Cubs

Frankie O: Playing the game

Frankie O: Playing the game

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

I dont know what it is about this Anthony Rizzo situation but for some reason its driving me crazy. Welcome to the Cubs 2.0. As much as anyone would want to have hope for this season, this year, and next year, are all about one thing and one thing only: building a foundation for a promising future.

The fun starts when we debate when that future is. Ive had many debates in the bar where one of us would always suggest blowing a team up. Fan talk. Well, look what we have here. This could get ugly. Its beyond looking at wins and losses now because they dont matter. What matters is building an entity on and off the field that can be state-of-the-art.

Off the field is going to take a lot of money. Boatloads. The stadium needs to be upgraded to the level where it can enable the team to be on the same financial footing as the other heavyweight teams the Cubs want to compete with. Increasing the size and talent level of the front office and building baseball academies in Latin hot-beds are also smart but costly moves. Home-grown talent is a proven, cost effective method, but like any other business, the start-up costs can be a burden.

Something this means is not being frivolous with cash spent on the field. Every dollar counts.

That sounds like an effective business model that anyone would want to emulate.

That is if there arent millions of people who spend millions of dollars who are watching with a child-like impatience. That would be the ticket buying faithful.

With the fact being that this could take a while, it is important to have your core followers on-board with the path being taken. In other words: Something that gives them hope. People who go to games spend a lot of money to do so. These folks usually come from the ones that tune in to games on TV and radio on a regular basis. Its part of who they are.

I found it interesting on my 45-minute drive into work the other day, all I heard on my radio was talk about the Bears OTAs. Think about that. Its MAY. I know this is a diverse sports town and both of the winter teams met with an early demise, but, really?
Further yet, that night at the bar, out of my 13 TVs I only had 2 of them on the local nines, mostly because I put them on TVs at my end of the bar so I could watch them.

I think at some point the Sox will get our collective attention, this weekend against division-leading Cleveland would be a good start, well see.

But as far as the Cubs go, it is going to be the pieces that come here that we know will be around in three years, since that will realistically be the start of the new regime. Kind of like a college football coach needing a couple of recruiting classes before he can truly claim his team and be held accountable for their play. By that time there should be more than a few pieces in place that fans can be excited about.

It will also be the first guaranteed non Alfonso Soriano season which I know many fans will be very excited for. I know that many hope hes gone before then but there still are 44 million reasons why that is not going to happen three years from now maybe.

So that takes us back to Rizzo.

At the beginning of the year I listened to Theo Epstein explain as one of his theories that he would ideally like to have a player spend a year at Triple A before he starts his Major League. This was a big question since the marquee acquisition by the new regime was Rizzo and he had appeared in the majors for two stints last year accruing 68 days of service-time. For someone who touts bringing up players through the system service-time is the holy-grail, since it is the measure by which the team bringing up a player is able to keep him before he can become a free-agent for the first time after 6 seasons. For a good player, these are the best years for the team since they are the cheapest, and usually money spent for current production. Not like in free-agency, in which which a player is guaranteed a considerable sum for future production. This can often blow-up in a teams face, for proof look up- Soriano, Alphonso.

The thing it took me a little while to realize that no matter what Rizzo did this year, he was never going to accrue enough service-time to be a two-year player by the end of it. This season is a wash, so any move made has to be done with the future interest of the franchise in mind.

The question from fans is, what are we paying for now? When you see a kid dominating in Triple A for the second straight season, fans want to see him. Rizzo has hit 16 homers and has 43 RBI in 44 games. His geek numbers are .355.414.7101.124!! Those are ridiculous numbers. But they arent very different than what he had in Tucson last year before being called up. Thats when the problems started. I know because I had him on my roto team. The kid looks like a ballplayer, but struck out a ton (46 times in 49 games) and hit .143 in his time in the bigs.

What does he has left to prove down there? Not one thing, but thats not the point here. Again its all about the future and players are going to come up when it makes financial sense for the future.

It just makes me wonder about the kid. Hitting Major League pitching is not a given for anyone. If a kid is ready, let him grow, since the evolution of just about every hitter we have ever watched is full of up and downs. Its the ability to recover from failure and make adjustments that defines who a player is going to be. The sooner you start, the sooner you get to where you should be.

This situation reminds me of a John Madden quote about returning to coaching football. Madden, whos in the Hall of Fame as a coach, was asked if he was ever interested in returning to the sidelines. I was always fascinated by his response. He said he would have problems coaching in the todays NFL because it wasnt always about having the best players. Due to the salary cap, which he never coached with, financial considerations where as important to whether someone made the team as much as how good he was. He said he had a problem with that. He always wanted to field a team with the best players, period.

Theres a fine line in remaining relevant. Right now there isnt a lot of interest in what is going on, and its still very early. The last two seasons weve watched a lot of fans come dressed as empty seats in August and September, whats going to happen this year?

Culture change doesnt come easy. Were seeing that first-hand. But if no one cares about whats going on, they arent going to spend any money to see it happen. I would think that would include public cash for stadium renovations. Everybody loves a winner.

But the regime in charge now is all about the numbers, and when it comes to controlling players they have them down pat.

One thing they should remember though is that the fans know numbers too and all too well. They hear wherever they go: 104.

Coincidentally thats the same number of games Rizzo needs this year to vest for year two of service. Hes not going to see 104 this year, if only Cubs fans were so lucky.

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

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None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”

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Cubs GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Veteran umpire Joe West made waves Tuesday downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. 

“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West said. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”

As far as the Cubs are concerned, those comments don’t represent how to treat the virus. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure everyone treats it with equal severity.

“That’s one of the things we've really tried internally to instill in our players and our coaches,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, “[that] everyone here has to take it equally [serious].”

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Hoyer noted like the world, MLB isn’t immune to people having different viewpoints on the virus — those who show concern and those who don’t. This echoes comments made by manager David Ross earlier on Tuesday, and Hoyer said those he’s talked to with the Cubs don’t feel the same way as West.

The Cubs had an up close and personal look at pitching coach Tommy Hottovy’s battle with COVID-19 during baseball’s shutdown. It took the 38-year-old former big leaguer 30 harrowing days to test negative, and in the past week many Cubs have said watching him go through that hit home. 

“When you get a 38-year-old guy in wonderful health and he talks about his challenges with it,” Hoyer said, “I think that it takes away some of those different viewpoints.”

To ensure everyone stays safe and puts the league in the best position to complete a season, MLB needs strict adherence to its protocols.

“I think that's one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views this the same way, because we can't have a subset of people within our group that don't view it with the same severity,” Hoyer said.

“That’s not gonna work. We're not gonna be successful."

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