As the Chicago Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations, in an organization that already has a President of Business Operations, Theo Epstein tends not to say a whole lot about the financial side of the organization or the Wrigley Field renovation. When he does speak on those topics, he usually limits his comments to platitudes like, “it’s my job to use the resources I’m given as best as possible,” and “we all want to see a renovated Wrigley Field, which will help the players and possibly provide more resources.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist.
So, when Epstein opens up on those subjects, as he did with CSN’s Patrick Mooney, it’s worth highlighting. For everyone.
Epstein described Wrigley Field, the subject of an ongoing fight about renovations and funding, as the “epicenter” of fans’ connection to the Chicago Cubs. He still seems optimistic that a deal will be done, and he underscored just how important it is for things to get moving promptly, while reminding interested parties that the Cubs may ultimately have to consider their options.
“We’re on a relatively short timeline to get things ordered and start that work so we can move into a new clubhouse in 2014,” Epstein said of the renovation. “Our expectation is that’s going to get done. But there are certain things that need to happen, that should happen, so I expect them to happen. But if for some reason they don’t, then we’re going to have to look at every alternative.
“I do think that this is just part of the process. It’s politics and there’s money and influence involved, so there’s going to be a rollercoaster. I think when it’s all said and done, it’s going to be a true win-win for all parties and we’ll look back at this as just sort of a crazy way to get to a very good place.”
In case it was was so subtle that you missed it – Theo is the master of artful statements – Epstein just entered the Wrigley renovation leverage war. He would not have addressed this topic off the cuff (that it came in a CSN interview was probably not a coincidence) or without consulting with the business operations folks, and he would not have said any more or less than precisely what he intended to say. In this instance, what he intended to say was, “we need these renovations to start right now so we can improve the team. If they don’t start right now, I’m completely on board with the business guys exploring other options. Get a deal done.”
Theo Epstein – maybe even more as a concept than as a person – carries a great deal of clout. As I said, he speaks infrequently on these topics, so, when he does, important people listen. It makes me a little nervous the Epstein has even had to enter the fray because it suggests that a deal isn’t particularly close, even as the April 1 deadline approaches.
Epstein wasn’t ready to crap on Chicago, though, and continues to be a fan of Wrigley Field.
“It’s a very special place,” Epstein said of Chicago. “The best things about this franchise are the things that no one can ever take away, like the bond between the fans and the team and the multi-generational aspects of that, the connection to Wrigley Field.”
Of course, calling Chicago a special place in the same breath as discussing Wrigley Field has become the natural precursor to cynicism and frustration about the city and neighborhood’s intransigence in helping the Cubs get a renovation deal done.
To that end, Epstein suggested surprise at how relatively unsupported the Cubs are by their community and their city.
“There are going to be some challenges that I didn’t fully anticipate,” he said. “Like our ability to leverage our market size into financial advantages is more difficult that I expected. I thought that would have been something that was easier for us to do – and do now. Instead, it’s something that is out of necessity probably several years away. But given the timeline we’re on, that’s not the worst thing in the world as long as we get there.”
In other words, Epstein was expecting that, because of the Cubs’ large fan base and large market, the organization was going to have a clear financial advantage over its NL Central competitors. He still believes that’s coming, but it won’t be for a few more years (i.e. – post-renovation, and post-new TV deal). And it won’t be without community support on the renovation.
Together with his renovation comments, this is probably as far as Epstein could go without muddying himself. Hopefully the city and the neighborhood are listening now.
Theo Epstein says you’re making it hard for the Cubs to be good. Stop it. *Drops mic.*