CHICAGO – Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein came to the strong defense of team ownership near the end of an hour-long question-and-answer session with fans on Day 2 of the Cubs Convention on Saturday.
“Here’s the best thing about the Ricketts and their commitment to the Cubs,” Epstein said. “They know they’re going to own this club for generations and generations so they are willing to take the hit now and take some of the heat now ... because they know they are doing the right things to lay the foundation to get this right, to turn this into a franchise that they can be proud of for generations and generations.”
The Ricketts family has come under criticism for being unable to finalize Wrigley Field renovations while employing a last-place baseball team that’s lost 197 games over the past two seasons.
“I’m more proud of them for their willingness to take that heat and stick to their plan than I would be if they panicked the first time their name was dragged through the mud publicly and said, ‘We can’t do this, we need to put lipstick on this and find some quick fixes just to keep the fans and media at bay.’ They are in this for the long haul.”
Other highlights from the front office session with fans:
Mistakes with Jackson, Vitters
No sooner had Epstein finished explaining the process of bringing up prospects -- they have to dominate at every level of the minors first -- he admitted not having followed that plan with first-rounders Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters.
“Our manager [Dale Sveum] was the one that wanted [Jackson] up here to work with him on his swing because we weren’t getting it done at Triple-A,” Epstein explained. “So we sort of prioritized that swing adjustment over the rest of his development. In hindsight that was a mistake. With Vitters we were trying to learn more about him. He had gotten to a point where exposure to big-league pitching was important to him.”
Both struggled and have fallen behind others in the organization. Jackson was even demoted to Double-A last season.
“I don’t think we satisfied the criteria in respect to those two players,” Epstein said. “That’s something we could have done better.”
Analysis: Those mistakes undoubtedly had some effect on the front office -- hence the cautious approach since. It’s hard to know if bringing the two up caused them to struggle or if they were going to struggle anyway, but with a long-range plan in place, the Cubs probably aren’t going to make the same mistake twice.
Over the course of the past year, the front office has been careful not to criticize fans for not coming to Wrigley Field as much. Executives understand that prices aren’t in line with the product on the field. Epstein was asked as much again on Saturday.
“I would never tell you how to spend your money,” Epstein said to a fan. “I think there is something special about being part of it the entire way. We’re being transparent. We aren’t proud of our results. We wish we were further down the road with the talent with the [major league] level. We are sticking true to our vision.”
Analysis: It’s the right and only answer Epstein can give. Short of lowering ticket prices, the Cubs would be foolish to try any other gimmick to attract fans. Lying to them isn’t going to cut it. Epstein has been on the mark in this regard from the beginning.
Renteria wanted to be here
For the first time, Epstein revealed that new manager Rick Renteria had multiple teams interested in him, but he wanted to skipper the Cubs first and foremost.
“He came to us and said, 'Guys, just so you know ... I want to be a Cub,'” Epstein recalled. "'I believe in young players. That’s how I want to do it.’”
Epstein was asked about the firing of Sveum in regard to the regression of young players. His answer was all about Renteria.
“If we’re going to be so youth-centric and be putting so many of our eggs in that basket, we have to make sure they’re in a position to thrive up here,” he said.
Analysis: It’s yet another indication the Cubs simply weren’t happy with the message Sveum had for the team at the major league level. No matter the reasons for his dismissal, the Cubs seemingly got as good a coach for young players as was available; by all indications, this is Renteria’s strength. It also means there can’t be any coaching “excuses” for lack of development of Cubs youth.