Cubs

Winning over voters, Cubs staying in Mesa

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Winning over voters, Cubs staying in Mesa

Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010
Updated at 12:10 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs have trained in Arizona almost uninterrupted since the end of the Truman administration, and they hope to remain in the desert for decades to come.

That history looks like it will continue after voters in Mesa approved Proposition 420 on Tuesday by an overwhelming margin. This had become a signature project for the Ricketts family during their first year of ownership, and they can claim an apparent victory as the Cubs moved closer to securing their new facility.

With 97 to 98 percent of precincts reporting late Tuesday night, unofficial results on the Maricopa County and city of Mesa websites had roughly 63 percent voting "yes."

The ballot measure enables the city to spend close to 100 million on the next spring-training site as the Naples, Fla., development group that once tried to lure the Cubs out of Arizona recedes into memory.

As outlined, the Cubs would cover any construction costs that exceed 84 million, while the city could also contribute up to 15 million for infrastructure. The deal would be financed in part by the sale of undeveloped land in the area and a proposed 2 percent bed tax increase on Mesa hotels.

The Cubs would lease the complex and be responsible for operating costs. They also intend to develop a retail center around the stadium that's been called "Wrigleyville West." It would presumably attract existing corporate partners and attempt to recreate the atmosphere surrounding Clark and Addison with shops, bars and restaurants.

As the Cactus League's biggest box-office draw, one estimate has the Cubs creating a 138 million economic impact annually in the region, though some of that is spread to nearby Scottsdale and Tempe.

Mesa -- where the Cubs have trained from 1952-1965 and since 1979 -- is hoping for a bigger share of the revenues. While the Cubs have argued that they've outgrown their facilities, the complexes are not ancient.

The Cubs began play in 1997 at the new HoHoKam Park, which has a seating capacity of 13,100. Construction began the year before at Fitch Park, which sits on a 31-acre lot and includes four practice fields and a clubhouse with lockers for 200 players and 36 coaches.

But Cubs management is seeking one base of operations for all staffers -- not two located roughly a mile apart. Taxpayers might wonder why another reinvestment is already needed, but this could open an opportunity for a new team to relocate to Mesa.

Right now 15 teams are based in Arizona and 15 more train in Florida. There is a thought that Major League Baseball would ideally like a 16-14 split for scheduling purposes.

As voters headed to the polls, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and his staff gathered for organizational meetings in Mesa, where the baseball operations department will spend the next few days strategizing for 2011.

The offseason officially began Monday night after the final out of the World Series. Xavier Nady -- who will turn 32 this month and struggled to find a regular rhythm after the second Tommy John surgery of his career -- was the only Cub among the 142 players granted free agency. The first basemanoutfielder is a Scott Boras client and expected to test the market.

The other anticipated procedural move will be Aramis Ramirez exercising his 14.6 million player option for next season, which also guarantees the third baseman at least a 2 million buyout of the club's 2012 option worth 16 million.

The Cubs have also begun surveying fans on their website, asking questions about their Wrigley Field experience, whether they would be interested in a video replay board and weekend night games.

But nothing was quite as pressing to ownership as the "yes" given Tuesday in Mesa. The organization had invested a significant amount of time, money, energy and manpower in lobbying for the plan. Franchise icons Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo each made public appearances trying to sway voters.

Chairman Tom Ricketts had insisted that the Cubs weren't thinking about alternatives if Mesa voted against the proposition. There's no Plan B, he said. Cubs fans -- especially the ones who had retired to Arizona and take family vacations there in February and March -- will be glad to never learn what that might have been.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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USA TODAY

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.