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.

Cubs reportedly ‘exceptionally impressed’ by Joe Espada in managerial search

Cubs reportedly ‘exceptionally impressed’ by Joe Espada in managerial search

As the Cubs peruse over their list of managerial candidates, one name reportedly made a strong impression following his interview with the team.

According to NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan, Astros bench coach Joe Espada left the Cubs front office “exceptionally impressed” following his interview on Monday.

Espada, 44, has spent the last two seasons as Astros bench coach following three seasons as Yankees third base coach. He is one of MLB’s more sought after managerial candidates this winter and one of three known external candidates for the Cubs’ opening, along with Joe Girardi and Gabe Kapler.

Former Cubs catcher and current front office assistant David Ross has been the presumed front runner for the Cubs' opening. But based on Kaplan’s report, Espada clearly has given Epstein and Co. something to think about, which makes sense, considering Espada is coming from an innovative Astros organization.

Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference that there’s no timeline for the Cubs’ managerial search. However, MLB prefers teams to not make big announcements during the World Series, which kicks off on Oct. 22. Thus, the Cubs may not make an announcement for little while longer, though this is purely speculation.

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The curious case of Brad Wieck and his unique opportunity with the Cubs

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AP

The curious case of Brad Wieck and his unique opportunity with the Cubs

If anybody thought the Cubs' 2019 season was a roller coaster, it was nothing compared to what Brad Wieck has gone through this year.

Wieck — the 6-foot-9 left-handed reliever — went from a cancer diagnosis to a Padres cast-off and wound up finishing the year carving through the heart of the Cardinals order in the eighth inning of a must-win game in late-September for the Cubs.

Wieck began 2019 with a testicular cancer diagnosis in January and underwent surgery shortly after. That left him playing catch-up all spring training, unable to lift, run or throw off a mound for a month after the surgery. He only ended up facing live hitters twice before the regular season started and was never able to recover with the Padres, putting up a 5.71 ERA in 34.2 MLB innings. 

Then the Cubs came calling.

While the rest of Cubdom was understandably occupied on Trade Deadline Day celebrating the Nick Castellanos move, Theo Epstein's front office made a smaller move with the San Diego Padres. And Wieck wasn't even the central focus of that trade, as more of the emphasis was on the departure of Carl Edwards Jr. — a polarizing figure in the Cubs bullpen the last few seasons, including throughout the 2016 World Series run.

Yet Epstein's front office didn't treat Wieck like a throw-in. From Day 1 with the organization, the Cubs handled the southpaw more like a first-round draft pick.

Right after the trade, Wieck was immediately assigned to Triple-A Iowa, where he made a pair of appearances against the Tacoma Rainiers. From there, he was invited to Chicago to meet with the Cubs front office and throw a bullpen off the Wrigley Field mound.

"So I got here and they had a whole presentation of what my current curveball looked like and what they would like the shape of it to look like and so we just started messing around with grip," Wieck said. "I went to a spike curveball grip and we got in the lab and we started throwing it more and we came up with consistent break of what we thought was gonna be a better break than the curveball that I had.

"Just trial and error, honestly. We just looked at Rapsodo stuff and saw what spin efficiency is doing and spin rate and trying to get my curveball spin to replicate the exact opposite of my fastball. That's what our goal was."

That led to a trip to the "Pitch Lab" in Arizona where Wieck worked with Josh Zeid, the Cubs' pitching analyst, to continue to mess around with the new curveball grip and add a new, consistent weapon to his arsenal. 

If the term "spike curveball" sounds familiar, it should. It's become the unofficial pitch of the Cubs (you know, if organizations defined themselves by just one pitch). Rowan Wick — Wieck's former roommate in the Padres system — broke out as a trusted big-league reliever in large part because of the emergence of his spike curve. Craig Kimbrel throws one and also taught the pitch to Yu Darvish, who added it to the plethora of options already at his disposal. 

Wieck's time in Arizona was about getting comfortable with the new pitch and not worrying about facing hitters or pitching in a game. After a couple weeks in the desert, the Cubs threw him back out on the mound in Iowa, where he made four appearances before getting the call to the big leagues when rosters expanded in September. 

Right off the bat, we got a look at that spike curve and there is no doubt it can play at Wrigley Field, especially when the shadows roll in:

Just like that, a new weapon was born and Wieck developed more confidence in that reshaped curveball.

"I like that they're forcing me to throw it more because I've been a fastball-heavy pitcher my whole life," Wieck said. "I trust my fastball with my life. To have a catcher get back there and make you throw it, that's really good."

The Cubs' confidence in Wieck also grew as the month went on. He emerged alongside his buddy Wick as vital pieces of the late-season bullpen while Kimbrel and Brandon Kintzler dealt with injuries. It got to the point where Joe Maddon kept Wieck in to face the Cardinals' big boppers (Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna — both right-handed hitters) with a 1-run lead in the eighth inning on that final homestand. We all know how that game ended (Kimbrel served up homers on back-to-back pitches for another gut-wrenching Cubs loss), but Wieck did his job and proved he's far more than just a lefty specialist.

This fall was the first time Wieck had been a part of a playoff push and that outing against the Cardinals was only the 46th MLB appearance of his young career. Moving into 2020, the 28-year-old southpaw looks to be one of only a few arms penciled into the Cubs bullpen. 

The Cubs had their eyes on Wieck for a while before they were able to trade for him and they don't plan on rolling out a big presentation for each acquisition or ask every new arm to start throwing a brand new pitch or completely remake one of their existing pitches. This was a unique situation, but it's one that already paid dividends in a short period of time and could help set up the bullpen for the future. 

It's also another indicator that the "Pitch Lab" can work, as Wieck joins Wick and Kyle Ryan as products of the Cubs' new model they hope to fine-tune and grow. Epstein will hire a director of pitching for the organization this winter and the Cubs are hoping to change the narrative surrounding their shocking lack of pitching development under this front office. 

In Wieck's case, it was a group effort from the Cubs — the front office, research and development department, big-league coaching staff (led by pitching coach Tommy Hottovy), the pitching analytics unit based in Arizona and minor league pitching coordinator Brendan Sagara all teamed up to make it happen for the tall lefty in only a month's time.

It's a model the organization will attempt to duplicate moving forward, beginning this winter.