This year’s annual opportunity for adult fans to
complain ask questions to the team’s leadership and for children to get autographs, pictures, and souvenirs from their favorite Cubs players (past, present and future), was held in Chicago at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers this weekend. Not much new information was let out, but a lot of clarification and progress reports were given on a wide range of topics.
Ultimately, a lot of the conversation was shrouded in uncertainty, such as the TV contracts, when the renovation was going to start, whether the rooftop owners were going to sue the team to stop the renovation, and how long the rebuilding phase was going to last before contending. In other ways, a lot has changed with the new coaching staff and manager, with a new, upbeat, and positive message being the wave of the future for the Cubs.
On Masahiro Tanaka: There was literally nothing given to the fans about the Japanese pitcher. At all. Friday evening, Theo Epstein quipped to David Kaplan that he “would probably know before I do.” Saturday, it was the same thing out of Epstein. He definitely played down the whole thing, with the most substantive quote about Tanaka being, “There are a lot of teams out there with interest, so we’ll have to see how the process plays out.” There are reasons to be optimistic but nothing’s been confirmed. So we wait…
On the Wrigley Renovation: Tom Ricketts told a story about the rooftop owners that I thought summed them up perfectly. He said, and I paraphrase, that the rooftops are like neighbors looking in the window watching your TV and charging the neighbors to watch your TV. And when you close the blinds, the city tells you to open the blinds back up. Essentially, he’s right. But the rooftops do have a contract with the Cubs that predates his ownership. He also said, “It’s not like you can just write a check” to the idea of buying them all out because of differing agendas and business models for each rooftop
leach owner. Crane Kenney did confirm that they are the reason for the delay because of the fear of a lawsuit that would hold up, not only the video boards and signs, but the zoning for the entire project, and called the roofies a “$20 million drag on our business.” He cited recent progress and said the sides were getting closer, but there is nothing finalized as of now. Ricketts did say there was a possibility of getting the renovation done in four off-seasons, down from the five talked about at last year’s convention, which would keep the timeline the same, even though some improvements should have already been made, like the clubhouse. One interesting note: Kenney said the video board would be up for 2015. I am not sure how he can say that with everything else that was said, but he did say it. (See this hot take from friend Tom Loxas for some sweet details on the progress of the talks between the Cubs and the rooftops.)
On Clark The Cub: Laura Ricketts made the understatement of the Convention when she said, “I’m glad you brought up Clark. He’s gotten some bad press.” No kidding. He got bad press like Jerry Sandusky got bad press. She also said something else obvious, and that he is for kids. Because, duh. Crane Kenney did spell out that he will not be riding tricycles during games or dancing on the dugout. Allison Miller, from the marketing department really gave the final word on the whole thing; “Clark is here to stay.”
On Television/ Radio Deals: Tom Ricketts summed it up perfectly as it relates to WGN TV. He said he “hopes” that it can be worked out and the Cubs stay. Loosely translated, that means if WGN shows the Cubs the money, the Cubs will stay. Otherwise, buh bye. Todd Ricketts did say that WGN was going through some restructuring of their own that may make it impossible (meaning, brace for when we’re not there, anymore). On the radio side of things, Crane said he hopes something will be announced by Opening Day, but regardless of where the Cubs end up, “Pat is coming with us” in regards to radio play-by-play man, Pat Hughes.
On Team’s Finances: Tom Ricketts made it clear that the debt they took on when they bought the team matters, for obvious reasons. He was also quick to point out that it is not as big an issue as it has been made out to be by some in the media (responding to a question about the recent Jeff Passan article). He called it “A piece of the puzzle. A factor. But not as big as people think.” He continued by explaining how the problems with the Cubs and success wasn’t money related, but talent related. During the player development panel, Jason McLeod talked about how no expenses have been spared for scouting and finding talent and giving the scouting and development staffs all of the resources they need to be successful. Theo Epstein also gave a pointed defense of the Ricketts and the way they’re spending money. The overall vibe was that just because you can’t see money being poured into free agency and buying players now does not mean it isn’t getting spent. It’s been spent on talent in ways that are not as apparent to everyday fans, and, according Ricketts and Epstein, those were being neglected prior to the arrival of the new front office. Long story short: the debt is there and it matters, but isn’t as significant an issue as it’s being made.
On Off-Season Progress: Theo Epstein commented on the progress of the off-season, by saying that they have held some resources back this winter more than they did in the first two in Chicago (because Tanaka…but he didn’t say that), and that they were not done making moves this winter, yet. Presumably because Tanaka is still out there, and if the Cubs do not get him, they have some money left to spend and very much could use another starting pitcher. He made it a point to underscore that he is not interested in winning the off-season and pointed directly at the Blue Jays and Angels. Theo Epstein also pointed to the Rookie Development Camp held in Chicago last week with 16 of the top prospects, and very much insinuated that he considered that to be vital to building a contending team.
On Winning Timeline: Jed Hoyer talked about having “a vision of what we want to create here” and that “the only way to win a World Series is to be there a lot…We need to get there often.” He was right. In general, the talk was about building a team that can consistently win 90+ games and be in the playoffs every year because that is how championships are won. He continued with talk about not wanting to “catch lightning in a bottle” and win the World Series one time and talk about it happening one time 30 years from now. Epstein praised the Ricketts family for “taking the heat now” and build the organization the right way and said “I am proud to work for them.” Ricketts, on the timeline said that “There is no way to cheat the devil on this. We have to do it the right way.”
On Player Development: The most interesting, to me, information gleamed about development was Theo Epstein calling it “a mistake” to call up Brett Jackson in 2012. He discussed how Dale Sveum wanted to work on a swing adjustment with Jackson, and that it was not in keeping with the organization’s developmental philosophy. Other development notes include the top prospects all getting a chance to come to Spring Training with the big league club, meaning we’ll probably see Albert Almora and Kris Bryant in some spring games. Jason McLeod talked, again, about how every minor league player has a development plan, from Javier Baez down to the lowest level players, and those started to be distributed this week. Farm Director Jaron Madison called the Cardinals a model organization, and something the Cubs want to be better than. Some other interesting notes were on the way the Cubs develop their prospects as people because of their young age when the club gets them, and “cultural assimilation programs” for Latin players. I assume that means teaching Jorge Soler that chasing down opposing dugouts with a bat is bad. The development staff did talk about Tanaka a bit. They said they’ve seen him, and think he will have less development needed because of the advanced level of competition he faced in Japan. As far as specific players, the slight CJ Edwards said his goal was to get up to 170 pounds (which he is very obviously not), the not slight Jorge Soler says his leg is back to 100% after his stress fracture last year, Kris Bryant sees it as a challenge to be able to stay at third base; one he wants to meet, and the prospects do not know where exactly they will be starting the season in the minor leagues.
On Rick Renteria: Albert Almora said, “He made us feel like we were going to go out and play game seven.” The overwhelming theme from Renteria and his staff was about teaching the game and keeping a positive energy about the team, in good times and in bad. Renteria himself said about his discipline style, “When I bite, I want it to count,” meaning he was not going to yell at a player when he obviously feels bad about a mistake, but use the opportunity as a teachable moment. Theo Epstein noted that “Ricky” called him and said he “wanted to be a Cub” while he was being pursued by other teams. That falls in line with Renteria, recalling facing the Cubs the last two seasons, saying, “I leaned over to the skipper (Padres Manager Bud Black) and said I’ll take that team right now.” Renteria, himself, did name Jose Veras the closer for the season. That seemed to be evident from the time he signed, but Renteria confirmed it yesterday. He said his style was to be involved, but not to micromanage, and he did not come here to lose and is going to try to win games right now with the players he has.
Final Thoughts and Impressions: Some interesting things about the weekend that stuck out in my mind was how there seemed to be a lot of emphasis on the past. Theo blamed Sveum for calling up Jackson. Crane blamed past management for bad contracts (which he signed off on, so…). The Ricketts blamed rooftops for the renovation (which is fair) and the inability to win now on past mismanagement of the organization. All of it was pretty needless. There was an obvious organizational decision not to use names of anyone who was no longer around, even when it was clear who they were talking about, such as Theo saying “our manager at the time” when talking about the Jackson call up. A fan asked about Sammy Sosa, and the question was completely dodged by Crane Kenney. So, he’s not coming back anytime soon. As a whole, the weekend felt subdued. There didn’t seem to be anything to be excited over, and that’s because there wasn’t. No new free agents. No significant progress on the rebuild. Nothing new on the Tanaka front. It felt like the first weekend of many long weekends in 2014.
Quotes of the Weekend:
Theo to long winded question about when Cubs will win the World Series: “Maybe by the end of your question.”
Tom Ricketts after a question about tailgating in Mesa: “It is a God given right to park your car and drink.”
Laura Ricketts on losing and eventually winning: “We feel your pain.” and “We’re not shooting for one World Series.”
Laura Ricketts on Clark the Cub: “Kids love him…and that’s who he’s for.”