Cubs: Hope springs eternal, even in midwinter | Bleader

Cubs: Hope springs eternal, even in midwinter



That Theo Epstein: butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Moments after he told media, "We'll see," about re-signing Kerry Wood, he added, "It's obviously something that would be nice for our fans if we were to make it happen." Wood was the last player introduced to fans at the Cubs Convention Friday at the Hilton Chicago, having just signed a one-year $3 million extension. If that symbolically shifted the focus from management to the players—and one very popular player in particular—that's how Epstein wants it.

Epstein has been the center of attention since he became the Cubs' president of baseball operations in late October. Since then, he's hired GM Jed Hoyer, and they've dealt Carlos Zambrano, brought in young talent to fill the infield corners, hired Dale Sveum as manager, and generally made the Cubs younger, if still questionably positioned to compete. Now the focus slowly shifts to the players and how they perform, beginning this weekend and, especially, starting next month in spring training. Epstein said he was ready to step out of the limelight: "I think it will die down. The players are the show," he said. With the information age, he granted, there is more emphasis on the off-field dealings of the front office, "but if that ever becomes the show, you probably don't have a very good product to begin with."

So Epstein's fan sessions figure to be a big draw this weekend, but they also signal a move toward his stepping into the background. Starting next month, the players will have their place in the sun.

The newly acquired Ian Stewart, penciled in at third base, allowed that "maybe name tags would be good," with all the fresh faces on the team; but Matt Garza, talking like the ace he expects to be—if not dangled as trade bait if the Cubs fail to compete—said the team could come together to win.

"We might shock people," he said, pointing to how he had seen young talent blossom in Tampa Bay with the Rays.

That doesn't qualify as bold talk in January, with the team still a month away from even putting it on the field, but it's no doubt comforting for Epstein to hear that sentiment coming from the players instead of himself.