Chicago Cubs: Tom Ricketts

Ricketts on Cubs: From tampering to Sosa

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
3:09
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Tom RickettsAP Photo/Matt YorkAfter meeting with Cubs players Wednesday, owner Tom Ricketts spoke with the media.


MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts gave his state-of-the-team address to reporters on Wednesday after speaking to his players as the Cubs opened camp for full-squad workouts.

There were no verbal shots taken at Wrigleyville rooftop owners -- which he’s done in the past -- and nothing new to report on Sammy Sosa's exile from the organization. Here are some highlights from his media session:

On Joe Maddon tampering charge: “From everything I know we did nothing wrong,” Ricketts said.

Analysis: Ricketts is just the latest team official to deny tampering in the hiring of Maddon. The league has stated the case will be over before the regular season begins. It’s hard to read in which direction they’re leaning as it’s been almost four months since Maddon made the move from Tampa Bay to Chicago. It makes you wonder if there’s something to the charges or if the league is just checking and re-checking its information before exonerating the Cubs.

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Baseball says goodbye to Mr. Cub

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31
2:45
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- It was never going to be a somber occasion. How could it be? The baseball world gathered to remember one of the most positive, happy and kind-hearted players ever to don a Chicago Cubs uniform. The memorial for Ernie Banks on Saturday morning in Chicago was most definitely a celebration of his life and friendly attitude.

“Ernie has been the cornerstone not only of the Chicago Cubs, but the city of Chicago,” former teammate Billy Williams said. “And those that have met Ernie still remember the joyous smile he had.”

[+] EnlargeErnie Banks
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastThe memorial for Ernie Banks on Saturday in Chicago was a celebration of his life and friendly attitude.
Speaker after speaker reminded the crowd of baseball and political dignitaries, along with hundreds of fans in attendance and many more watching on television, that Banks was always what he appeared to be: happy-go-lucky with an ever positive attitude about life and the Cubs.

Almost every remembrance came with one of his famous sayings, most notably, "Let's play two."

When Williams spoke, he immediately lightened the mood with personal memories of Banks as a roommate for two-and-a-half months -- "I had to get out of there" -- to the final words of his speech, which he knew Ernie would appreciate.

“The Cubs will win as a team ... in 2015,” Williams said in a Banks-esque tone.

That drew loud applause in the previously quiet church. By the time Reverend Jesse Jackson asked the audience to rise and clap for Banks, on what would have been his 84th birthday, any semblance of a somber tone was dismissed.

“Ernie walked up to you as if he knew you for years,” Williams said.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts added: “Never in time have numbers fallen so short in describing the true greatness of a baseball player. Ernie Banks was known as much for his off-the-field demeanor as his on-the-field performance.”

Listening and watching from the front of Fourth Presbyterian Church were many baseball greats, including Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson and Lou Brock. Other current and former Cubs and team employees attending included Kerry Wood, Jim Hendry, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, John McDonough, Glenn Beckert and Randy Hundley. All got an opportunity to remember Mr. Cub for the player and person he was.

“Ernie Banks was living proof that you don’t have to wear a championship ring on your finger in order to be a pillar of baseball and a champion in life,” Joe Torre said in representing Major League Baseball at the ceremony. “He made the confines of Wrigley Field friendly, he made the Cubs lovable, and he was one of the pivotal people during a vital time in our history who made a great game worthy of being our national pastime.”

[+] EnlargeErnie Banks
AP Photo/Jim PrischingCubs owner Tom Ricketts said, "Ernie Banks is not Mr. Cub because we loved him. Ernie Banks is Mr. Cub because he loved us back."
Banks still holds the major league record for the most regular-season games played (2,528) without a postseason appearance. That says much more about the Cubs than it does about Banks. Despite the team's futility, he became known as Mr. Cub.

In 1969, the Cubs had a very good team but famously faded down the stretch. Even then, Banks kept his positive attitude.

“He would say, ‘It’s a good day for two,’” Williams recalled with a smile. “We could hardly get through one, we were so tired.”

The stories continued, alternating between Banks' abilities on the field and his friendly demeanor off it.

“In 1957, there were four pitchers that had the courage to knock him down,” Torre recalled. “Each and every one of those times, he got up and the next pitch, hit a home run.”

“When we played the Cardinals, Bob Gibson was pitching that day," Williams said. “And Bob came out of the clubhouse -- he’s mean already. And Ernie would be around the batting cage and say, ‘Billy is going to hit a home run off of you today.’ I would say, ‘Ernie, don’t make him meaner.’”

His proudest moment mIGHT have come in 2013, when President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In return, Banks gave Obama a very symbolic gift.

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Ricketts pokes fun at White Sox attendance

January, 17, 2015
Jan 17
7:18
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts fired off a hefty volley -- and got the biggest laugh -- in what should be renewed intensity to the Cubs/White Sox rivalry.

During Saturday morning's Ricketts Family Forum at his team's annual fan convention, he was told by a fan that people say that kids “have more fun at U.S. Cellular Field” than at Wrigley Field. After a pause, Ricketts responded:

“Can’t be that many kids having fun at U.S. Cellular,” he said with a smile.

It was an obvious shot at the White Sox's attendance problems, as the Cubs have outdrawn their American League counterpart every year since 1992 -- and that includes 2005, the year the Sox won the World Series, as well as the next season, when a bump in attendance usually follows. In 2014, the Cubs drew 2.6 million fans to 1.6 million for the White Sox.

The Cubs/Sox rivalry has lost some buzz over the years, mostly due to the fact that neither team has been very good. Last season might have seen the least interest, given the faltering fortunes of both squads and their four-game series being played during in early May, when school was still in session and the weather wasn’t exactly ideal. In 2015, the teams will play each other six times, including one weekend each in July and August.

Ricketts’ comments Saturday are sure to be still echoing when the three-day Sox Fest kicks off Friday and the South Siders get a chance to respond. Then the teams can fight it out on the field -- they’ve literally done that in the past -- this summer.

Overall, the White Sox have 52 wins head to head to 46 for the Cubs since interleague play began in 1997.

Cubs Convention: What you might hear

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
12:04
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The 30th annual Cubs Convention is this weekend at the Chicago Sheraton & Towers. Hopes are high for 2015 and optimism is never greater than at the fan convention.

While the media gets an hour with players and coaches Friday, the real fun starts when fans get to ask questions, as this is really the only time all year they get that kind of access.

There will be plenty of time to rehash the event next week, but here’s a prediction of some of the things that you might hear if you’re attending:

[+] EnlargeWrigley Bleachers
AP Photo/M. Spencer GreenWill the bleachers be ready by Opening Day? That's one of many questions we might get an answer to at the Cubs Convention.
Tom Ricketts: "Sammy Sosa is not here. We still need to mend some fences with him. We hope to do so in the near future."

Analysis: It’ll be about the same script that was used last year, and if there was a major breakthrough over the past 12 months wouldn't Sosa be here? How hard is it to fix this thing anyway? He’s just a baseball player who, yes, had a few relatively minor bad moments in the grand scheme of things. Do he and his former teammates really need to get along for him to appear? If the fans’ interests are first among all parties, then the answer should be easy in regards to the franchise’s all-time home run king. PED suspicions might keep him out of the Hall of Fame, as it did again earlier this month, but the fan convention? Come on. Short of a major arrest record or something similarly nefarious, he should be there.

Crane Kenney: "The bleachers won’t be ready on Opening Day, but we have a plan to move season ticket holders into other locations throughout the ballpark."

Analysis: Some media and fans will take their potshots at the optics of a Sunday night opening game against the St. Louis Cardinals without fans in the bleachers, but this is the price you pay for rehabbing an old park while trying to play games in it. The Cubs could have chosen to leave Wrigley Field altogether for two full years and the whole project would have been done. Maybe in hindsight that was the better route as renovation obstacles are bound to creep up, causing things like the bleachers closing. Then again, they’ll be open within a month when the weather is better and no one will really care. In a major rebuilding of the team, and the ballpark, not sweating the small stuff is probably a good idea. Up to one month without bleachers -- if that’s all it is -- is pretty small.

Ricketts, Part 2: "We are working on our relationship with the rooftop owners."

Analysis: Stop if you’ve heard that one before. There was a brief moment in time after last season that it looked like the sides were going to live (somewhat) peacefully with each other or the Cubs would end up owning the majority of rooftops and the fight would be near moot. That’s not the case, as current owners are essentially accusing the Cubs of extortion. The crux of it is they say the Cubs will block views unless they sell. How has this fight not ended up in court already? It is now.

Theo Epstein: "We’re going for the playoffs in 2015, but we won’t sell out for it."

Analysis: The term “sell out” has been used often this offseason by Cubs management, especially Epstein. It allows them to straddle that fence between rebuilding and competing. Some fans and media members will take umbrage, as it’s been Epstein himself who has stated that every season is “sacred.” But what everyone accepted as a five-year rebuilding plan is only in Year 4, even though the Cubs made headlines with significant winter additions. If they wanted to “go for it” they would trade Addison Russell or Kris Bryant for Cole Hamels, but we all know how stupid that would be for the long-term health of the team.

Anthony Rizzo: "We want to (or hope or expect) to win the division."

Analysis: He already made that statement once -- on the final day of the 2014 regular season -- and he’ll more than likely make it again. Of course, every team at this time of year can say the same thing. Every single one of them. At least this year Rizzo or anyone else that declares some form of “its playoffs or bust” can say it without getting ridiculed. Last to first has happened a few times before. Just not that often.

Starlin Castro: "I’m planning on moving my family to Miami (or somewhere that isn’t the Dominican Republic)."

Analysis: The Cubs and Castro’s agent are probably hoping he says something like this. It’s not that Castro is a major troublemaker -- if he is, trouble will find him wherever he goes -- but from most who know how things work in the Dominican Republic, they say players are targets. After a couple of incidents this offseason that had Castro talking with police and subsequently in the news, there is no reason to risk staying there. That can be easier said than done considering all the factors involved when it comes to family, but that’s what a long term-deal with security gives you: options.

Javier Baez: "I feel better now after playing in winter ball. I worked out some things with my swing."

Analysis: Again, wishful thinking, but maybe the time off and then some at-bats away from the limelight did him some good. As stated in this blog previously -- and just about everywhere else -- just cutting down on the swings on pitches above his head should change things dramatically. But no matter what he did in winter ball, no matter what he does in spring training, it’s all about April. With Baez, there’s a good chance we’ll know sooner rather than later if he’s found some plate discipline. If nothing has changed it’s going to be a long first few months.

Kris Bryant: "I’m just going to go to spring training and try to make it a hard decision for them."

Analysis: It won’t just be the first question of Bryant, it will be all of them. OK, that’s exaggerating, but it’s all anyone who follows him wants to know. Is there any chance he breaks camp with the Cubs? If he does, he can become a free agent after 2020. If the Cubs bring him up closer to May, they have him until 2021. Nothing is for certain, but all signs point to the latter happening. And the notion that the Cubs “might lose the division” because Bryant is in Chicago in late April instead of early is silly.

For Cubs, Jon Lester, it was all about belief

December, 15, 2014
12/15/14
6:43
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- At the end of the day, one word can describe the pursuit and acquisition of lefty starting pitcher Jon Lester for the Chicago Cubs:

Belief.

The Cubs believed in Lester enough to give him the richest contract in team history. Lester bought into what the Cubs’ front office was selling: the chance to break a 106-year championship drought.

“As soon as we left the meeting [with the Cubs], we had a good feeling about what they were bringing to the future of this organization,” Lester said at a Monday news conference. “The belief they have here made us believe they aren’t going to be in last place for very much longer.

“I don’t like to lose. You can call it arrogant or cocky or whatever you want. I like to win. That’s what I’m here to do.”

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
David Banks/Getty Images"I don't like to lose," Jon Lester said at the Cubs' news conference Monday.  "You can call it arrogant or cocky or whatever you want. I like to win. That's what I'm here to do."
If nothing else, you come away with the impression that Lester is a serious man and that he wasn’t just signing on with the Cubs because of the $155 million they’re paying him. The money certainly doesn’t hurt, but the commitment might have sealed the deal.

“Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer] were relentless, detail-oriented and sincere,” said Lester’s agent, Seth Levinson. “They demonstrated their vision of success in a manner that gave Jon great comfort. In the end, Jon placed great faith in his relationship with them and was confident in the plan.”

It was a perfect storm for the Cubs. Consider all the following that played a part in their favor:

  • Lester was given a lowball offer by the Boston Red Sox last spring, which enabled him to eventually become a free agent. He says he holds no grudges, but it set the stage for his entry into the market.“When you sit down at the beginning of the season, you think, can we get an extension done with this team? And if we don’t, what are some teams you would be interested in going to?” Lester explained. “The Cubs were on that list.”
  • Lester was traded for the first time in his career last season, as the Red Sox moved him to the Oakland Athletics in July. He admitted it might sound silly, but leaving your comfort zone isn’t easy for a baseball player. When it happened once, it led to happening again. This more than anything might have paved the way for the Cubs.“When I got to Oakland it was good,” Lester said. “It helped prepare me for this situation. That broke that barrier of, ‘I wonder if I can play for another team?’”
  • The Athletics never had any intention of re-signing him.
  • Being traded to the Athletics brought him together with former Cubs Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. They and former teammate Ryan Dempster had a big impact on Lester.“[Dempster] had nothing but great things to say,” Lester stated. “Obviously, I wouldn’t be here today if those guys didn’t speak highly of Chicago.”

    “As far as winning, are these guys close? That was my question to Jeff. Are they there?”

Again, it went back to a belief and a trust in Epstein. He had built a winner in Boston, and Lester thinks he can do it again in Chicago.

“I believe in the plan they have in place right now for the future of the Cubs,” Lester said. “Leaving a place where you’ve already won is difficult, but I also relish in the chance of winning a world series for a franchise that never has [in a long time] adds a little extra for me.”

Epstein said the feeling was mutual.

“It was about belief,” he said. “We knew early on if we signed Jon Lester, it would be about belief. He would believe in us, believe in our future and believe in winning a World Series -- [it] would be a unique opportunity.”

What about Cubs ownership? Tom Ricketts had to sign off on the $155 million deal with a no-trade clause. It took one meeting with the pitcher to convince him.

“I had dinner with Jon and got 100 percent comfortable with the person,” Ricketts said. “I don’t have any real concerns. Jon has earned the right to have that kind of contract.”

Once both sides believed in each other, it came down to the contract. Epstein says the Cubs made an offer hoping a deal could be struck with the “turkey in the oven” around Thanksgiving. They adjusted it leading into the winter meetings and fine-tuned it once in San Diego. Then the waiting began. The decision came late on Dec. 9.

“We made it hours before it was announced,” Lester said.

Ricketts said the deal went into the wee hours.

“It was really late at night,” he said. “It wasn’t 100 percent until 2 a.m. It was good. I don’t think there was anyone out there we would have made this commitment to.”

Epstein was confident and was even ready for a hunting trip with Lester, if it was needed.

“I was prepared to,” he joked. “I was ready to soak myself in deer urine, if necessary.”

At the end of the day, all parties got what they wanted. The Cubs got their ace. Lester got security and a promise from his new team that they were playing to win. And Ricketts might even have shed the “cheap” label he’s worn since buying the Cubs.

“Maybe that’s nice,” he said with a smile. “I don’t have to read it.”

For Lester, there were two parts to the whole process. Meeting with teams was the fun part; making a decision was much tougher.

“It felt like the right fit for us at the right time,” he said. “I’m going to put my head down and go to work and do everything I can to succeed.”

Agent Scott Boras: 'There are grand incentives to tank a season'

November, 12, 2014
11/12/14
8:42
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
PHOENIX – It was a simple question, but baseball mega-agent Scott Boras doesn’t do simple.

Boras usually makes one public appearance for the media at events like this week’s general managers meetings and will entertain questions about his star clients and the game of baseball itself. And then he provides entertaining answers that are so blatantly pro-player and anti-system that you almost know what’s coming before it happens.

Boras is the agent for high-profile Chicago Cubs clients like Kris Bryant and Jake Arrieta, so his opinion matters, considering he gives it to his clients as well as the rest of the baseball world.

[+] EnlargeScott Boras
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports"If any fan base in Chicago deserves 'now' and not 'tomorrow,' it's the Chicago Cubs," said agent Scott Boras, whose Cubs clients include Kris Bryant and Jake Arrieta
He’s saved some of his best rhetoric in recent years for the Chicago Cubs -- specifically ownership. Boras has a healthy respect for the Cubs' front office, but his needling during the Tom Ricketts ownership era has produced a laugh or two among the throng of media present for his diatribes.

Back to the question at hand. It lasted a matter of seconds. The answer went on for over seven minutes.

Boras was asked the following on Wednesday afternoon in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel after meeting with teams:

“Did you get a gauge of how willing the Cubs are to spend some of this cash they have sticking out of their pockets?”

“When you sit back and look at things that are going on, there are some things that are rather interesting,” Boras began. “In the new ownership grouping there really have only been seven out of 30 that have won a world championship. What we’re finding is the course of conduct to win one is now almost something we have to re-examine. So few are doing it. Then those that are doing it seem to be doing it in threes, whether it be the Yankees or Red Sox or Giants.

“We have 14 new ownership groups since 2003. Fourteen. None of them have won a World Series. Zero. In looking at that, it’s either that it takes a long time to do this or it’s due to our infrastructure change. In looking at what’s gone on with qualifying offers and the draft there is this dynamic that goes on that says ‘you can’t use free agency and the draft in unison to win.’ You have to pick one or the other and therefore it’s the shadow approach, ‘if I’m not using free agency then I have to use the draft system and basically I’m noncompetitive for a period of time.’

You almost have to lose seven or eight years in a row to develop enough draft-pick currency.

- Agent Scott Boras, on incentives for teams to tank.
“And there are grand incentives to tank a season. To go and move my club into a losing mode in August and September so that I can win the higher dollar awards in draft currency. It’s very clear that 'draft dollars' are readily more valuable than dollars themselves. And so to lose No. 1 draft picks and lose dollars by signing free agents, that means we can’t do that and build our franchise for the future. So we can’t be competitive currently, so we have the ready-made excuse to say ‘we don’t want to lose draft picks so therefore we’re out of competition currently.’ That’s a problem. That’s a real problem. I think we have to address that to make the system more competitive so we have owners coming into the game that can do both, who can readily invest their resources in free agency and also have the ability to utilize the draft and scouting and developing so they’re not parallel universes. I think the major reason when a lot of new owners come in, the demand to win, is far less than it is for someone that’s been at it a long time. You almost have to lose seven or eight years in a row to develop enough draft-pick currency.”

That’s this year’s not-so-veiled shot at the Cubs' rebuilding strategy, and frankly it’s one that many fans have made as well. The Cubs will argue their way will produce more sustained success, and with playoff upsets an annual ritual, they believe yearly entries into the postseason are the answer to breaking through to a championship -- or several. Maybe that’s why only a few ownership groups have won. They’ve created sustained success. In any case, Boras was quick to point out how much the Cubs have increased in value since Ricketts purchased the team in 2009.

“That’s a reason to invest in your resource because you’re sitting on something that’s made you 200 times, 300 times your investment,” Boras said. “That in itself is reason for ownership to look at this asset. They’re taking positive steps. If any fan base in Chicago deserves ‘now’ and not ‘tomorrow,’ it’s the Chicago Cubs.”

He has hope that the cheaper days of the Cubs are behind them. It starts with the hiring of the new manager.

“I told [Joe Maddon] he’s the only guy I know that goes on a vacation in his RV and comes back and makes $20 million,” Boras said.
Joe MaddonHannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJoe Maddon is an intriguing option for the rebuilding Cubs.


CHICAGO -- If in fact the Chicago Cubs are looking into hiring former Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon for the job that current skipper Rick Renteria occupies they’re heading into some unchartered baseball territory, at least according to one longtime executive who wanted to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the situation.

“There is no script for this,” the executive said over the weekend. “All you can do is the best you can to treat (Renteria) with as much respect as you can. But there is no perfect way to do this.”

No, Monday’s off-day in the World Series isn’t allowing for a press conference announcing Maddon as the Cubs new skipper.

However, at the very least, sources inside Maddon’s camp, including his Chicago-based agent Alan Nero, believe his fate for next year could be decided by the end of this week. That corresponds with the end of the baseball season as the World Series will be over by Wednesday at the latest. Maddon has already stolen enough headlines, the Cubs or another team aren’t about to make an announcement before play on the field is over.

The unique saga began late last week when Maddon opted out of his contract with the Rays, declaring himself a free agent. The only problem for the popular manager: only one team in the league, the Minnesota Twins, has a managerial opening. It means any team that already has a manager and wants to replace him with Maddon will need to tread lightly. It’s simply not the ideal time to be making a change; that usually comes right after the season.

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Ricketts on Wrigley: Time to move forward

July, 11, 2014
7/11/14
6:17
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – One day after the Chicago Cubs received approval for their revised plans to renovate Wrigley Field, chairman Tom Ricketts described an upbeat feeling at the corner of Clark and Addison streets.

“Obviously, it’s very important for us to get those approvals to move forward,” Ricketts said Friday before the Cubs took on the Atlanta Braves. “We’re excited to begin the renovation process as opposed to the political process.”

On Sheffield and Waveland – addresses to the rooftop owners – there probably wasn’t much celebrating. The revised renovation plan includes five more outfield signs to be erected along with the two that were approved last year, that figure to block sightlines from across the street.

With the threat of eventual legal action still hanging in the air, Ricketts was asked if the team has reached out to the rooftop owners, who charge people to watch games and then return 17 percent of revenues back to the Cubs.

“Obviously the hearing was just yesterday,” Ricketts said. “We’ll reach out and talk to everybody. We’re confident there will be a solution that works.”

If there is any animosity from the Cubs side toward the rooftop owners, Ricketts wasn’t about to reveal it one day after scoring a major political victory.

“Obviously it’s been a long process,” he said. “We’re just glad that it’s behind us. I’m not worried about anything that happened in the past. We’re just going to go forward. As I’ve said, we’re just looking forward to moving forward.”

There remains no scheduled groundbreaking date on the project that could run over the $375 million mark, with an additional $200 million in related construction costs.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks unanimously approved the revised plans. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is expected to work with the Cubs and the rooftop owners to avoid litigation. The 20-year contract that allows the rooftop owners to charge people to watch Cubs games still has another 10 years on it.

“I was confident that everyone has an incentive to work together to save Wrigley Field,” Ricketts said. “Obviously we’ve always had a very long-term perspective, so a lot of short-term setbacks or friction in the process, we just kept in perspective and tried to take the high road and keep moving forward. I think we’re in a good spot now. We’re looking forward to getting things rolling.”

The project is expected to take four years once it is started, with some reports that the historic bleachers might be knocked down and replaced by a newer version with modern amenities. Rickets would not confirm that a razing of the bleachers was on the agenda.
“I don’t really know how the construction process works well enough to go into that,” Ricketts said. “… It’s a four year project. I’m not sure about all the final sequencing of everything, and not sure exactly how you start in October and finish in April.”

While the renovation plan isn’t on-field related, the on-again-off-again nature of the subject managed to creep into the clubhouse.

“I think just in general, just to have the approval to move forward is a big thing for the Cubs, for us,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I know it's been in the making for a long time. I'm just here for the first year, so I know it's kind of been worked through.

“If that's one less thing for us to think about, it's good for all of us. We keep moving forward and put the ballpark in a better position, and hopefully we can take advantage of it.”

Why should Cubs fans continue to believe?

April, 11, 2014
4/11/14
4:19
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- I've learned how to deal with the frustration of being Chicago Cubs fan. It's something that every Cubs fans must embrace as they root for their favorite team. The losses pile up and the frustration mounts year after year, but we keep coming back because of loyalty.

For the first time in my three decades as a Cubs fan, I'm starting to question that loyalty. The frustration is building up more than ever. I'm not the 10-year-old kid who comes home from school and turns on WGN to listen to Harry Caray anymore. I'm the 30-year-old who just paid $1,500 for 20 games-worth of a season-ticket package that is split between a few buddies.

[+] EnlargeTom Ricketts
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsTom Ricketts hasn't yet been able to deliver a deal with rooftop owners to allow the renovation of Wrigley Field to begin.
It's a new perspective and something that has caused me to view my experience as a fan differently. I'm no longer blindly loyal to a team I've cheered for my entire life. Like most Cubs fans, the frustration over the organization's latest woes has been boiling for a while but it was recent comments by owner Tom Ricketts that really irked me.

I laughed in February when I read that Ricketts said he believed the Cubs could be a "contender" this season, but what really got me was when Ricketts was asked to assess his team and said he thought this was going to be a "fun" year. I sat inside Wrigley for too many games than I'd like to admit last season, and I watched this winter as Theo Epstein and his group did little to improve the major league club.

I understand Ricketts is trying to put a positive spin on his product, but don't insult your fans and speak to them as if they're stupid. This team stinks. It's not built to win games this season.

"What do you want him to say?" I've already heard from some friends.

I want him to say something like: "We're going to work hard to put a product on the field that everyone can be proud of while we continue developing one of the best minor league systems in the game."

It's all PR spin, but at least there's some reality within the sentiment.

On a broader note, the deeper frustration is that Ricketts has shown little interest in making the big league club better now. I understand what the total rebuild entailed, and I knew full well that the Cubs were going to remain bad for a while, but the neglect shown toward the actual product playing at Wrigley Field is alarming.

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Optimism for future -- not this year

February, 19, 2014
2/19/14
7:08
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
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.

Cubs Notes: Bryant comes 'full circle'

February, 19, 2014
2/19/14
6:29
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MESA, Ariz. -- The top draft pick from last season, Kris Bryant, spent his first day of his first spring training in a little awe of his surroundings. But he got through it just fine after facing veteran Carlos Villanueva in the Chicago Cubs' first live batting practice of the spring.

“It kind of did hit me,” Bryant said afterward. “I think he [Villanueva] was actually pitching the day that I signed so it was pretty cool it came full circle. I was watching him on television and now I’m playing with him, so it was a good day today.”

Bryant made some good contact but also missed on a few breaking pitches, which is no surprise after months off.

“In college you’re seeing that stuff all fall and winter,” he explained. “It will take a little time. [I’m] still getting my feet wet. I’ll fall back on the tools I used in college and hopefully it carries over to professional baseball.”

Bryant is slated to start the season at Double-A Tennessee but should stick around big league camp for a while and play in some Cactus League games.

Bonifacio arrives: Emilio Bonifacio arrived to camp on time after signing a minor league deal on Monday. There were reports he turned down major league offers to sign with the Cubs.

“I heard that but it’s not true,” he said.

He did have other minor league options but chose the Cubs because he felt it was the best opportunity to make a major league team. He can play infield and outfield and could be a leadoff man if needed. His best position is second base.

Cubs on TV/Radio: The Cubs could be switching radio and television homes after this season.

“This will be a year in which we’ll have a lot of discussions about the future of games on WGN [TV and radio],” Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said. “It’s still too early to predict or anticipate what’s going to happen with those games. We have some options and we’re going to explore them and do what’s right for the team.”

Podcast: Ricketts on state of Cubs

February, 19, 2014
2/19/14
2:31
PM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts talks with the media on Wednesday in Mesa, addressing the status of the Wrigley Field renovation, expectations for the team in 2014, his belief in Theo Epstein and more.


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Click here for more audio from ESPN Chicago.

Day 5 Notes: Renteria: Eliminate anxiety

February, 18, 2014
2/18/14
5:15
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MESA, Ariz. -- New Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria will address his team for the first time Wednesday as full squad workouts are set to begin. He says his speech won’t be that different than the one he gave to pitchers and catchers last week: eliminate the distractions and do the work at hand.

“Many of the things that I’ll say, I’ll say over and over the course of the spring, over the course of the season,” Renteria said Tuesday. “It will be redundant but what we’re trying to do is change the way we think and do things.”

The bottom line is that without championship-ready talent, the Cubs have to rely on doing things the right way. If they can take care of the little things, when the talent catches up to the attitude, they might just have a winner.

“You shouldn’t fear having high expectations,” Renteria continued. “A lot of times guys worry about creating this ceiling because how are they going to feel if they don’t attain it.”

Creating false expectations probably isn’t the Cubs problem -- no player is promising anything for himself or the team right now. Still, Renteria wants nothing to stand in the Cubs way of playing the game the right way, not their record or what the date on the calendar is.

(Read full post)

As spring home opens, Wrigley fixes wait

February, 12, 2014
2/12/14
5:03
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MESA, Ariz. -- It's hard to marvel at the Chicago Cubs' new spring training facility without thinking about the stall in the long-awaited renovation of Wrigley Field.

Almost 2,000 miles away from where the Cubs play during the season -- under bright and warm sunny skies -- the team and community cut the ribbon on their state-of-the-art new spring home on Tuesday. The huge complex lives up to its hype.

"We have something special," Cubs president Theo Epstein said in a morning ceremony attended by the governor of Arizona, the mayor of Mesa and Cubs ownership. "No more excuses. If we can't get better here we can't get better anywhere."

[+] EnlargeRicketts
AP Photo/Matt YorkCubs owner Tom Ricketts discusses the team's new spring training complex Wednesday in Mesa.
Getting better in February and March is important, but not as important as where the players perform from April through September. By Epstein's thinking, the Cubs still have "excuses," considering the renovation of Wrigley Field has yet to begin. Part of that project includes better facilities for the players.

"We're talking," owner Tom Ricketts said Tuesday after the ceremony. "We're looking at different ideas. Everyone has incentive to get this done and hopefully at some point here we'll have a solution that works."

It's the same statement he's been making all along, except he expressed more optimism at the Cubs Convention last month. A meeting with rooftop owners days later killed that optimism but talks are ongoing. The deal comes down to one thing: the placement of the video board in left field.

"Look at this place here," Ricketts said, pointing to his new stadium in Mesa. "When people work together and they really focus on what they can accomplish together, you see great results."

That was said with an obvious nod to the problems in Chicago. Ricketts, with the help of Mesa mayor Scott Smith, deflected any other conversation away from Wrigley Field. He has good reason because the new spring home in Mesa is a complex unlike any other in the Cactus or Grapefruit league. The Cubs should be proud of it.

"Our facilities are the best in the game," Ricketts said.

He's probably right. The irony is, it only magnifies the Wrigley Field issues even more.

In fan Q & A, Epstein defends ownership

January, 18, 2014
1/18/14
8:07
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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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

[+] EnlargeEpstein
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsCubs president Theo Epstein covered a wide range of topics in a Q & A with fans Saturday.
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.

Ticket-buying

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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jake Arrieta
WINS ERA SO IP
10 2.53 167 156
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .292
HRA. Rizzo 32
RBIA. Rizzo 78
RA. Rizzo 89
OPSA. Rizzo .913
ERAT. Wood 5.03
SOJ. Arrieta 167