MESA, ARIZ. -- A makeup artist approached Don Zimmer last week before the taping of a television commercial. She cast a discerning, sideways glance at the bubbly cheeked Chicago Cubs manager and boldly announced: "I'm here to give you a new face."

Zimmer, a self-deprecating, crew-cut curmudgeon, sympathized with the woman's task and gently replied: "God bless you, dear."

Zimmer, new front-office boss Jim Frey and an assortment of players have the task of giving the Cubs a new face in 1988. It will take much more than a dab of powder here and a smudge of rouge there to camouflage the Cubs; last season they finished last, 18 1/2 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.

The last time Frey and Zimmer worked a Cubs spring training camp together, Frey, then the manager, got hit in the head with a ball Brian Dayett threw. Zimmer, then the third base coach, fell off a training room table, hit his head and knocked himself unconscious.

Two years later, Frey and Zimmer say they are still seeing stars, this time on the field.

"I was coaching third base for the Giants last year and I honestly did not realize that the Cubs finished in last place," Zimmer said. "With the kind of star players on the Cubs, this is not a last-place club."

Frey said he's sure Zimmer will motivate the players to reach their potential.

"I can't put on the bunt play and I can't change pitchers," Frey said. "I can't change the lineup. But I still have control over our roster. I don't have any ambitions to be the manager again. I'm perfectly happy in this role. Don and I will be talking daily about a lot of things on the field."

They emphasized that Cub fortunes this season can be reversed with solid pitching. Only the Atlanta Braves had a poorer pitching staff in the NL last season. Despite the league-high 18 victories and respectable 3.68 earned run average by Cy Young runner-up Rick Sutcliffe, the Cubs had an ERA of 4.55. They also were at or near the bottom in walks allowed, wild pitches and balks. It will be the chore of new pitching coach Dick Pole to change that.

Offensively, the Cubs had Andre Dawson, the NL leader in home runs and runs batted in. The league's most valuable player, he had 49 homers, 137 RBI and hit .287.

"My goal is to win back-to-back MVPs," he said.

If Gold Glove second baseman Ryne Sandberg (.294, 16 homers, 59 RBIs) and third-year shortstop Shawon Dunston (.246) can avoid the injuries that afflicted them last summer, the offense should be even more productive. First baseman Leon Durham (.273, 27 homers, 63 RBIs) and catcher Jody Davis (.248, 19 homers, 51 RBI) are capable of better numbers.

The Cubs hit a league-high 209 homers in 161 games, the most in the NL since the 1956 Cincinnati Reds hit 221 in 155 games. The Cubs broke the NL record for home runs in a 162-game season held by the 1966 Atlanta Braves (207). The Cubs also set team records for homers in a season and at Wrigley Field.

Over the winter, the Cubs traded relief pitcher Lee Smith, the team's all-time saves leader, to the Boston Red Sox for pitchers Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper. They signed free agent infielder Vance Law and traded third baseman Keith Moreland and infielder Mike Brumley to the San Diego Padres for reliever Goose Gossage, 36, and left-hander Ray Hayward.

"The plan was to try to do something about our rotation and our bullpen," Frey said. "Our offense last year was good enough."

The Cubs are contemplating a four-man starting rotation. With Scott Sanderson on the shelf for three to four months after back surgery, Zimmer will pick from candidates such as Sutcliffe, Jamie Moyer, Greg Maddux, Schiraldi, Nipper and Les Lancaster. In addition to Gossage, the bullpen brigade will include Frank DiPino, Mike Mason, Drew Hall and possibly Lancaster or Schiraldi.

If the Cubs don't have better players, they certainly have more good candidates this season.

"The biggest thing is to have a choice," Frey said. "Last year when the young kids started to struggle, we had nowhere to go. When the Cardinals and Mets ran into trouble with injuries to key people last season, they had people to go to help survive that period. Schiraldi and Nipper give us more choices. We're also hoping young players like David Martinez (.292 as a leadoff hitter) and Rafael Palmeiro (.276, 14 homers) and Dunston will continue to develop."

Frey said he is not likely to trade veterans Davis and Durham, but he would like to fill the void left by the departure of right-handed hitting outfielders Dayett and Bobby Dernier. Dernier signed with the Phillies and Dayett will play in Japan.

"I still have a couple of moves I'd like to make," Frey said. "I'd like a right-handed-hitting outfielder, or a right-handed hitter off the bench. But I don't want to trade young players.

"Right now, I don't have any strong feeling about trading Davis. I have heard from some people who have interest him. But I have not pursued it because there is a question whether Damon Berryhill is ready to carry the load right now for 162 games.

"As far as Durham is concerned, well, everybody says Mark Grace is going to be great ballplayer, but the truth is that he played Double A baseball last year. We'll have to wait and see how he does."

Frey and Zimmer are veterans of four decades of spring training sessions as players, coaches and managers. What can the Cubs do differently to improve?

"Whenever you bring in a new manager and coaching staff, there are always some things that are done differently," Frey said. "But there are only so many things you can do. Nobody is going to invent new ideas about how to go about this thing. People aren't coming up with new gimmicks. But Zimmer will have his own way of doing things.

"We have talked a lot about our approach to spring training, the whole feeling of spring training not being a boot camp. We're not going to war here.

"I thought the attitude, confidence and spirit just weren't there the last two months. It was said publicly by some of the ballplayers that we weren't supposed to win when they traded {pitcher Steve Trout on July 12}. That is not to say that individuals weren't trying hard. But that's a far cry from the attitude the team had in 1984."

Zimmer and Frey have spent hours this winter discussing ways to improve the team's attitude.

"The fear is that players play for themselves to have good statistics," Frey said. "Good managers have a way of continuing to motivate the players."

The Cubs will open the season April 5 in Atlanta. They will play 20 of their first 26 games on the road. The home opener will be April 15 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"I think starting out on the road like that will be a good test. It will be important for our pitching staff to be ready," Frey said. "In the month of May we have a very good schedule with a lot of home games."