Mesa, Ariz. — The 1982 Chicago Cubs resemble a huge department store whose owners have decided to renovate their entire building, yet continue to sell merchandise while reaching over painters, carpenters and plumbers. No one seems to know exactly what the Cubs will be like this year, including themselves.
New general manager Dallas Green, who has spent 24 of his previous 26 years in baseball working somewhere in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, has already made a series of moves in hopes of improving the team that finished with the worst overall record in the National League last year. The latest deal brought second baseman Bump Wills from the Texas Rangers, while other key players acquired via either the trade or free agent route include shortstop Larry Bowa, catcher Keith Moreland, and relief pitcher Bill Campbell.
The quality of these transactions can't be determined, of course, until the end of the season. Still, where the Cubs once seemed to have no master plan, the man who managed Philadelphia to the 1980 world championship has already given them a more positive sense of direction. At last count, 18 former Phillies are working somewhere in Chicago's freshly structured organization.
Green and new manager Lee Elia, who was his third base coach at Philadelphia, are intent on acquiring more pitching, more power, more speed, more depth, and more defense. Unable so far to make a blockbuster deal for someone like George Foster, they've been going mostly for young players whose futures are still ahead of them, with some veterans thrown in.
''My job here isn't just making out a lineup, it's also convincing our players that the front office is serious about having a winner,'' Elia said. ''I think this is a concept Green and I must continue to sell, along with the importance of fundamentals, before we can turn this club around.
''We have some obvious problems, like nobody who can hit 30 or 40 home runs a year for us,'' Lee continued. ''When you don't have power that can get you back into a game in the late innings, then you can't afford any pitching or defensive mistakes. And that's asking a lot.
''But I've been with this team long enough now so that I know what most of my personnel can't do. Still it's just as important to know what they can do, and until I have those answers I'm going to be getting in some situations that require all the information a manager can get.''
Basically the Cubs are set at five positions. Bill Buckner, the National League batting champion in 1980, will play first and bat third. Bowa, over from the Phillies in a trade for Ivan DeJesus, still runs like he was 26 instead of 36 and will play shortstop. Wills, of course, will be at second.
Steve Henderson, who has hit in the .290s in four of his five big league seasons, is in left field; and Leon Durham, the closest thing Elia has to a power hitter, is in right.
Although veteran Jerry Morales is the team's most experienced center fielder, he will be there only if Ty Waller, who is actually listed as an infielder on the roster, fails to hit or do the job defensively.
Waller, because he often turns the wrong way on fly balls but is able to buy back his mistakes with his speed, is like Pedro Guerrero was two years ago when he tried to play center field for the Dodgers. Hall, who has the better glove and instincts, also has home run power.
Rookie Ryne Sandberg, also acquired from Philadelphia after hitting .293 at Oklahoma City last year, has a shot at third base. Others in the picture include Moreland, who is listed as a catcher but who occasionally played third for the Phillies, and Junior Kennedy, who is one of the best defensive infielders in camp but who simply hasn't hit.
Second year man Jody Davis will get plenty of work behind the plate, whether Moreland remains a catcher or plays third. Rookie backstop Miguel Ibarra, another ex-Phillie, could make the club.
Chances are the pitching staff will remain suspect all year unless righthanders Dan Larson and Dickie Noles, both obtained in yet another deal with Philadelphia, fulfill the promise Green and Elia see in them. But the fact remains that, as of now, their combined 16-31 major league won-lost record doesn't add up to much.
Also on hand are such average starting pitchers as Doug Bird, Lee Smith, Alan Ripley and onetime star Ferguson Jenkins, who is now 38 years old and had a 4.50 earned run average last year with Texas. There is experience in the bullpen in Dick Tidrow, Rawley Eastwick, and Campbell, who had seven saves last year for Boston.
''Most of our division rivals (in the NL East) have a lot more offensive thunder than we do,'' Elia said. ''Their hitters will take pitchers over the wall a lot more often than ours will. But I'm still not sure, with all the good contact hitters we have, that we won't score almost as many runs. My feeling is that pitching will ultimately decide where we finish, and after that more and more rookies will be tied to our tomorrows.''