With eyes forward, Sveum leads Cubs into spring

Putting lid on 2012, skipper has improved rotation depth, upgraded 'pen to work with

With eyes forward, Sveum leads Cubs into spring

MESA, Ariz. -- When Dale Sveum meets with the Cubs for the first time this spring, don't expect him to bring up last year's 101-loss season.

"I probably won't mention last year, to tell you the truth," Sveum said Sunday. "This is about this year and the organization moving on and this team, the 25 guys going north, is what this is all about this year. I don't want to be talking about last year at all."

There are plenty of new faces in Cubs camp who weren't around for last year's fifth-place finish. New pitchers Carlos Villanueva and Scott Baker arrived at Fitch Park on Sunday, when the team's pitchers and catchers officially reported, to join other newcomers Scott Feldman, Edwin Jackson and Kyuji Fujikawa, who have already been throwing. Sveum is looking ahead.

"We could've lost 90 [games] and we're still going to do the same thing [and go home]," Sveum said. "The only way to dictate a [good] season is to get to the playoffs. Everything is put on numbers -- how many wins, playing .500 -- and those are things you have to stay away from. When you start putting prices on numbers --'Oh well, .500 will be a good year this year' -- well, [if we played] .500, we're going to go home just like we did last year."

The goal, which Theo Epstein has stressed since taking over as Cubs president of baseball operations after the 2011 season, is to make the playoffs every year. It's tough to convince Cubs fans to be patient for Epstein and Co. to build a foundation of talented, impact players and a winning team because it's been so long since they've won a World Series. Anyone remember 1908?

"For one thing, I think we're being open and transparent with our fans about what we're trying to accomplish," Epstein said. "We're not going to take any shortcuts, we're going to try to build this the right way. It's a bit of a covenant. We ask for their patience and understanding and ask them to get behind the young players as they come up to the big leagues.

"In return, we promise to work our tails off, the entire organization, from top to bottom, so that we can build something truly special and reward the fans with October baseball year in and year out. Our fans have been great about it, and we appreciate that."

The Cubs head into this season with more depth in the rotation plus an improved bullpen. On Sunday, Sveum and the coaching staff discussed every pitcher, and Epstein said the difference is "night and day" in terms of quality and depth compared to what was on the roster at the end of last season.

Now, there are seven candidates for the rotation, including Jackson, Baker, Feldman, Villanueva, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Matt Garza. Fujikawa gives them an experienced late-inning pitcher.

There are still plenty of questions. Will third baseman Ian Stewart be productive after undergoing wrist surgery? Will Alfonso Soriano continue to tap into that fountain of youth and deliver offensively? Is Welington Castillo ready to be the everyday catcher?

One thing Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer don't have to worry about is Sveum. When hired prior to the 2012 season, Sveum was told about the organization's plans to build and that he would not be evaluated on his record in the first year.

"I don't think any manager in baseball was going to win the pennant with the club we put on the field last year," Epstein said, "but I hope Dale is the one who wins it with the team we put on the field moving forward."

Sveum's goal was to make everyone accountable for what they had to do on a daily basis, which meant being prepared.

"You learn that even though things don't go well, keeping those things intact were goals that I had and my coaching staff had in mind through some trying times," he said.

"I thought he did a fantastic job," Hoyer said of Sveum. "It's not easy, day in and day out, when a team is struggling, to keep your cool, to really maintain the same message. He had the same message all year. Our guys played hard, and we didn't have a single clubhouse incident the whole year.

"I saw a guy and a staff that even in late September was trying to teach guys, preparing for every game, and that's really commendable. Usually when you see a team lose 100 games, or even in the high 90s, there's controversy on the team, there's falling outs. We never had that. We didn't have enough talent, and that's why we lost 101 games. It wasn't for lack of trying or because we had bad clubhouse chemistry. I think that bodes well for the future."

The Cubs' next step begins Tuesday, when pitchers and catchers take the field.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.