The 31st annual Chicago Cubs Convention was this weekend, and, in addition to what I hope were some enjoyable Tweets and Periscopes, I jotted down a bunch of notes to share with you here in this info dump.
Most are cohesive thoughts and full sentences …
Front Office Panel
- Theo Epstein said that, when the Cubs signed Jason Heyward, they didn’t feel like they were making a big free agent addition – just adding another piece to the young core, given that Heyward is a day younger than Anthony Rizzo.
- Epstein, while mentioning some of the offseason moves, said that he thinks Adam Warren, the return in the Starlin Castro trade, could “sneak up” on some people this year. We’ve written a lot about Warren, and there is a great deal to like.
- Jed Hoyer cautioned folks that, although the 97 wins from 2015 was fantastic, it came with a run differential of just 81 – usually, for 97 wins, you’d have a much higher run differential. The NL could be so polarized this year that it takes a ton of wins to make the playoffs, and the Cubs had to improve their team to be better in 2016, even if they were coming off of “97 wins.” In other words, I’ll put it this way: there was a ton of positive variance in the Cubs’ win total from 2015 which cannot be counted on to repeat in 2016. So, if the Cubs want to make the playoffs again, they will have to be an even better, deeper, more versatile team in 2016 (and they might do it all while winning fewer total games).
- Epstein, in response to a fan’s barb, had some classy comments about former Cubs GM Jim Hendry, noting his contributions that are showing up on the current team, and the fact that he was operating at a time when he was forced to try and polish the big league team as best as possible every year without being given the green light to truly rebuild.
- At one point, the panel was asked about how they respond when a team calls them up about a player like Kyle Schwarber. Jed Hoyer said that those conversations are very short, and Theo Epstein half-jokingly(?), half-seriously simply said “no,” to a question of whether they would consider trading Schwarber.
- So much love for Willson Contreras in this panel. He has things to work on, but the front office sees him as a front-line starting catcher in the big leagues.
- When asked about the dramatic home/road splits for Kris Bryant, Hoyer suggested that may have just been a flukey thing that will sort itself out. By contrast, Schwarber’s dramatic lefty/righty splits is something to watch, but you have to give a guy a chance to face a lot of lefty pitching, even if he’s struggling, so that he can work through it – not unlike with Anthony Rizzo, who has since crushed lefty pitchers two years in a row.
- Hoyer also acknowledged that Jorge Soler doesn’t seem too comfortable in the cold, and that it can be hard to extend your arms and hit when you’ve got on too many layers. But hopefully it’s something Soler gets used to.
- Epstein admitted that, if the Cubs were acting entirely out of self-interest, they’d be into having a designated hitter in the National League. But that’s above his “pay grade,” and Epstein doesn’t see it happening any time soon.
- Epstein had a fantastic line about making good decisions in the draft, and it was essentially: you can really mess up a pick if you take the right baseball player but the wrong person.
Ricketts Family Ownership Panel
- I can tell you right up front that what has, in recent years, been among the most interesting panels, was not especially so this year. Here’s the thing: when the team is good and the future looks bright, people don’t really feel as compelled to gripe to the owners. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have a tame ownership panel.
- The moment that got the headlines was when Todd Ricketts complimented Pirates and Cardinals fans for their playoff demeanor in the same breath as saying that Mets fans are “really, really obnoxious.” I’m sure we all have our share of annoying fans, though it’s a little tougher to pull that particular complaint off when your team beat the Pirates and Cardinals in the postseason, but did not beat the Mets.
- Tom Ricketts said that, essentially what happened this offseason, was the Plan A Theo Epstein presented to him at the outset of the offseason.
- Tom Ricketts was complimentary of not only Theo Epstein – for whom an extension will be worked out eventually – but also the rest of the front office, many of whom have passed on other opportunities so that they could stay and get the job done with the Cubs.
- Tom Ricketts said that he wishes Alderman Tom Tunney would trust them a little more to do right by the plaza with respect to the hours of operation, because the Cubs are looking to create a “town square” of the north side that offers more for families to do, since the Clark Street bars are for a younger crowd.
Manager and Coaches Panel
- Pitching coach Chris Bosio noted at one point that Trevor Cahill took his one-year deal with Cubs, where he’s not guaranteed a rotation spot, over a two-year offer from Pirates, where he would have been starting. Obviously we don’t know the particulars of that Pirates offer, and Cahill’s deal with the Cubs comes with some incentives, but still – that’s a nice credit to how good Cahill was feeling about his brief time with the Cubs last year.
- Catching coach Mike Borzello said that he’s been working with Kyle Schwarber, and believes he can be a quality big league catcher – until he’s told otherwise by Theo Epstein or Joe Maddon, Schwarber will continue catching, as far as Borzello is concerned.
- In a humorous response, bench coach Dave Martinez, who coaches the outfielders, says that he wants Schwarber in the outfield. Schwarber is an incredible athlete, Martinez said, and he added that Schwarber has been picking Jason Heyward’s brain about working in the outfield already. For his part, Schwarber wants to do both, and I do think that’s what you’re going to see play out this year.
- It sounds like Cubs hitting coach John Mallee is an obsessively hard worker.
- Joe Maddon aptly described, in a complimentary way, Chicago Cubs fans’ interest in the team as “severe.”
- Maddon believes Javy Baez can play big league center field well, and was extremely complimentary of Baez’s overall on-field ability. The bat just has to catch up with the rest of Baez’s game.
- Although he never used the term “super utility pitcher,” Bosio spoke at length about the intentionality behind putting four starters – Cahill, Adam Warren, Travis Wood, and Clayton Richard – in the bullpen, and allowing them to show off their versatility. Other teams, Bosio said, are trying to copy what the Cubs are doing.
Business Operations Panel
- The 3:05pm CT Friday games are no more – they’re all returning to 1:20pm CT. Joe Maddon was not a fan because of the constantly changing schedule for his players, and, even though fans tended to prefer the later start, baseballs needs win out.
- The Cubs have seen a 98% renewal rate among season ticket holders this year, which is especially incredible when you remember that prices saw a really healthy bump. Spring Training tickets also have already sold at a huge pace, and have doubled to date over last year at this time.
- Crane Kenney also got into a variety of Wrigley renovation updates, discussed in more detail here previously, and into the recent purchase of additional rooftops.
- It sounds like ticketless tickets – i.e., a move to entirely digital tickets – is being discussed for future implementation down the line. You’d still be able to get a commemorative ticket if you wanted the physical thing, but that would no longer be the default. Nothing was announced on this, mind you, but that was definitely the sense you got.
- There will be increased security at Wrigley Field this year, including metal detectors.
- The Cubs still hope to have Sheffield Avenue (for one) closed during game days for street festival-type stuff, but that doesn’t look like it’s happening immediately.
- Kenney also talked about the Cubs’ TV plans separately.
Down on the Farm Panel
- McLeod talked about Arismendy Alcantara’s down 2015 season, where he struggled early, couldn’t seem to handle off-speed stuff, and then lost his confidence against the fastball, too. Hopefully, there’s a bounce back ahead.
- Under-the-radar types identified by the panel as guys to watch: righty Brad Markey, outfielder Eddy Julio Martinez, and utility man Chesny Young. If you’re not familiar, you can read more on Markey here, on Martinez here, and on Young here.
- Other prospects came in for specific mention, but the names are much less under the radar: Ian Happ, Billy McKinney, Jeimer Candelario, Gleyber Torres, Duane Underwood, Oscar De La Cruz, Dylan Cease, Carson Sands, Justin Steele, Willson Contreras, Mark Zagunis, etc. (seriously, good gravy this system is still so very deep).
- Cubs pitching prospect Dylan Cease is being brought along very thoughtfully after 2014 Tommy John surgery, but McLeod says that it looks like he’s just playing catch when he throws 95-96 mph. I love it.
- Willson Contreras, who came in for love during the front office panel, has worked this offseason with Cubs catching coach Mike Borzello.
- Logan Watkins, who missed all of 2015 with a torn Achilles, is still in the organization, by the way. He re-signed a minor league deal to stay with the Cubs.
- Starting is still a possibility down the road for Carl Edwards, Jr., but the Cubs have felt like he was more likely to help them in the short-term – when they need it – as a reliever. (Thanks to Luis Medina for his help on this one.)
- Lots of really great photos of the events from the Tribune here.
- Even more detailed recaps at Vine Line’s blog.
- The Schwarber Ball was there:
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) January 15, 2016
There are a bunch of great video bits you can see from the Convention here. Some notable ones, include …
- Some of the player introductions:
- Some of the ownership panel:
- Some of the front office panel:
- Ryan Dempster interviewing buddies Jon Lester and John Lackey, who give each other the business:
- What it’s mostly about:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) January 18, 2016