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Optimism for future -- not this year

MESA, Ariz. -- Owner Tom Ricketts was obviously overly optimistic about his Chicago Cubs' chances this year when he spoke to reporters on Wednesday, but his take on his club might not be far off.

“The whole organization has a great vibe from top to bottom,” he said on the team's first full day of spring training. “Everyone knows we have a lot of talent coming up. It’s a great energy across the whole organization.”

That made perfect sense, but prior to those comments Ricketts indicated he felt like the Cubs “had a team that could go to the playoffs” this year. Anyone who knows anything about the game knows that’s a long shot at best. But we can excuse him since owners are supposed to be optimistic.

As for that “talent coming up,” the Cubs have one of the best farm systems in the game after years of ranking near the bottom in that area. That’s thanks to picking high in the draft and making the most of their veteran assets over the past couple years in the form of trades. It’s been the key to rebuilding the talent base, but also has sunk the Cubs in the standings.

“You can’t serve two masters,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said on Tuesday.

In other words, rebuilding from top to bottom isn’t realistically possible if you’re trying to contend. And vice versa.

“The nice part about the last couple of years, you see all the pieces start to fall into place,” Ricketts said.

Those pieces were under the same roof for the first time on Wednesday as position players joined pitchers and catchers in the clubhouse of the new spring facility.

Top picks such as Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant joined veterans Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija for a spring training that should highlight more young talent than this organization has seen in years. It’s part of the plan Ricketts entrusted Epstein with when he hired him away from the Boston Red Sox. But those prospects haven't seen a pitch at the major league level.

“I think our organization is in a great spot,” Ricketts reiterated. “I think those guys [the front office] are doing a brilliant job.”

Sure, there’s some irony in that excitement considering Ricketts had no answers Wednesday for the long delayed renovation of Wrigley Field, and players like Castro had to answer questions about a regression in his game -- but the Cubs feel their struggles will make the successes taste that much better.

“I think they’ve been reminded enough,” manager Rick Renteria said of the Cubs' history of failure. “What I do is try to think about today. That’s the focus. We’re moving past what’s already occurred.”

Ricketts deflected financial issues and/or restrictions regarding the sale of the team to his family in 2009 and says whatever issues they face, they will overcome. And they won’t stand in the way of payroll.

“We’ve looked at spots where a free agent would fit,” Ricketts said. “Ultimately that’s the budget on the baseball side. Those guys decide where those dollars go.”

And other than the pursuit of Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, the front office decided money was better kept in house than spent on middling free agents or those over 30 years old. It keeps with the plan.

“Like I’ve always said, you have to build a championship team and we’re doing that,” Ricketts said.

It simply won’t be built by this October -- no matter his optimism.