Cubs

Cubs still planning to launch TV network (but not expecting Dodger megadeal)

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Cubs still planning to launch TV network (but not expecting Dodger megadeal)

The Cubs are absolutely banking on the cable bubble not bursting before they can cash in with a new TV megadeal. There are so many variables within that equation, from a red-hot, DVR-proof team to Major League Baseball’s byzantine rules to Congress and federal regulators. It’s the rise of Netflix, Amazon and HBO Go, plus technology we’re not even thinking about now.

But Crane Kenney can survey the entire landscape and look back at the Dodgers and see what’s happening with SportsNet LA and say this much with certainty: “That deal will never happen again.”

That would be Time Warner Cable’s $8 billion boondoggle and yet another cautionary tale for the entire industry. As president of business operations, Kenney is on the clock again, saying the Cubs are still “focused 100 percent” on launching their own network by 2020.

But there’s no Dodger blueprint with a $300 million payroll on the horizon and a blank check to sign international players (and all those carriage issues in Southern California).

“Remember, there is no sell the rights to someone else and they take all the risk,” Kenney said Saturday, speaking with reporters after his Cubs Convention presentation at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. “The world doesn’t work that way, with one exception: That’s what happened in L.A., where now Time Warner can’t clear the games in half the homes. And obviously it’s a huge loss for them.

“Like everything we do, whether it’s Kiss Cams or anything else, we’re studying it to death to look at the pros and cons and weigh the risks of launching on our own, or launching with a partner.”

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This is a central part to the follow-the-money story in Wrigleyville. Team president Theo Epstein is waiting for that windfall to make sure this young core matures into a perennial contender. Outside of changing baseball leadership and hiring Epstein, chairman Tom Ricketts called this the biggest decision for his ownership group.

“Got to get it right,” Ricketts said.

Kenney also stressed there’s no scenario where the Cubs are getting 100-percent equity in a new channel. It’s always going to have to be working with another big media player, either a content producer and/or a distributor with the infrastructure to get the games into your living rooms.

“The Dodgers are a one-off world,” Kenney said. “But the other deals you read about, whether it’s St. Louis or Seattle, where they got big equity pieces, they’re wearing the risk of cord-cutting and cord-shaving no different than we are at Comcast SportsNet.”

The Cubs have an ownership stake in CSN Chicago, which keeps exclusive cable rights through the 2019 season. Kenney estimated the Cubs would need a two-year runway to build out their new network.

“Can I predict exactly what 2019’s going to look like?” Kenney said. “No, I can’t. (But) we love the trajectory of sports rights. So if you look at any of the recent deals that were done, they’re still going up.

“We love that trajectory. We watch with a very wary eye what’s going on in the cable universe, though. You’d have to be a fool not to pay attention.”

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Kenney did predict one smaller breakthrough for this season: authenticated in-market streaming. MLB recently made a deal with Fox Sports involving 15 teams, which will make games on regional networks available to local cable subscribers (without erasing MLB’s complicated blackout rules).

“I’m finally pretty confident we are going to have streaming in 2016 (on) our mobile devices,” Kenney said. “All of the Fox RSNs will be up this year, (and) I think that’s going to give the league both the pressure and the momentum to get something done with Comcast.”

A Hobbled Hero: Baez, Cubs keep finding wild ways to win

A Hobbled Hero: Baez, Cubs keep finding wild ways to win

Javy Baez has only seen one pitch in the Cubs-Phillies series, but that's all he needs to make a major impact.

"El Mago" notched his first walk-off RBI since May 8, 2016 in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night, lacing the only pitch he saw from Juan Nicasio down the right-field line. Baez had missed the entire series to that point due to a heel injury he suffered Sunday in Washington D.C. and actually underwent an MRI before Tuesday's game to make sure there was no other damage.

Baez's single put the finishing touches on the Cubs' first win this season when trailing after eight innings. They now lead the majors with five walk-off victories.

After another blown lead by the bullpen (the third in the last week), the Cubs entered the bottom of the ninth down 2-1, but Kris Bryant led off with a walk and then Anthony Rizzo doubled. After a Willson Contreras flyout, Jason Heyward was intentionally walked and then Albert Almora Jr. hit a tapper in front of home plate that Bryant just barely beat out at home to tie the game.

Then came Baez, as Joe Maddon opted to go to the hobbled star in place of Daniel Descalso, who was 0-for-4 on the evening to that point.

Prior to the ninth inning, Maddon wasn't sure if Baez would even be available to pinch hit in the game, but trainer P.J. Mainville taped up Javy's foot/ankle at the start of the inning and gave the Cubs skipper the all-clear.

"Just give PJ some credit on the tape job," Maddon joked. "This is right out of the Lombardi era kind of stuff. Tape and aspirin — go ahead and play. That's what everybody's football coach said."

If Baez hadn't delivered the walk-off hit and the Cubs wound up in extra innings, Maddon said he didn't know if Baez would be able to even play the field on his injured heel and the only player left on the bench was backup catcher Victor Caratini.

"In moments like that, you can only think it so far," Maddon said. "And then at some point, you gotta throw it at the wall and see what happens."

Maddon doesn't know if Baez will be able to play Wednesday night, but plans to make two lineups and then check with the shortstop to see about his status when he arrives at the field.

Baez's Cubs teammates are no longer surprised at the ridiculous things he does or how easy he makes some very difficult tasks look. Bryant joked he was actually upset Baez didn't hit it over the fence for a walk-off grand slam.

"I don't even know what's going on with him half the time anyway," Bryant said. "It's like, 'oh, Javy's pinch-hitting. And then I was debating like, 'don't swing at the first pitch," but I was like, 'no, it's Javy.' 

"It was awesome. He just like goes up there and swings the bat. If he didn't have to run to first base, he wouldn't. It's just like, 'I'm so good, I'm just gonna get this hit and then we're gonna go home.'"

However awe-inspiring Baez's Kirk Gibson impression was, the only reason the Cubs were even in the spot to win the game at that moment was because of the hustle and aggressive baserunning from Bryant. 

His game-tying run on Almora's tapper in front of the plate was huge, but his first trip around the bases was even more impressive. 

With Bryant on second base and Rizzo on first in the first inning, both runners were off on the full-count pitch to Contreras, who hit a routine grounder to Phillies shortstop Jean Segura. As Segura made the throw to first to retire Contreras, Bryant never hesitated around third base and scored on some heads-up, aggressive baserunning that looked like a page right out of the El Mago Playbook.

Bryant said as he was running, he thought about what it's like to play the left side of the infield on such a routine play and felt like he could catch the Phillies by surprise.

"I saw [third base coach Brian Butterfield] holding me up, too, and I just kept going," Bryant said. "I almost felt like I had eyes in the back of my head. It was kind of like one of those experiences that it's hard to explain, but I just kept going."

That run was all Jose Quintana and the Cubs needed for six innings, until Carl Edwards Jr. came on in relief for the seventh. Edwards allowed a leadoff single and then a double two batters later, giving way to Brandon Kintzler with two outs.

Kintzler gave up a groundball single up the middle to Andrew McCutchen and just like that, the Cubs' thin 1-0 lead had evaporated in the blink of an eye. And with the offensive issues (they were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position before Baez's hit), that looked to be enough to send the Cubs to their second straight defeat in frustrating fashion.

But the magic of El Mago and Bryant allowed the Cubs to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and send fans home happy and with a little more belief that this just might be a special summer on Chicago's North Side.

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Jake Arrieta discusses his return & Mark DeRosa talks the leadoff spot

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Jake Arrieta discusses his return & Mark DeRosa talks the leadoff spot

Hear from Jake Arrieta after his first start as a visitor at Wrigley Field, including his thoughts on facing his former teammates and the standing ovation he received during his first at-bat (1:30). Then, Luke Stuckmeyer is joined by MLB Network's Mark DeRosa to discuss the Cubs' leadoff spot, the team outperforming expectations so far, and much more (8:15).

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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