Now that all of the sessions are through and I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything, and also now that I’ve had a chance to go through my pages of notes, let me offer up to you the high points of the presentations by President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and President of Business Operations Crane Kenney at this weekend’s season ticket holder event.
There is a ton of useful, fun, and interesting stuff (I wrote more in-depth about the first three items earlier, but the rest is all new stuff) …
- Kenney left open the possibility that the Cubs could sign a long-term TV deal now, attaching that deal to the short-term, half-slate deal from 2015 to 2019.
- Epstein said that, right now, Kyle Schwarber is expected to open the 2015 season as a full-time catcher after his work to develop there this past season and in the instructional league. He’ll start out at High-A or AA.
- Epstein said that, in an ideal world, the Cubs would come out of this offseason having added a top-of-the-rotation starter and another solid, stable, middle-of-the-rotation type.
- The start of the program was all about hyping the state of the Cubs’ farm system and young core, but Kenney echoed a talking point the front office has offered before: all of that stuff is awesome, but nothing has been accomplished yet. The measure of success is playing baseball in October.
- Kenney called the Cubs’ new radio deal with WBBM/CBS one of the three most valuable deals in baseball. He went on to discuss the partnership the Cubs have with CBS to host music events on the plaza, which is coming to the west of the ballpark. The revenues generated there will go to the team.
- Speaking of the plaza, we got our first public estimate on a completion date for the open-air, “entertainment plaza,” as Kenney called it: some time during the 2016 season. The goal is to keep working on the triangle property throughout next season – since it’s outside the park – so that the new clubhouse, which will be below the plaza, can be done for Opening Day 2016. From there, Kenney said the hope is that the plaza will be completed and usable at some point during the 2016 season. I’m pretty stoked about the plaza, which figures to be a Cubs-focused, open area for community events, game-day events, food, drink, concerts, (advertising), and possibly screening Cubs games. I really think it will do a lot for the area.
- Kenney said one upside of having taken so long on the Wrigley renovation is that not only have other new parks come online in that time, but also Fenway and Dodger Stadium have been renovated. The Cubs were able then to learn the things that those organizations did right, and the things they maybe now regret a little.
- Kenney reiterated the renovation plan phases, with the first one including the bleacher project (outer walls bumped out, support put in place for outfield signs, bleachers expanded, new patio areas put in), the seven outfield signs, digging the big hole in the triangle property, and doing internal structural work to get ready for the new in-park amenity stuff after next season.
- The JumboTron will not feature dance contests and kiss cams. It’ll be focused on stats and replays (and, presumably, sponsor messages), with “tasteful” entertainment. The bleachers will be a little different, but the charm and beauty will remain.
- The Cubs destroyed pretty much all Cactus League attendance records in 2014. Cha-ching.
- After his warm welcome, Epstein joked that he can’t wait to hear what it’ll sound like when the Cubs don’t finish in last place.
- Epstein was very pointed and clear in his comments about where the Cubs are right now, and what’s coming: they are at a turning point, and are no longer solely in talent acquisition mode. Paraphrase: when you’re ready to compete, you set your sights high. And our goal is to win the NL Central in 2015. And more paraphrasing: I’m not a salesman by nature. I’m not someone who likes to overpromise or to tell you how to spend your money. I’ll be the first to acknowledge we don’t know what’s going to happen in 2015. No one does. It’s not the end of the road. It’s not make or break. We won’t be fully mature as an organization. Our free agent shopping won’t be complete. We’ll still be developing. There will be brighter days ahead. But we will compete. And we’re not afraid to say we’re here to win the NL Central in 2015. (He didn’t drop the mic at that moment, but it felt like a *drops mic* moment.)
- Epstein gave love to the obvious players (Rizzo, Castro, Arrieta), but also specifically mentioned Luis Valbuena, Chris Coghlan, and Welington Castillo as quality complementary veterans. He also mentioned the top prospects, generally discussing the struggles they have faced or might face, but pointing out that what they have to work with is incredible.
- Epstein seems to be extremely high on Kyle Hendricks, saying in a number of different ways that the young man just gets it done. Given the relatively small sample and lack of classic velocity/stuff, it’s saying a lot that Epstein is willing to talk Hendricks up so much. Must really believe in him.
- Travis Wood took a step back, Epstein said, but he’s going to work to get back to where he was in 2013. Epstein said it was a rough year for Edwin Jackson, and the signing was a mistake, based on what has happened. If that sounds overly harsh to Jackson, Epstein said that Jackson would know what he meant – if they had to do it over again, knowing that the first two years would go how they’ve gone, the Cubs wouldn’t sign that deal. Because obviously. Epstein said that Jackson is a hard worker, and everyone hopes for a bounce back next year.
- Epstein said that the Cubs have a bunch of interesting depth arms, including Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront, Eric Jokisch, and Dallas Beeler. Those were the four names I heard him mention explicitly – which is to say, I didn’t hear him say Dan Straily or Tsuyoshi Wada, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything (and also doesn’t mean I didn’t just mis-hear). I guess that is all to say, take it as a compliment to the four guys he did mention, rather than a slight to the guys he didn’t.
- The bullpen was awesome, especially the Rondon/Ramirez/Strop/Grimm group, whom Epstein said is the foundation of a great bullpen. He also mentioned Arodys Vizcaino and Armando Rivero coming soon.
- The Cubs need to add impact pitching from outside the organization, be it now or over the next 15 months. It sounds like Epstein would like to add two impact starters over those 15 months, and will also look to add other good starter(s) over that period, too (but maybe not quite all top-of-the-rotation types).
- Positionally, Epstein said the Cubs would like to find somewhere they can upgrade the offense.
- Epstein was sure to caution that no one knows for sure if the Cubs will win in 2015, and it’ll be about developing the young players while trying to compete at the same time. But the Cubs have payroll flexibility going forward and tons of young talent. So much good can happen. Epstein said he wouldn’t trade the Cubs’ future for any other organization in baseball.
- Epstein reiterated what a great experience it was to have Manny Ramirez working with the young hitters, and the Cubs will try to make that happen again somehow in the future, even if not in a full-time role. It’s largely up to what Ramirez wants to do.
- Epstein shared a great anecdote about the way young Cubs prospects talk about being in the Cubs’ organization: they use the word “Cub” as a superlative to describe good plays (or to describe bad plays as “not being Cub”). That anecdote was totally Cub.