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The Chicago Cubs, as an organization, have been moving in the right direction for some time. Hiring Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod was certainly a huge step, but it was hardly the beginning of the transformation that is taking place under the ownership of the Ricketts family.

Indeed, improving team facilities started in earnest more than a year ago, and the plans to dramatically improve the Spring Training experience – both for players and fans – were put in place long ago. Less discussed, but possibly even more exciting, the Cubs are building the preeminent Latin American training facility on the largest MLB team-owned piece of land in the Dominican Republic.

We’ve heard about the DR facility plans for some time now, but concrete details have been relatively sparse. A panel at CubsCon went into a bit more depth on the plans, and then the team revealed even more information late last week when the Ricketts family, together with other Cubs personnel, traveled to the DR for their quarterly board meeting.

From Cubs.com:

Located in La Gina, outside of Santo Domingo, the facility will span 50 acres, making it the largest academy in the country. It will be open year-round, complete with baseball fields and training facilities, housing for Minor League players during the season and for Major Leaguers in the offseason, and will serve as an education center for Cubs prospects.

The new academy will serve players from across the world, including Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Aruba, Curacao and Mexico, in addition to the Dominican Republic.

“We have been to the Dominican Republic three times,” Ricketts said. “On the first trip, we wanted to see how we treated the players and what kind of facilities they had to make sure it was consistent with how we want to treat people in our organization. And what we found out was that people treated the people very well but the facilities were behind. [During] the second trip [we] decided to get some land and address the issues we recognized. We have spent the last couple of years getting ready for this trip to finalize the plans.”

The academy will feature four fields, including one with artificial turf, four covered batting cages, eight bullpens, a weight room, a cafeteria and kitchen, two locker rooms, two meeting rooms, a large classroom that can be converted to four smaller classrooms, plus a theatre and video room. An on-site dormitory will house up to 80 players and eight staff members.

The academy will serve as an educational center equipped with classrooms and staff to teach English and Spanish to players and personnel, and players will be able to earn their GED high school equivalents. The Cubs say the center will place an emphasis on education, health and nutrition.

“A project like this is very important because all the players on the island are getting the opportunity to train in the type of facility the Cubs will have if they sign,” said Castro, who signed out of the Dominican with Chicago in 2006. “We have an owner that really cares about the players and the people on this island. This is going to be the best academy in Latin America.”

The project is expected to take about 12 to 18 months to complete, and will cost the Cubs about $6 to $8 million. When a nearby McDonald’s costs $20 million (and a Cuban defector pitcher $7 to $8 million), I’d say that’s a pretty incredible investment.

The facility will be not only the focal point of the Cubs’ scouting efforts in the DR, but also the home for player development in Latin America, and a huge selling point for recruiting free agents and international talent who live and train in the DR in the offseason (for example, Yoenis Cespedes).

The Cubs will begin construction, I believe, within the next couple of months.

BleedCubbieBlue has a number of pictures of the plans, from the Cubs, and it’s worth checking them out to get a sense of the grandeur. Below are a couple, the first showing some of the planned buildings, and the second showing an arial view of the plans (and head over to BCB for larger versions):

  • Fishin Phil

    Very impressive!

  • K Rock

    I love the fact we are improving the facilities for development…….But I do find it odd that all of this money is getting put into these facilities across the board and nothing has been done to improve the players facilities at Wrigley. I do get the fact that there are loop holes to go through and you need developmental facilities, but I am curious if there are any moves being made to improve the locker room/ batting cages etc…I know the front office was obviously not impressed but has anything been put into motion?

    • JB88

      Not sure I see the inconsistency you see. The Ricketts’ stated goal is to run a top-notch organization through all levels. I don’t think they want to make patch-work changes to Wrigley; instead, it is pretty clear they envision a major renovation to the park. I see little chance of them announcing those changes or implementing those changes until they have shaken every branch at City Hall to see if they can loosen some funds.

      Frankly, given the cost-cutting measures and revenue-increasing measures Rahm has implemented since arriving in office, I just don’t see the political climate being one in which the Cubs can successfully receive money from the City of Chicago. The better bet is for the economy to continue to rebound in 2012, the Cubs continuing to grease the wheels behind the scenes, and the Cubs to hope the City will agree to some level of public financing either later this year or in the beginning of 2013.

      If that happens, then the Cubs would hopefully have their architectural drawings and engineering firms lined up for bidding to be complete by the summer of 2013 with work to begin that offseason.

      If I recall correctly, the Cubs are looking to host the 2016 All-Star game. If that is the case, the Cubs will want all Wrigley renovations complete by then. I suspect the Cubs are prepared to renovate Wrigley without public financing, but they are going to push for financing as long as they feasibly can before they announce their intentions.

      • K Rock

        No problems at all with what they are doing………I guess it came off like I may, my apologies. I just know how small and outdated the locker rooms are, and we all know the problems they have with batting cages etc….Which are all pretty important for game preparation etc…..Just with all of these changes going on I’ve heard nothing about these getting changed anytime soon, so was curious if there was anything new about it, or possibly why it hasn’t been addressed yet.

    • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

      Haven’t they already announced Wrigley renovation plans? I seem to remember plans that included larger club houses underground, more and improve restrooms for fans, the triangle building finally being built, and more. The hold up has been, in part, the attempts to get some of the park-generated taxes made available for the renovation and other similar plans.

      I don’t think we can say the Cubs aren’t trying to improve Wrigley. It is much easier, though, to build a facility on land in the Dominican Republic or in Arizona than it is to make, finance, and engineer $300 million+ plans for Wrigley.

      Edit: A quick Googling turns up this: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-11-16/sports/ct-spt-1117-cubs-wrigley-field-chicag20101116_1_cubs-president-crane-kenney-chairman-tom-ricketts-preliminary-plans

      • K Rock

        To my knowledge that was all speculation of what they could do, not what they are going to do…..Hopefully I am wrong though and those are the plans.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        If I remember correctly, those were just renderings of the Cubs’ ideas for what they’d do at Wrigley if they ever got the financing. I’m not sure they were “plans” in the sense of getting any actual operative balls rolling.

        • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

          Possibly. They are referred to as preliminary plans, but there are also references to engineering work being done in the left field area to see if the underground plans are in fact possible. I haven’t heard anything more specific recently, though.

  • Dougy D

    I would guess that McDonalds may become a sort of future clubhouse type of deal with a skywalk or underground tunnel to travel back and forth. I really don’t know the layout of the Wrigley Field other than the playing field, but I would imagine that they will shift things around to improve/expand the current clubhouse, or have it across the way.

    • RoughRiider

      They can put some batting cages in the McDonalds Parking Lot.

  • Garrett

    Does the plan include Cespedes and Soler, if not it should!

  • die hard

    do the Cubs have exclusive rights to any player training there or can any club sign that player?

    • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

      MLB is working towards an International Draft by 2014 or so. No one knows what the final rules will look like yet, but it is highly unlikely that the Cubs would have any significant exclusivity advantage.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      They’ll probably have academy events there that are for unsigned kids (whom any team can theoretically sign), and then also events/locations/live-in facilities for kids they’ve already signed.

      In other words, I think there will be a mix of signed and un-signed kids at a mix of events/activities/training/etc.

    • Kyle

      As Luke said, it’s probably all going to be made moot by an international draft soon.

      But under the current rules, no, the Cubs do not have exclusive rights to these players. No player can sign with a team until they turn 16.

      The main benefits a team gets from running an academy is to make the Cubs’ brand a big name down there (You want little kids seeing the giant Cubs logo every day in their town and dreaming of becoming Cubs) and the chance to scout these guys heavily before they sign.

  • JB88

    A general question for Brett — How do you see the Cubs best utilizing the DR facility given the new prohibitions on spending in the CBA? With the new $2.9 MM total bonus spend, how would you best utilize that money?

    For me, the inefficiency is that the contract can still be for whatever the parties decide. For example, maybe the Cubs focus less on the bonus aspect and more on the contract terms. You could give a guy like a Soler a $1MM bonus, but then given him contracts that pay $10 MM in the first year, trending downward. I don’t see any prohibition on that in what has been reported about the CBA, but was curious to see if you had any thoughts on exploiting remaining international inefficiencies.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I doubt that kind of gamesmanship is going to be permitted, but you’re right, I haven’t seen the details reported on what can go into that $2.9 million cap (which obviously changes each year).

      I think the value of having the facility for scouting and, thus, signing kids is a big part of things. Probably the biggest – if the money teams can offer a kid is depressed by the CBA, the Cubs now have one thing they can offer that other teams can’t: a hell of an awesome place to train and go to school. So if the Cubs are offering the same money as another team, there’s your tie-breaker.

      I also think the appeal to free agents and older international players is going to be very useful. So many top players live and train in the DR in the offseason – this place will be a very nice recruiting tool, once again, where the money is similar.

      • JB88

        I was just doing some online research on this. It appears that not all teams will be created equally. From MLB.com’s article following the announcement of the CBA:

        “The international system will be somewhat similar, with a pool and penalties for exceeding that pool. For the 2012-13 signing period, every team will have the same pool of $2.9 million. Starting in 2013-14, the pools will be based on the prior season’s winning percentage, with a range of approximately $1.7 million to $4.8 million.

        Major League Baseball is also trying to maintain some equity in the system, mandating that all international players must be registered with the MLB Scouting Bureau in order to be eligible to sign. That’s a direct parallel to how the Draft system works in North America.”

        Obviously scouting will still be the key, as you say, but it also means that financially teams that have performed worse will be better equipped to sign international talent. The only thing the announcement does not discuss is if that cap is a bonus cap or an overall spend cap. Everything else I read said bonus cap, so it seems that the inefficiency is still in the way you structure the contract. But I also suspect that is a risky strategy because I have to imagine those contracts would have to be structured as major league contracts.

        • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

          It’s referred to as a bonus cap, but I think also under the new CBA are rules that effectively make the bonus the only way teams can give lots of money to players. Minor league salaries are controlled and major league deals will (I believe) be banned for players young enough to qualify under the new rules.

          Also, the penalty for exceeding the cap is not all that severe. I think it just puts a ceiling on the maximum bonus a team can offer for the next season or two. So, should a guy as impressive as Soler arrive on the scene under the new CBA, he’ll likely still get paid and the team that gets him will just eat the penalties.

          • JB88

            It would be absolutely fascinating to read the new CBA rather than just rely on gossip — not suggesting that what you posted is that — but it is just frustrating not to know what the explicit terms of the CBA is on these points.

          • scorecardpaul

            Luke,
            I don’t claim to be as smart, or up to date as you are on these things, But my initial thought on next years draft was very similar. I can see a lot of great talent being left undrafted (high school kids) and simply choosing college over lower money. I think the strategy that the Cubs tried last year plays even better in this years draft because there may be less teams taking this aproach. Do you think this could work, or am I simply not seeing correctly. My thinking is this… plan to bust the budjet from the beginning, and draft accordingly. make next years draft so over the top good and take your hit the following year.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              At some point in the future, a team will try this strategy. It’s just really risky to give up two future first round picks, especially if your team is going to be crappy this year (thus the lost pick was going to be a good one). If the Cubs are ever going to try the bust-the-bank strat, I’d hope they would do it in a year when they had a really good team (and thus a probably low pick in the next year’s draft).

              • scorecardpaul

                or would it be better to do it now, because
                1) it looks like we are getting a lot of picks next year
                2) it fits with our current plan of getting lots of controlable cheap talent with potential upside
                3) get lot of young talent now, so in 3-4 years we will be stacked
                4)do it before other teams jump back in for competition
                5) might just be that I am thinking if we are going to stockpile lots of young upside, I want it now! I want to be looking at them in a few years as nearly ready??

                • scorecardpaul

                  I guess I am also thinking that the new rules may make teams, or even future picks feel uncertain about what the future may hold? I am simply thinking that each year there are 15 to 20 guys drafted simply as long shots to try to convince them to get the money now, and skip college. If there are fewer teams wanting to bust the bank with these kids this year it might be an opportunity to absolutely steal some talent?? The kids might also feel like this might be their last chance to get a big contract because of all of the new confusion on the caps??
                  I am probably just drooling at the thought of the Cubs in a sense getting a dozen “first rounders” in one year. I would think hard about doing that even if it came with a cost the following year. It would give us the added advantage of having a very solid core of similar aged kids?

            • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

              You aren’t likely to see too many teams blow the budget on the draft and lose first round picks. I can sketch some scenarios when it might be worth it, but a team would almost have to engineer one of those scenarios. I don’t think it’s likely to happen very often.

              The International Free Agent market has a different cap with a different rule structure, and that is where I can see a team at the right time and for the right guy blowing the budget.

              As far as how the 2012 draft will look – it’s good, but does not look as good or as deep as the 2011 crew. I suspect the first round will look normal. There is enough money in the slot allotments to pay the top players well enough to lure them into the minors regardless of their situation. After that, I think there will be a run on high school players and draft eligible college sophomores (the guys with the most leverage), followed by college juniors and seniors. The best players will still move up (a really good college senior will be taken in the first three rounds, for example), but when you get into the amorphous mass of players beyond the first few rounds, things will get interesting. Potential tough signs like Dillon Maples will probably be drafted earlier to make it easier to offer them more money, or a team could potentially draft an low-sign early to secure the funds to after a tough sign that falls, or both.

              And then we have the competitive balance picks, which can be traded during the season, and suddenly it becomes a whole new world.

  • cls

    Having been in the Cubs locker room when selecting season tickets this year, I can say that yes, they do need to drop some coin and renovate those, stat. I’ve seen high schools with better locker rooms for their home teams than the Cubs have, and I’ve heard the visitors are even worse.

    I’m not downplaying the $$$ being spent for the Dominican Facility, I think that is a fantastic idea and definitely a step in the right direction for a world class organization. I’m simply stating that yes, it would be nice to see the Cubs renovate their locker rooms for the players here at Wrigley too.

  • scorecardpaul

    I have taken the imfamous Wrigley Field tour. Wrigley Field needs lots of renovation. I have spent the better part of the last 20 years collecting stuff from Wrigley Field, I Love Wrigley Field, but she needs some major help!!!

  • Alex

    Looks like Field 1 has the same dimensions as Wrigley.

  • cubsin

    I think an international draft will be a long-term project. In the meantime, the clubs with the best international scouts (including the Cubs) will continue to find and sign the best prospects. The new facilities in the DR will certainly be an asset.

    If the Cubs locate a really good prospect in an isolated village somewhere, I suspect they’re clever enough to submit the names of every able-bodied kid within fifry miles of the place for MLB approval so that other teams’ scouts will have trouble finding him.

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