Spring Training is upon us. Sunday the Cubs meet the Athletics in Mesa. I don’t have to remind most of you how completely different the Cubs look this year. No Zambrano, no Ramirez, no Pena, no Marshall, no Quade, no Hendry. Welcome Dale, Theo and all those spare parts you’ve brought in with you. The current roster isn’t even a close relative of the one that Hendry left behind in August, and actually you could argue the 25-man roster is significantly worse. That’s why Spring Training matters this year…

Except it doesn’t. Spring Training never matters. Go look at the 2011 Spring Training standings, it’s littered with anomalies. The Royals won 20 in a month; the D-Backs posted worst AZ record and went on to win their division (while playing half their games in AZ). It’s the same story every year and we all understand why – expanded rosters, more playing time for guys who are probably less deserving of a regular roster spot, split squad games, starters who pitch two innings, “regulars” who don’t regularly play until late-March – the game is completely different which is why you can’t really glean anything from it…

Except when you can. Spring Training matters when your torrid hitting forces the team to take you with them when they break camp. In 2001, the Cardinals had what they thought was a 3B for their AA team, except future HOFer Albert Pujols never stopped hitting. His offensive output in March forced the Cardinals into giving him a roster spot that he held for 10 years. I’m looking at you Anthony Rizzo – the 22-year-old with high expectations has been a piece of flair that Jed Hoyer has worn at each of his last three jobs. Only Bryan LaHair separates the promising Rizzo from an everyday job; Spring Training is the perfect opportunity for Rizzo to put on the show we’re all told he’s capable of…and if he does, it’ll definitely matter…

Unless it doesn’t. Some guys look great in Spring Training, sometimes that can even carry over into April. Kosuke Fukudome was a .345 hitter in April. In fact, Kosuke’s April numbers would have him headed towards the HOF. At the opposite end of that spectrum sit two other former Cubs, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. Both had multiple seasons that started very slow (watch Aramis go on a tear in Milwaukee early this year – you know he will!). But a good or bad Spring Training didn’t lend any clues as to how long or short that slow start might be for either player. It’s especially true with pitchers, who for one reason or another might pitch differently in Spring Training than they would in the regular season. And so it goes with a host of players…Spring Training doesn’t matter…

But this year it REALLY does. New coach, new players, guys fighting for positions and trying to make a good impression on their new overseers. The front office trying to exhibit a changed organizational attitude for the Ricketts family. If Dale doesn’t have a handle on things, or Theo looks a little too comfortable on the laurels of his previous success this thing could go south quick. And surely we’ll start to see some of that in Spring Training because these games matter, (one last time).

Only they never REALLY matter. Spring Training games can end in a tie for crying out loud. A TIE!! How much can it “matter” if you send the teams off in one of those obnoxious soccer-esque anticlimactic sister-kissers? Ties suck and so does Spring Training.

So maybe we’ll see a hint of “little things” like attitude or effort or even reduced playing time for a certain LF that will give us hope of a changing wind. But we’re not likely to see much on the field in the next month that will enable any definitive answers to the myriad of questions that confront the Cubs. Except this – I always want the Cubs to win, pre-season, regular season, home run derby, annual awards, prime seats at the ESPYs, silent auctions, a raffle at a pancake breakfast – it doesn’t matter if it “counts” or not, I want the Cubs to win. So even if it’s only a little bit, it matters to me.

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