Cubs

Selig, Ricketts believe in the Wrigley rebuilding plan

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Selig, Ricketts believe in the Wrigley rebuilding plan

The Miami Marlins are in full-surrender mode, awaiting final approval of a 12-player trade with the Toronto Blue Jays that will gut their major-league roster. They wont be handing out refunds for those orange No. 7 Jose Reyes jerseys.

The Boston Red Sox became a much leaner operation after they traded away Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett in last summers blockbuster. The Los Angeles Dodgers rediscovered their Hollywood swagger after being locked in the Jamie vs. Frank McCourt divorce drama.

The New York Mets keep trying to regain their financial footing after being trapped in Bernie Madoffs Ponzi scheme. The Cubs had the third-highest average ticket price in the majors last season, according to Team Marketing Report, and failed to draw three million for the first time since 2003.

While Theo Epstein builds The Foundation for Sustained Success, the Cubs are out on all the big free agents and their clubhouse is already concerned about getting off to a good start next April, so they dont become sellers again at the trade deadline.

Commissioner Bud Selig isnt worried about the Cubs not acting like a big-market franchise.

Im a disciple of Branch Rickey, Selig said Thursday in Rosemont. What the Cubs are doing (with) Theo, theyre absolutely on the right track. I cant be critical of that. I think I can use my own instinctive baseball judgment.

I dont think anybody accused the Red Sox of not (trying to compete), and I like the way the Cubs are going. If I was running a franchise, I would follow that pattern to a T.

The best-case scenario is that the Cubs hit the jackpot, building their player-development machine, renovating Wrigley Field and cashing in with a new television deal once the WGN contract expires after the 2014 season.

Tom Ricketts said the renovation plans were not on the agenda at the ownership meetings that ended Thursday at the Hyatt Regency OHare. The Cubs chairman also didnt see the commissioners office having to get involved.

Not really, Ricketts said. Right now, were just working through our plans and then well just start the process. Hopefully, sometime soon well have it all figured out, but thats really all we can do.

During a news conference dominated by talk about the Miami-Toronto mega-trade, Selig said hes available.

Ive talked a lot to Tom, Selig said. I certainly want to be involved and helpful, to help them get done what they want to get done.

The Cubs tried to manage the damage control last May after stories about Ricketts father Joe and his Super PAC went viral. The potential attack ads against President Barack Obama angered Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a delicate time for negotiations.

Ricketts was asked if there could be an opening for talks at City Hall and with the former White House chief of staff now that the election is over.

Like I said, its just one step at a time, working on a plan and see what we can come up with, Ricketts said.

Another construction season at Clark and Addison will likely pass by with only general maintenance getting done. Given that, Ricketts was asked if the Cubs would look at playing at U.S. Cellular Field or Milwaukees Miller Park whenever a renovation solution is reached so that its completed in one shot as opposed to incremental changes from one winter to the next.

Weve said this before: The goal is to play at Wrigley, and thats what were focused on, Ricketts said.

The worst-case scenario is that the growth of young players like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo is stunted by all the losing, the stadium financing gets stuck in political gridlock and the force of all that TV money is blunted by everyone else getting richer with new broadcast deals. And 100-loss seasons become the new normal.

Looking back on how the Red Sox unloaded roughly 250 million in salary, team president Larry Lucchino pointedly said that theres no five-year plan. Selig expects them to compete in 2013.

For the first 10 years of our ownership, we averaged over 92 wins a season, Lucchino said. Last year we (finished with) over 90 losses, so obviously somethings not working right. Besides the epidemic of key injuries, a whole lot of other things didnt go right, but were determined to get us back where we were.

While it may have been a complex transaction with the Dodgers, Lucchino said it wasnt a difficult call for the Red Sox to clean out their clubhouse and sharply change directions.

The merits of that decision were pretty clear to us, Lucchino said. It was an easier trigger to pull than many that we have to agonize over.

Epstein has no second thoughts about leaving Lucchino and the Red Sox and taking the long-range view with the Cubs. Its still weird looking at this like a small-market club (though not as strange as the people dressed up in animal costumes for a furry convention while baseballs owners checked out of the airport hotel).

Scott Baker hadnt been a Cub for more than a few hours on Tuesday when he was asked about the possibility of being shipped to a contender next summer, like Paul Maholm. Its a valid question, whether Epstein is using this one-year, 5.5 million contract as a way to acquire young players.

We hope our season goes better than that and were not in that position, Epstein said. Were realistic. If were out of it and were trying to build a healthier organization, we are going to flip some players, but we dont necessarily flip them all. If you have somebody whos a good fit on the field and off the field, we can look to extend them.

The fans paying money to get into Wrigley Field will have their say. But right now the commissioner is saying this is in the best interests of the game.

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below: