1. A return to baseball?
Manager Joe Maddon admitted off-the-field matters, including Addison Russell’s 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy and racist emails involving Cubs family patriarch Joe Ricketts, has been draining.
“I cannot deny that,” Maddon said Saturday. “We are here to play baseball. I know we’re part of the social fabric of this country and people watch us all the time, and we’re very popular as baseball players. But I would prefer to getting back just talking about baseball. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to entertain.”
Maddon said it’s up to him and his players to provide a respite.
“I understand people doing their jobs and understand the interest and the reason behind asking very difficult questions,” he said. “But … we need to get back to becoming the baseball team we are.”
Chairman Tom Ricketts is scheduled to address the team and media in separate briefings Monday morning before the first full-squad workout.
2. Maddon on Russell: “Hopefully there’s a tremendous growth moment for him.”
Maddon said Russell handled himself well in his news conference Friday, the first time he spoke with the media since his suspension last fall.
“I was really impressed and proud of what he did and how he did it,” Maddon said. “It’s not easy for him to do. I thought he held up very well. I talked to him afterward and talked to him again (Saturday) and gave him a big old hug because I know the most difficult thing he’s ever done publicly or ever done, period.
“I give him a lot of credit. I thought his answers addressed the situation well. I also believe a moment like that will be a tremendous growth moment for a human being in general.”
Maddon reiterated that Russell has an opportunity to improve as a person through his mandatory rehab program.
“When you go through something like that, how would we all like to sit down under those circumstances and have to answer those kind of questions?” Maddon said. “Hopefully there’s a tremendous growth moment for him.
“It’s a long process, and we’re still far from the end. If he keeps doing what he’s doing and getting better and changing the way he wants to be for himself as a teammate and family member, we have to keep supporting him as long as he keeps doing what he has to do.”
3. Albert Almora Jr. is ready to turn the page on 2018.
The return of spring training helped ease some of Almora’s misery for making the final out of the Cubs’ 2018 season.
“I love this time of year,” said Almora, sporting a curly hairstyle. “You get the new gear, you get the new stuff, you get some new coaches and go play.”
“I hate being the last out,” Almora said. “I’ll never forget that. But it hurts for a little bit because as fan of the game, you watch the postseason and watch what unfolds. And we know we can compete with all those guys. We ended a little short, but it’s a little extra fuel and motivation.”
Almora made no excuses for the Cubs’ late-season hitting woes.
“I’m a big believer the team that gets hot at the right time is the one that wins,” he said. “Milwaukee, at that time, didn’t lose. We didn’t play bad, but they outperformed us. You’ve got to give credit when credit is due and turn the page and get ready for this year.”
Nor did Almora point to the Cubs’ schedule, which featured 42 games in 43 days to end the regular season, as a contributing factor to their late slide.
“I don’t want to say that did, from my aspect,” Almora said. “That wasn’t one of my things I thought of when the season was over. I was fine and healthy and ready to keep going. That mindset of ‘we came up short’ is what really hit home.”
Almora insisted there was no talk of free agency when slugger Manny Machado attended his son’s baptism last weekend in Miami.
“We were with family,” Almora said. “We smoked a cigar, had a good time. There were a lot of childhood friends. We had a lot of stories, talked about fishing. Baseball was not a topic I wanted to talk about. …
“I knew I’d get asked. I don’t want to know anything. It’s none of my business. I think he’s going to do well. He’s earned that. But I’m playing for the Chicago Cubs, and that’s all I know.”
4. Newcomer Tony Barnette is stronger after recovering from a lat injury.
The right-hander is hoping to land a bullpen job after being sidelined for the second half of 2018.
“Everything is rebounding great,” said Barnette, who posted a 2.39 ERA in 22 appearances with the Rangers last season. “All the scans show a full heal, and I’ve been rocking and haven’t held anything back. The progress has been phenomenal.”
Because of the injury, Barnette started his offseason program sooner, starting with strengthening his throwing shoulder. He is one of more than two dozen candidates for a bullpen spot.
“I haven’t heard a message from them,” Barnette, 35, said. “I signed a contract to pitch. I’ll do my best, and end of day we’ll see where everything falls.”