Tagged: Tom Ricketts

WRIGLEY WATCH: He wouldn’t move, would he?

For the last day, the general agreement among fans and the media is that Tom Ricketts is bluffing.  There have been comments ranging from “The Cubs without Wrigley are the White Sox,” to, pretty much, “LOL.”  Nobody seems worried that Tom Ricketts might actually be the owner to leave Lakeview.  It seems in part because of how much he loves the ballpark.  It also seems that the PR blitz afterward was to walk back to rhetoric of moving.  After all, you can’t “remain committed” to fixing up your fixer upper park AND be willing to move away from it, can you?

The reality of the his comment is that the Cubs can leave Wrigley.  And if this deal falls through, the odds shift to about 50/50 that they will.

I don’t have any insider knowledge of the thinking of the ownership.  All I have is what the media has reported.  And what has happened since the Ricketts’ bought the majority of the team.  The fact that this card hasn’t been played until this point tells me that Tom Ricketts and his family are committed to renovating Wrigley Field. It also tells me that their patience is not unlimited.  He’s been fighting this battle since he took control of the team in October, 2009.  Since then, he’s managed to work out a new complex in Mesa and get a baseball academy in the Dominican ready to open.  The last domino to fall is Wrigley Field.  But the hurdles at Wrigley are much, much different than the hurdles in Arizona and the Dominican.  In Chicago, he’s got neighbors and “hand out” politics at play.  Honestly, at this point, can anyone give a good reason why the team has to fight to spend a half of a billion dollars to fix its own park?  It’s preposterous by any measure that they should have to work this hard to spend that much of their own money.

So why not order the Code Red?  Maybe training just isn’t enough.  Maybe it takes an ordinary rag stuffed into the mouth of some unsuspecting neighbors.  And maybe, while the Cubs deflect the negativity of what Ricketts said yesterday, he gets a little more upset with the fact that nobody seems to understand that he’s the one who makes the call, and it doesn’t matter that he has to eat breakfast 500 yards from a bunch of neighbors who want to kill him.  At some point, Ricketts is going to be on the stand, and he’s going to scream on the top of his lungs that he’s going to take his team to the ‘burbs if he damn well pleases, and there is nothing the neighbors, the mayor, or the alderman can do about it.  Unless they decide to play ball…

“A Few Good Men” references aside, the most powerful person in this battle is Tom Ricketts.  I tweeted this morning that it was a mistake to think a man who is in a family that is worth north of $2 billion would resign himself to nothing but the emotion of loving Wrigley Field.  That family did not get that wealthy by making emotional decisions.

Calling Ricketts’ bluff might be a mistake.  He has all of the cards.  The entire deck.  So if he wants to pull out all four aces and drop them in Rosemont, Naperville, or any other suburb willing to give him a sweet deal on land and public financing for a new park, he very well can if he wants to.  And it is absurd to think he won’t, merely because he can’t.


WRIGLEY WATCH: The Threat to Move

My feelings on the Wrigley Renovation have been pretty simple…either make Wrigley work, or move on.  Based on today, it seems that Tom Ricketts is at that point, too.

There was a lot of information released last night, including the renderings of what the agreed upon deal will actually be.  I think I speak for everyone when I say it was nice to get a visual idea of what the video board and signage will be.  With Tom Ricketts having a news conference today, a lot of information came out, which, for the most part, I came across tweets by Patrick Mooney and David Kaplan.  So I’m just going to share it with some of my own thoughts, with quotes being attributed to Tom Ricketts.

  • “We have tried to minimize the impact on the rooftops.”         I think this is a pretty intuitive statement, since the team and the rooftop owners have a revenue sharing agreement place in future for the next decade.  There’s not really a lot to add to this, other than Ricketts acknowledging the rooftops means they’ve mattered to the process, in spite of the rooftop owners claims of not being included.
Ariel Representation of Proposed Plaza Outside the Park  Photo: http://www.chicagonow.com/cubs-den/2013/05/the-wrigley-renovation-press-conference/#image/4

Ariel Representation of Proposed Plaza Outside the Park
Photo: http://www.chicagonow.com/cubs-den/2013/05/the-wrigley-renovation-press-conference/#image/4

  • “We anticipate increasing spending on the baseball side as soon as we know what we can do with this plan.”  and “We need this revenue to compete. That is a fact.”         These are pretty significant statements.  They say that the Cubs are not going to spend significantly more on the on field product before the plans are finalized, but will once they know they have the additional revenue streams in place.  The unrest about waiting until the renovation is complete flies out the window, you would think, with the comment about spending as soon as they know what they can do with the plan.  It certainly appears that all the team is waiting for is some certainty in what revenue will be coming in as the renovation progresses, which allows them to spend more money on the Major League product.  It also says that the team thinks its current revenue is what is holding back the front office from fielding a more competitive team at the moment.  While not mentioned here, Ricketts did mention that they were building a minor league system, and I think that’s important, too.  As those players come up, they are going to earn more money.  Not only will the revenue help the team bring new players in, but will allow them to retain the talent they’re developing for the long term.  It’s worth a mention, because teams like the Rays have produced a lot of talent over the course of the last few years, and have not been able to retain much of it because of their midsize market (which is basically what the Cubs are working at right now), and because of the lack of revenue that their ballpark brings them.
Night View of the Proposed Video Board Photo: http://www.chicagonow.com/cubs-den/2013/05/the-wrigley-renovation-press-conference/#image/4 via Chicago Cubs

Night View of the Proposed Video Board
Photo: http://www.chicagonow.com/cubs-den/2013/05/the-wrigley-renovation-press-conference/#image/4 via Chicago Cubs

  • “We are very confident in the legality of our signage plan. We are not making a threat to move. The fact is we want to win in Wrigley Field.”; “Keep my talk about moving in context. We want to win at Wrigley. We also need to run our business.”; and “Moving is not a threat. It is a fact that if we don’t have outfield signage we cannot make the financials work. That’s it.”          I am pretty surprised by these comments, which were the first of their kind, at least to my recollection.  I, and none of the other blogs, reporters, or writers I follow for information, have recalled an instance where Tom Ricketts has said publicly that moving to another location is on the table.  There is a lot of buzz about whether it was substantive or not.  At this point, I would figure, it almost has to be.  The renovation of all of the facilities has been one of the priorities of this owner since taking over, and if the team and the city can get this close to a plan to improve Wrigley, it stands to reason that it may be time to explore other alternatives if this deal doesn’t work out.  I think this is Tom Ricketts’ “put up or shut up” call to the neighborhood.  And, as I’ve said before, it is long overdue.  He cannot wait around forever to have only a few more restrictions than every other team, as opposed to the current load of oppressive ordinances and rules that inhibit the Cubs from playing on a level field with the rest of the league. If this deal falls through, the Cubs, in my view, will be forced to look elsewhere.  In the long run, that may be their best option because a new location outside of the city would eliminate all of the ordinances, regulations, and restrictions on signs, night games, and renovations that affect the historic landmark designation of the park.
  • In a piece from David Kaplan this afternoon, Ricketts said that naming rights and seat licenses are not in the immediate plans because of fans coming from all over to see “Wrigley Field.”  From a fan’s perspective, that’s great news, and if I were a season ticket holder, the seat license news would also make me happy.  For the time being, the Cubs seem intent on raising revenue through sponsorship and using corporate partners in the proposed plaza and outfield signage.  All of that to me seems like a good way to do it, as long as it’s possible.  I doubt he’s slammed the door on the idea.  This post by Kaplan comes from an interview which will air at 5:30 CDT on CSN Chicago.

Last night there was some chatter about making Wrigley “old.”  To me, none of the renovation drawings and proposals seem to do that.  They don’t make it old again.  Hell, it’s already old.  The falling concrete, worn paint, and small concourses being topped off with troughs in the bathroom make it old.  What the renovation does, in my eyes, is leave the charms that we all love about the park…the ivy, the scoreboard,  the intimate feeling of the park…intact with some more modern amenities that every other team has.  Nothing I’ve seen ruins Wrigley.  In fact, from what I’ve seen, it’ll make Wrigley even better than it is now as a park to watch a ballgame.

Today was an important day in the history of the Chicago Cubs.  It is either the first day of a new era of baseball at Wrigley Field for our children and, potentially, grandchildren to enjoy.  Or, it is the first day of the end of the Wrigley Field era in baseball.  Either way, this day is an important one for the Cubs and us, as their fans.

(h/t to John Arguello and Cubs Den for being the place where I found these images in one place)

Errors In Judgement

There is no denying that it’s been tough to watch at times in the early going.  The errors, the lack of hitting with runners in scoring position, the lack of patience at the plate, the base running blunders…it’s all been quite frustrating.  There is a bright side, though.  It can’t get any worse.

In my Central Division Preview, I called the Cubs an 80 win team.  I made my predictions, intentionally early, based on the on-paper roster.  It actually looks pretty good right now.  *Hold on, meatball…before you call me a moron and tell me to watch the games, you’re right.*  But hear me out.  The Cubs are losing games, which is to say they are not being beaten by the other teams, but by themselves.  We can agree they played well enough to win one against the Braves, two more than they did against the Giants, and probably the first two of this series against the Brewers without the mistakes which have cost them early.  There are five wins in there the Cubs don’t have, that they could have.  And really, if they win two or three of those five games, nobody’s saying anything about the errors or struggles with runners in scoring position because an 8-8 or a 7-9 record would be acceptable based on what we were expecting this season.

More silver lining:  the mistakes are inexcusable.  They are not, however, uncorrectable.  Change can happen with the defense, especially when the vast majority are effort mistakes.  Anthony Rizzo is a very good defensive first baseman, and has made two uncharacteristic plays in the last two nights.  Both of them were because he was trying to rush.  Friday, on a play against a speedy Nori Aoki, and last night trying to get an out and throw home on a play he wasn’t going to make.  Ultimately, the play last night didn’t matter.  Sure, he bobbled the ball, but they still got the out at first base, and he wasn’t going to hold Logan Schafer at third anyway.  That’s a “no harm, no foul” play.  The misplay was not relevant to the outcome of the play.  Starlin Castro is our favorite whipping boy, and it probably has a lot to do with his off the charts talent.  His issues have not been concentration related, either as much as they’re publicized as.  Say what you will about an error with the pitcher running, but that was a physical mistake, not taking his time and making the play.  Stop with the garbage “you have to be aware of who’s running” stuff.  Last night was no different.  Actually, it was the same play.  Two outs, and making the play ends the innings and ends the scoring threat.

Photo: Jeffrey Phelps/ AP

Photo: Jeffrey Phelps/ AP

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t be disappointed or frustrated or cover our eyes while we watch yet another defeat being snatched out of the jaws of victory.  At the end of the day, though, who cares?  The front office, and Theo Epstein, in particular make no qualms about “playoffs or protected pick.”  He said that they’re going to take the “cold assessment” in the middle of the season.  There is no valor in winning 78 vs 73.  He’s absolutely right, too.  Hell, I’ll take it a step further.  When you watch the game today, look across the field at the other dugout.  They won 83 last season.  Our guys got 61.  Everybody finished on the same day.  Their fans get to talk about the magical “winning season” and we get mocked for “101 losses.”  But in June, the Cubs get a prize.  They get Mark Appel or Jonathan Gray.  They get a chance at a college arm who can be teamed with Jeff Samardzija for years to come.  The Brewers coughed up a first round pick for three years of Kyle Lohse, and with it, stay stuck in mediocrity.  They can have their 75-84 wins each year.  If the Cubs go down with another 100+ losses this season, that’s alright. *Cue Meatball fan throwing closing the browser window…NOW*  It’s not like tthe Cubs have had a difficult time attracting free agents.  Edwin Jackson was one of the prizes of last winter’s class, and he came.

The Cubs are in the midst of culture change.  A welcome one.  Look across the field at the Brewers, again.  Now think back to 2011 and what the Cubs were.  In 2011, the Cubs didn’t have anybody but Starlin Castro who would actually be improving over the course of the next 4-5 years.  Everyone on the roster was either in or past their prime.  They won 71 games.  It was miserable.  It was worse than we have now because it was hopeless.  We wanted to think adding Carlos Pena and trading the farm for Matt Garza would be enough to have another magical winning season.  We hoped Carlos Zambrano wouldn’t be a complete headcase, and with him, Garza, and Ryan Dempster, there would be a rotation worth running out each day.  We had Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall setting up for Carlos Marmol, which turned out to be a decent pen when the Cubs actually led.  Aramis Ramirez was still at third and it didn’t look like an endless abyss of suck.  The reality of that team, though, is that the only player who played any considerable amount of time with any potential to grow was Starlin Castro.  *Meatball, if you’re still with me,  I’m talking to you again…yes, Starlin is getting better.  No, we shouldn’t trade him unless we get a lot in return, and yes, his defense is above league average.*  Now, look at the Brewers.  Lucroy is pretty good, but at 26 is probably not going to get much better, if at all.  Ryan Braun is in the twilight of his 20s, and is in his prime.  Jean Segura is a young and talented player who will improve.  But apart from that, who else is there?  Their minor league organization is bare, and Aramis Ramirez is two years older than the past his prime Rami we saw a couple of years ago.  Corey Hart can’t stay healthy, and is starting to get to the point of decline.  Rickie Weeks is a laughable shell of his former self.  It all looks very familiar to our situation a couple of years ago.

The point of all of this is that, like Wrigley Field, the product on the field was a real mess a couple of years ago.  That’s why Jim Hendry was fired, that’s why Theo Epstein was given the reigns, and that’s why we are where we are.  It needed to be done.  Like any massive renovation, some things are going to be broken down, some things are going to be ugly and tough to handle, but in the end, the foundation will be stronger and the finished product will look better.  If you take anything from this series, take it as progress.  Two short years ago, the Cubs may have won some games because a less talented team made some silly mistakes against a team of aging veterans who weren’t going to be better than 71 wins, but wouldn’t beat themselves as often.  Honestly, I would rather the Cubs throw the ball around the diamond and beat themselves than get run day after day.  That’s not happening.  What is happening is a young team learning to play together, and learning to win together.  It’s hard to watch.  It may result in being swept out of Milwaukee.

We knew what 2013 was coming in.  It still is.  A bridge to next year.

WRIGLEY WATCH: The Fat Lady Isn’t Even Warming Up Her Voice

Oh, it’s not over.  Not by a long shot.

Call me a cynic, but I’m not buying the self congratulatory press conference from Monday.  I’m not buying that the public process is a formality that won’t yield a significant change to what is expected to be done.  I’m not buying any of it until the last details of the renovation are finished and the job is declared done.

Why, you ask?  Well, the rooftop owners want their piece of the pie.  That’s why.  And it’s fair.  The Cubs did negotiate a deal with the rooftop owners that allowed them to be contractual parasites.  Maybe parasites is the wrong word, although the fact that their business of selling the Cubs’ product is parasitic, in a sense, maybe that’s not the right word, since they don’t seem to like it.  Maybe the rooftop owners are the bugs that live on farm animals, and eat smaller bugs living on the same animal.  That seems to be a more fitting analogy.  The Cubs and the rooftops are after the same “food,” in any event.  It seems curious that the Cubs last regime would sanction others to directly compete with the team for business…but that’s another issue entirely.

“We are partners, so there is a business relationship. There is no question about that. I am part of the community too. Let me be clear, we want the Cubs to do their renovation and we want them to win the World Series. The first step of their renovation is to do their clubhouses and training facilities. They should go ahead and build them because that is the main reason they have given that they are not competitive.” Beth Murphy, via ESPNChicago.com

I take a ton of issue with this entire quote.  First, I dismiss the partnership notion off-hand.  They’re not.  They have an advantageous location in relation to the park.  No more, no less.   If they were true partners, they should be chipping in a little extra to help shore up the end of game relief problems.  Second, competitive facilities are an issue in attracting players, but the biggest reason the Cubs are not competitive is because they don’t have equal footing with the other 29 teams in ad revenue, night games, and concessions because of their woefully outdated ballpark.  The clubhouses and player facilities are an issue, but they are not the single greatest disadvantage the Cubs have when it comes to their ballpark.  That notion is absurd on its best day.

Photo: myfoxchicago.com

Photo: myfoxchicago.com

My personal favorite argument about the park and the increased signs is not the “don’t mess up Wrigley” stuff.  My personal favorite is the “The Cubs are the most profitable team in baseball” BS.  The profit is almost a nearly perfect subtraction from the big payrolls run up by the previous ownership group.  It’s a false narrative.  And it’s not relevant to the ballpark discussion.  The fact that the Cubs made money does not change anything about the fact that their ballpark still puts them at a revenue disadvantage and continuing to exist under the thumb of the city’s ordinances makes it tougher on the Cubs than on any other team in baseball.  Making money or not isn’t relevant to that fact.  Even with the deal that was announced, 40 night games is still a restriction, and it is a restriction that will cost the Cubs money in TV revenue.  Let’s face it…people don’t want to (or can’t because they have jobs) sit down and watch that much day baseball.

My point is that this deal is far from done and, as fans, should be treated as though it was never acknowledged.  There is too much that can happen to mess it up.  At this point, I would still bet even money that nothing happens in beginning the project this off-season, and that we’re far from the end of all of this.  We should hope that all of the public hearings and talk about the plans are a formality and the plans move forward and Mr. Ricketts’ promise of a championship is delivered.

We should also hope that he still has the cell phone numbers of mayors in the suburbs, just in case something happens to stop the deal in its tracks.  We’re talking about the Cubs here, folks…which is to say anything is possible, and we probably won’t like it.

Rainy Day Theater

For a day without a game, there sure is a lot of drama surrounding the Cubs today…

  • For starters, David Kaplan has an interview posted on CSN with Theo Epstein that will air tonight at 10 PM.  For those that don’t live in Chicago or don’t get CSN or don’t want to click the link, the short of it is: they’re sticking to the plan.  Bleacher Nation has a number of great quotes posted from the interview if you want a little more depth.  My two cents remain the same.  This is the right way to do it.  In an era with free agency yielding weaker classes, draft slotting, international spending limits, etc, it’s going to be tougher to get good overnight, so trading veterans when the team is out of it, developing a stockpile of talent, and making them a cohesive team that grows together and learns to win together is the best way to be a contender for a long time.  There was some great action on Twitter and the linked BN post’s comment section from people who want the checkbook to flop open, but none of it is realistic.  The good news is that as this season wears on, we should see improvement, and going into next season, the team could play winning baseball.  I’ve said before that last season was as much fun watching the Cubs as I’ve had since 2008…because we could see players get better and what was building.  The last two months were brutal by design.  The long term value of getting Jackson, Vitters, Rusin, and the
    Brian Kersey/Getty Images

    Brian Kersey/Getty Images

    other youngsters up was off the charts, though.

  • I Tweeted a few moments ago that I hope the goat’s head that was sent to Wrigley today was actually allowed in the park.  It would be silly to renew the curse on a rain day.
  • Patrick Mooney and Bruce Levine both have posts about Starlin Castro out today.  I keep saying when that kid grows up, he’s going to be really good at baseball.  It’s still true.  The best part of both stories is that it seems like Castro himself wants to meet his off the charts potential.  There is no debate about how good he can be.  For those who forget, he’s 23.  He is a week YOUNGER than Jean Segura, who was in town with the Brewers this week, and Segura didn’t make his way to the majors until the Brewers got him in the Zack Greinke deal and they were basically giving up on the season.  Castro, in his fourth season, is a legitimate 20/20 threat with great range (ask Carlos Marmol about this), and want to.  Not a bad deal.
  • Hooray for not having a deal!  Sort of.  Lots of sources for the information from last night’s meeting about the renovation that was closed to media, but Bleed Cubbie Blue does the math for the alderman.  I’ve said all along that the Cubs should explore the suburbs.  A number of different stories have said Tom Ricketts’ siblings agree.  I think if the city had a credible reason to believe the Cubs would pack their balls and bats and go to Rosemont, they’d be a lot more willing to cough up some night games.  It’s good to know the Cubs and the city have some agreement on 40 games and four concerts.  I’m with the crowd that says the Cubs should get the six flexible dates for TV on top of the 44 night events that have been agreed to.  Mostly because the Cubs are willing to pay for all of this themselves.  At some point, the neighbors need to suck it up and know who butters their bread…and it’s not the alderman or the mayor, in spite of what those individuals think.
  • Last night, I had a tweet (among the others with his truly not good stats) that I think David DeJesus saw, “.@David_DeJesus3 needs to go. Bottom of the order. Bench. Somewhere. He’s awful. #Cubs  After that point, he went 3-3, which caused me to say, “Remember all that stuff I said about @David_DeJesus3 earlier tonight? David, I’m so, so, so sorry. Seriously. My bad. Do you need a maid?”  While I am not easily swayed, DDJ was terrific last night in the clutch.  And I’m sorry I doubted him.  Until the next time I do it.

The Giants are in tomorrow afternoon to start a four game series after smacking the Rockies around a little bit.  Let’s hope they got all that hitting out of their system and Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner miss the plane to Chicago and can’t get flights to anywhere but Milwaukee (which is where they play starting on Monday).  Hopefully, the Cubs can manage to win their now nine game homestand, but that won’t be easy with the Rangers following the Giants.



Rehab, Renovation, and Release

The injury news seems to finally be good for the Cubs today (unless your name is Junior Lake), which is a welcome change from the first four weeks of Spring Training.

  • Scott Baker is primed to make a Cactus League start this weekend after pitching a couple of innings in a minor league game on Tuesday.  His recovery seems to be right on schedule, which is terrific news.
  • Dale Sveum may have confirmed my hypothesis on Matt Garza today.  He said Garza needs to throw off of a mound and start throwing live BP, and his Spring Training will essentially begin in a week.  If they put Garza through a full spring schedule starting next week, he will likely be back at the end of April or beginning of May.  That said, Garza thinks he will be back in the middle of April.  So there’s some optimism on his part.  Which is nice.

    Photo: David Kohl, AP

    Photo: David Kohl, AP

  • Starlin Castro played three innings today.  He went 1-1 with a single and walk.  After he finished, he said he felt good.  Hopefully, he was knocking on wood as he said it.
  • Ian Stewart is going to play soon.  If not tomorrow, I would guess Friday.  Stewart talked to ESPN Chicago today and said he felt good.  After ten months, It’ll be nice to see him on a field, and at as close to 100% as he’s been in quite some time.
  • Junior Lake stress fractured his rib.  This isn’t an uncommon injury in baseball players, but it is one to take seriously.  Stress fractures are no joke, and Lake will likely be sidelined the full 4-6 weeks that was reported today before he does anything.  Since he was a long shot to make the roster (at best), and was going to spend the season in Iowa, there is no sense in rushing him.

Tom Ricketts said that April is still a deadline for getting a deal done in order to start renovations at Wrigley in October.  It seems as though we’re at the point where both sides have planted their heels and aren’t willing to concede much anymore.  Then again, I’m not sure the Cubs have anything left to concede.  The beat goes on…

Brennan Boesch was released today.  The book on him is that a change of scenery would probably do him some good.  Bruce Levine wrote today that he makes sense for the Cubs (and Sox…but who gives a crap?).  As a left handed bat with some power, he’d be nice to have, but the Cubs already have a pretty well packed outfield.  Unless the Cubs were able to move Alfonso Soriano, I can’t think there’s anywhere to put him.

Lastly, Opening Day is in 2 1/2 weeks.  So smile.  Real baseball is right around the corner.

WRIGLEY WATCH: Chicago Is Giving the Cubs Every Reason to Leave

“Ald. Thomas Tunney, 44th, said Thursday that he would not sign off on a deal unless it included more parking, better police protection and “aesthetic” assurances sought by Wrigleyville residents and businesses — all issues that have yet to be settled.

Reminded that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing for an agreement, in part because the Ricketts family that owns the Cubs is not asking for any government funding, Tunney replied, “Yeah, but it’s not going to be on the backs of my community, sorry.”

The Rickettses have maintained that a deal needs to get done by Opening Day in early April so they can line up the contractors and materials needed to fix up their aging ballpark, but Tunney dismissed that concern.

“You’re talking about one of the wealthiest families in America,” the alderman told a throng of City Hall reporters pressing him on the issue. “End of statement.”

That load of political BS was from the Tribune, where Alderman and Professional Extortionist, Tom Tunney, made it clear that he wants his hands filled before he does the right thing.  None of it makes sense, however, when you break this bit of complete stupidity into pieces:

  • I can see how parking is an issue, especially since I come down from Wisconsin for trips to Wrigley.  With that said, parking is not going to get much better than it is with the current location of the ballpark.  It just isn’t.  You can’t have a park in the middle of a neighborhood and expect that you can just make parking appear.  I would assume the hotel that is being proposed for the McDonald’s property would have some parking.  I doubt it’ll be sufficient for a full park’s attendance, but it would probably be better than what is there now, and even if it’s not, the DeVry University remote parking is an affordable and good option for nights and weekends.  Police protection is on the city.  Period.  As far as “aesthetic assurances,” I am with all of those who say that the ballpark isn’t aesthetically pleasing now in the concourse area, but the renovation would enhance it.  I know the alder-crook is talking about the roof top owners who line his pockets politically.  As far as residents and businesses go, somebody should get the pulse of the property and business owners’ feelings about the Cubs leaving.  Their businesses closing and property value plummeting wouldn’t be ideal for any of them, which would be the result of the Cubs moving out of the neighborhood.
  • The same logic applies when he talks about the renovation being “on the backs of [his] community.”  That community is nothing without the Cubs and Wrigley Field.  I can’t imagine that they want to see a half billion dollars of private improvement to their cash cow packing its bags.
  • Lastly, he is right about the wealth of the Ricketts family.  It begs the question, why push it?  They are wealthy, and they are proposing to sink $500 million into the ballpark and surrounding area.  All of the work they propose would be paid for out of their own pockets.  Sounds like a sweet deal for the city.

For those who haven’t been paying too much attention, Tom Ricketts announced a partnership with the Chicago Athletic Club, and that a state-of-the-art fitness center would be built in the Sheraton Hotel proposed for the McDonald’s property across from Wrigley (very well discussed on the Bleacher Nation Blog).  The grand total in improvements to the park and area is half a billion dollars.  WITH NO PUBLIC FUNDING AT ALL!

I continue to be a proponent of the Cubs actively and seriously considering options in the suburbs.  This is exactly why.  When coupling this statement with Tunney trying to extort repairing a train stop and building a park on

Photo: Chicago Cubs Conceptual Image of Renovated Wrigley Field

Photo: Chicago Cubs Conceptual Image of Renovated Wrigley Field

the back of “one of the wealthiest families in America,” it appears that there is no deal to be had.

The best leverage to broker a deal with the city has to be actively looking for other places to build a ballpark and hotel/ health club structures.  While the mayor wants to have a deal done, he is, at least at the moment, unwilling to step in and make the deal happen.  It seems unlikely that he will.  I’ve noted in the past his political differences with the Ricketts family.  I can’t imagine that he is enthusiastic about jumping up to help.  Looking for alternatives to Wrigley Field solves the problem.  Either the city realized it has a gold mine with the potential to bring even more money and even more jobs to the existing location, or the Cubs get a modern ballpark without the headaches of the Chicago political fist-pounding.

The new location could still house some of the Northwestern University sports that have been discussed, and could be a modern magnet for concerts and other revenue streams that are limited by the current location.  The Cubs would also get the value of a normal slate of night games, which would increase the value of their upcoming television contract, which is another source of revenue.  The sale of Wrigley Field to the state, to a private investor who thinks it’ll be cool to own a team-less 100+ year old symbol of baseball history, to whoever offers the most, would be a nice chunk of funding to drop into the construction of a new park.  The only downside to a new ballpark is that it will not be Wrigley.  As I have noted in the past, if Yankee Stadium, Tiger Stadium, and others can be replaced, so can Wrigley.

My first preference is for the Cubs to remain in Wrigley, of course.  At this point, though, all of us, as Cubs fans should warm up to the idea of watching a competitive team at “SOLD NAMING RIGHTS” Park in, say…Schaumberg…or Naperville.  They would still be the Chicago Cubs, after all…but without the grief and political thuggery that go with the actual city.


The Case to Replace Wrigley Field

After the Cubs Convention last weekend, there has been some considerable excitement for the renovation plans which were unveiled.  After all, a $300M project to modernize the ballpark, while keeping the things that make Wrigley…well, Wrigley…and the Ricketts being able to fund the entire project sounds like a win for everybody. But…

Photo: Nam Y. Huh/AP

Photo: Nam Y. Huh/AP

Mayor Emanuel really doesn’t like the Ricketts.  His insistence that the Cubs not use public funds could be driven out of his city’s disastrous financial situation.  I would suspect, though, that it has as much to do with Joe Ricketts plans to run racially charged ads against Emanuel’s buddy during the last election.  Politics is a dirty game…and this is an opportunity for the mayor to stick it to Ricketts, in spite of the damage it does to his city.  Make no mistake…it does damage the city.  Wrigley Field is an attraction in Chicago.  It brings thousands of people to the city every summer, where they buy tickets (and pay a 10% amusement tax for those tickets that the mayor refuses to allow the Cubs to use because they are paying for Cell Phone Field and the United Center), they spend money at bars, restaurants, shops, hotels, etc.  Preserving Wrigley should be a priority for the city.  It is apparent, though, that it is not.

Should the city not relax the restrictions on the Cubs and allow them to run their business as they choose, in spite of the landmark status of Wrigley Field, it might be time to explore replacing the ballpark.  The Cubs can compete financially with any team in the sport, but they need a facility to match the rest of the league.  The upgrade plans do just that.  The project looks tasteful, it preserves the ballpark, and it allows the Cubs to have a more modern facility, which is absolutely necessary in today’s game.  It just may not be politically feasible.

A new ballpark will not have the same history as Wrigley Field.  I love Wrigley Field…I really do…but history can be replaced.  A new ballpark can have a replica of the scoreboard that is in Wrigley now.  It can have ivy covered walls.  It can have the organ.  It can have the marquee outside the park.  It can also have a parking lot.  And a screen for replays.  And modern player facilities. As a matter of principle, I would be opposed to the idea of a roof on a new Cubs’ park.  Baseball is meant to be played outside.  I am warming up to the idea of a new park, though.  There is revenue to be made by giving the Cubs a better place to play.  If that can’t be done in the existing location, there is no good reason why it shouldn’t be done in a new location.  “The Cubs play at Wrigley” is not a good reason, either.

Proposed LF Patio Area, Photo Courtesy of cubs.com

Proposed LF Patio Area, Photo Courtesy of cubs.com

If the team showed seriousness in building a new ballpark, it may spur action from the city to allow the Cubs to renovate Wrigley, too.  Nobody wants to see the Cubs leave the neighborhood they’ve called home for 99 years.  Myself included.  That might force the city to crap or get off the pot.  If they don’t want to relax the rules which only apply to the Cubs, then they should pay a share of the renovation cost.  If they want control, they have to pay for it.  The ownership has offered to pay to run its business, though, and if the city doesn’t want to (or can’t afford to) ante up to keep Wrigley viable, this is a cheap way for them to avoid it.  Allow the Ricketts to do what they need to do to keep the team in the park, and relax some of the rules.  Otherwise, the team should explore selling the park to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and allow Wrigley to be the state’s problem altogether.  Any money they get from the state could be thrown directly into the pot to build a new park, in addition to the $300M that the team is earmarking to renovate Wrigley.

Tiger Stadium was replaced.  Old Yankee Stadium was replaced.  Shea Stadium was replaced.  Wrigley, too, can be replaced.

Theo Epstein Talks to Boston Radio, Bruce Levine Chat Recap

Theo Epstein was on WEEI Boston today, where he spoke about a number of topics.  He spoke about the signing of Edwin Jackson and him having years left in his prime, Anthony Rizzo, and draft pick compensation being at a premium when considering signing free agents that would cost a draft pick, in addition to a number of other topics related to the Cubs and Red Sox.  The interview is lengthy, but it’s worth a listen if you’re so inclined to do those types of things.  Hear Theo Epstein’s interview with WEEI  here.

Bruce Levine had a chat today, which covered a number of topics.  Some of the highlights, with some of my own commentary are as follows…

  • He was asked about the potential of a Soriano trade to the Phillies, and he said that was a “tremendously old rumor.”  That doesn’t say good things about the potential about it actually happening, but Soriano might be a better alternative to the Phillies with the free agent market for Michael Bourn.  With the Cubs willing to eat a significant portion of Soriano’s deal, he could be a cheaper alternative for a team looking to acquire an outfielder, without wanting to give up a valuable draft pick.  The Cubs will look to see if they can move Fonsi, but I would be a little surprised if he were moved before Opening Day.
  • When asked if Jeff Samardzija had a chance at 200 strike outs, 15 wins, and a sub 3.2 ERA and said that he had spoken to scouts who said Samardzija was the most improved pitcher last season between April and September.  He also said there is no reason to think those numbers can’t be approached.  I would be inclined to agree to a certain extent, but I would caution against expectation.  Samardzija is a young pitcher and any growth would be a good thing from him in 2013.  Since the team does not figure to contend, it would be wise not to burden a good young player with big expectations too early.
  • Bruce was also asked about the leaks, to which he said that the Cubs are pretty accessible, but they don’t let information get out that they don’t want out.  He also pointed out that agents are a factor in free agency.  I’m inclined to agree.  It seems like the Cubs have had leaks happen to them, but haven’t been the source.  The Dempster leak came from the Braves, the Marmol leak from Marmol himself, and the Sanchez leak was from an agent trying to leverage a team.  Really…there’s nothing that could be done there from the Cubs’ side of things.
  • He outright dismissed the idea of trading for Justin Upton and Giancarlo Stanton.  Amen.
  • Matt Garza trade rumors to the Rangers came up for a heavy package, and he said it was possible.  I agree that the Rangers could use the statement addition of Garza after missing on Greinke, and that could drive up the return value for him, but with Garza having been injured, I would be surprised if he were traded before the season.  It would be a risk for any team to send the Cubs a package of prospects without seeing the guy pitch after last July.  His elbow is the reason he didn’t get moved at the deadline last year, so I have a tough time seeing him getting moved before he pitches.  That’s just my feeling.  A desperate Rangers team (or someone else) could change that, though.
  • The speculation about political bitterness between the Ricketts and Mayor Emanuel made an appearance.  Honestly, get over it and do what’s best for the ball club.  I know Wrigley is a historical landmark, but it is still a functioning ballpark and will need renovations, so the gamesmanship and BS need to stop.  A successful Cubs team is good for the Ricketts and the city of Chicago, and a modernized Wrigley is a key to that.
  • Conversation about prospects came about with Bruce saying he thought Brett Jackson was the most likely to come up to the majors this season.  Javier Baez will play short where ever he is in the minors this year, and Josh Vitters and Junior Lake could see themselves moved to the outfield, or at least it is time to consider it.  I think Vitters could be a good left fielder.  Hide his defense, and continue to develop his bat in that spot.  If Soriano is traded, I think he would be a good choice to get a crack at the position first.




The NL Central Arms Race

For those of us who treat this as more than a hobby, the coverage of the off-season has been significantly more extensive.  Since this is only a hobby for me (because of my other actual obligations…all to varying degrees less interesting and fun than following baseball), there have been few and far between since the end of the season.  With some time, though, now is a perfect time to talk about the thing that has dominated the Cubs’ off-season…PITCHING!

Photo: Charles Rex, Arbogast

Photo: Charles Rex, Arbogast

Today, Edwin Jackson was introduced at Wrigley Field.  With the additions of Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva, Kyuji Fujikawa, resigning Shawn Camp, and having Arodys Vizcaino coming off of surgery and being ready for 2013, it seems as though the Cubs will have a surplus of pitching talent to get them through this season.  That is something they did not have last season, especially after losing Matt Garza, who is progressing nicely though his rehab from a stress injury last July, and trading Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm at the deadline.  At the end of the season, LHP Travis Wood was the ace, after the team sat Jeff Samardzija in early September.  That wasn’t an ideal situation, and it was a key reason why the Cubs lost 101 games.

The flip side to the off-season is the stunning lack of movement in the rest of the division.  The Brewers have not done much with their staff, adding journeyman lefty and former Cub, Tom Gorzelanny, who I like as a solid reliever and spot starter, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking he is anything more than pitching depth for a team who had all kinds of trouble in the bullpen last season, and ended up losing Francisco Rodriguez this off-season.  They also added Burke Badenhop, who has had an up and down (as in between the majors and the minors) career with the Marlins and Rays.  No world beaters.  They seem to be enamored with Mike Fiers, who was very good after debuting with the club last season.  My own analysis of him is that he reminds me a lot of Randy Wells.

I wish I could say something bad about the Cardinals and their pitching.  I really do.  They haven’t done much (anything?..I haven’t seen any moves at all from them in the pitching department this off-season), but they seem to grow pitchers as well as anyone in the game.  With Chris Carpenter coming back, I’m sure they’ll be fine.  It makes me physically ill.  Seriously.

The Reds still have a lot of arms.  They still, in my estimation, have the best bullpen in the majors, even though they’re moving Aroldis Chapman to the rotation.  They, too, have a nice strong staff that, in my opinion, keeps them the favorite to repeat as the division champions in 2013.  Again, it makes me sick…but not as sick as the Cardinals make me.  Nothing makes me that sick.

The Pirates confuse me.  I genuinely thought they were trying to compete…and then they went and traded Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox.  They also resigned Jason Grilli, who the Cubs were in on.  Without being too familiar with who the Pirates have coming up, they’re current rotation and bullpen screams average, and their back end looks shaky with the loss of Hanrahan.  I can only muse that this season they don’t want to disappoint their fans by playing well for the first four months before imploding with the uncanny appearance of controlled demolition for a third year in a row.

The Astros are gone…for those that forgot.  They’re off the the AL West to play for 110 losses at the hands of the Angels, Rangers, and A’s.  Good Luck, ‘Stros…you’re going to need it.  Desperately.

What it all means…

I can’t for the life of me see how the Cubs win this division next season.  I just can’t.  They do figure to be considerably better than their 101 losses last season.  They could make a strong push at third with the Pirates and Brewers regressing.  All of this is interesting in early January, but the off-season is by no means over, so something could cook up between now and the time pitchers and catchers report next month.  The Cubs have a much improved corps of pitchers.  That group would have been made much more potent had they actually signed Anibal Sanchez.  Theo Epstein and Tom Ricketts went to visit him personally, and the deal was reported, but like others for the Cubs, was prematurely reported and ended up not to be.  GM Jed Hoyer, today, revealed that he went to visit Edwin Jackson, who actually did sign.  At 29, he is on the side of 30 that the Cubs are looking for in players to add and build with,  and having pitched in the division with the Cardinals in 2011, there is familiarity with the NL Central, and he pitched well while with St. Louis.  Teaming him up with Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija, there is a solid top three, and there is a good group of Baker, Feldman, Wood, and Villanueva competing for two spots at the back end of the rotation.

The Cubs have to know they can’t lose like they did last season and expect fans to turn out.  The fans stopped coming last season because it was nearly pointless to go watch them give up runs in bunches.  This season figures to be different.  Even if they trade some of their pitching  (GARZA!), they’ll have some fall back pieces to lean on so they don’t fall off the side of the Earth.  The off-season has gone to plan to this point.  It remains to be seen if the offense will be potent enough to push this team to .500.  The Cubs are not a finished product by any stretch, but this off-season is the next step to contention.