CHICAGO (CBSNewYork/AP) — Chairman Tom Ricketts insisted there will be a day when results replace promises and headlines focus on victories for the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs’ most recent winning season was in 2009, when they won 83 games under Lou Piniella, and there doesn’t appear to be much hope for a big jump next season. The process could speed up a bit if the Cubs land Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. They are trying to sell him on hope, that he could be part of the turnaround if their prospects pan out, and they’re selling the same thing to their fans.
“There’s only one way to do it and you have to do it the right way, and you can’t take shortcuts,” Ricketts said. “There’s no way to cheat the devil on this.”
The Cubs continue to pitch their long-term vision rather than short-term results, insisting the pain they’re enduring will result in a payoff down the road. They point to top prospects such as Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant. They mention new training facilities in the Dominican Republic and in Mesa, Ariz., and the planned renovations to Wrigley Field.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein called Tanaka “a valuable commodity” but had little else to say about Tanaka on Friday. He says he will “respect the request for confidentiality that’s come from the agent and the player.”
And the message remained the same when members of the Ricketts family and the front office fielded questions from fans at the Cubs convention Saturday.
“We’re hoping that what we’re doing is changing the culture and really creating the Cubs Way, which going forward will consistently put a team on the field that can compete to go the distance,” board member Laura Ricketts said. “We’re not shooting for one World Series. We’re not shooting for one championship one year that 30 years from now we can all point back to and say, ‘Remember that year how great it was?'”
The last few years have been quite difficult for the Cubs, and that’s saying something for a franchise known for its championship drought.
Signing Tanaka would change the perception of the Cubs.
The 25-year-old right-hander was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year for the Japan Series champion Rakuten Golden Eagles, who made him available under the new posting system. Teams have a Jan. 24 deadline to sign him.
“If I was sitting there a fan of the Chicago Cubs, I would have hoped for more this winter,” Epstein said. “I’m not going to hide the ball. I would have hoped for bigger names and bigger investments and more change. But I would also feel great about the direction of the franchise and where we’re heading and how talented a group of young players we’ve assembled. I’d really be looking toward the future.”
They’re banking on the improvements to their facilities and the increased revenue and decreased maintenance costs of a renovated Wrigley Field. That $500 million overhaul remains on hold at the moment as talks continue with the neighboring rooftop owners, who hand over a percentage of their revenue to the team and could sue if the makeover obscures their views.
President of business operations Crane Kenney said they had two meetings last week with most of the rooftop owners and the city and that they made progress.
“I feel confident we’re working our way toward the finish line,” he said.
The Cubs initially projected the work on the stadium would take place over five offseasons. But now they think it could be done in four, although it would cost more.
Kenney said a lawsuit would delay progress. He said the Cubs are losing $20 million in bleacher sales due to the rooftops — the Cubs were filling the ballpark when they struck their revenue-sharing deal about a decade ago — and equated that to the annual salaries of Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Joe Mauer and Cole Hamels.
Ricketts, meanwhile, compared the rooftop owners to a neighbor peering through the living room window to watch TV.
“You’re sitting in your living room watching Showtime. You’re watching ‘Homeland,'” he said. “You paid for that channel, and then you notice your neighbor looking through your window watching your television. You turn around and they’re charging the other neighbors to sit in his yard and watch your television show. So you get up to close the shades, and the city makes you open them. That’s basically what happened.”
Kenney said a videoboard will be installed in left field in time for the 2015 season, and a resolution on the TV and radio deals could be in place before the 2014 opener. The Cubs’ agreement with WGN expires after this season. Wherever they wind up, Kenney said longtime play-by-play radio announcer Pat Hughes will continue to call their games.
The new broadcast deals could provide a cash infusion for the club, and the Cubs insist added revenue will be invested back into the team.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein also said money budgeted for the baseball side that is not spent could be rolled over to next winter, something that wasn’t allowed under the previous regime.
“(The Ricketts family) know they’re doing the right things to lay the foundation, to get this right, to turn this into a franchise that they can proud of for generations and generations,” Epstein said. “I am more proud of them for their willingness to take that heat and stick to their plan than I would be if they panicked the first time their name was dragged through the mud publicly and said, ‘We can’t do this. We need to put lipstick on this. And we need to find some quick fixes just to keep the fans and media at bay.’ They’re dragging the Ricketts name through the mud. They are in this for the long haul, and because of that, they’re giving us the ability to lay the foundation. The Ricketts’ vision is a long-term one, and our job is to implement it.”
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