit the ground running.”
Among the other players on the list are two of the top prospects in the organization, Owen Caissie (No. 10 among MLB Pipeline’s most recent Cubs top 30) and Matt Mervis (No. 21). Both played in the Arizona Fall League last year, and this spring represents an important step in their development — and especially for Mervis, who has a strong chance at making his big league debut at this season.
But the Cubs see the WBC as an exciting learning opportunity for these two prospects. With the number of big league stars who will also be playing in the tournament, Mervis and Caissie are set to face some of the best competition they ever have. That’s the kind of experience they won’t get at any other point before the majors.
“Even playing in the Arizona Fall League, for a guy like Matt or a guy Owen, that’s not going to match the intensity of the World Baseball Classic,” Hawkins said. “That’s probably as close as you can get to major league intensity without actually being in the major leagues. So, the ability for us to have those guys get those experiences is huge. We’re excited that they’re going to be able to do it, excited that they wanted to do it. Really a lot of upside for us there.”
Injury updates on Heuer, Hendricks
Hoyer also provided injury updates on Codi Heuer and Kyle Hendricks, both of whom are rehabbing injuries and are expected to miss a chunk of time to start the year.
- Heuer threw a bullpen session Wednesday, which is a clear sign that his rehab process is going well. Heuer previously said during a trip to Wrigley Field last May that he potentially could be ready to return in June or July of this season. That timeline would obviously knock out at least the first two months of the year, which is why Hoyer said they will discuss starting the season with Heuer on the 60-day injured list.
“With Codi, we expect he’s going to be delayed into the season,” Hoyer said. “Obviously, we’re going to talk through the 60-day [IL] with him as a possibility given the rehab. And even within the whole year, I think we’re going to be talking about his workload and talking about back to backs and things like that.”
- Hendricks still hasn’t started pitching off the mound, though the Cubs hope he will in the near future. Of course, they aren’t going to rush Hendricks through his recovery from the capsular tear in his right shoulder that cost him the entire second half of last season. So, the Cubs have a plan in place should they indeed start the year without him.
“With Kyle, he’s feeling really good,” Hoyer said. “Hopefully, he’ll get off a mound here really soon. We know he’s going to be delayed. We’ll have a lot of discussions about how much, but certainly, we’re prepared to start the season without him, and we’ll see when he comes back. But the most important thing is getting him back to pitching like Kyle Hendricks, and we’re willing to wait a little while for that.”
- Hoyer, on if baseball needed the incoming rule changes: “I’m in favor of all these things. I think that the more we can put action into the game, the more people are running, the quicker pace it is, the better. No one wants to go to a 3 hour, 45 minute game and have that be a common occurrence. There will be some quick games this year. I think if you have a pitcher’s duel, it’s like, everyone becomes Wade Miley. It’s great.”
- Hawkins, on similarities between this team and his previous teams in Cleveland: “I think the pitching and defense thing is definitely something that’s been talked about. I don’t know that that was a definitive philosophy for us this offseason, nor was it a definitive philosophy in Cleveland as much as that was where the best opportunities to acquire players and to build out teams we felt like could win. So, I think there is a similarity, just by coincidence to some extent.”