CHICAGO -- "They boo people at Cubs Convention?"
That was a question posed to me by one of Alfonso Soriano's friends after I surmised that Soriano will probably get booed at Cubs Convention on Friday night.
Yes, fans occasionally boo during the convention's star-studded opening ceremonies in the big ballroom at the Hilton. Though as far as I can remember, the fans' ire has mostly been directed at managers (Dusty Baker got it in 2006), pitching coaches (Larry Rothschild heard it several times) and management types like Jim Hendry and Crane Kenney (last year).
But if I had to guess which players, if any, would get booed this season, Soriano would be at the top of my list. In fact, he'd very likely be the only one.
There's no Hendry to heckle, and Kenney, the team president of business whatever, would be wise to enter the room alongside new baseball president Theo Epstein, who will get treated like a rock star more on that night than during his charity concert Saturday night in Boston.
I like to think of the Cubs Convention as the largest gathering of tucked-in Greg Maddux jerseys, but it's also a great place to take the pulse of the die-hard fans who keep the Cubs profitable and Wrigley Field packed, year after year.
While the arrival of Epstein pumped up the base, the Cubs are going to suffer once again on the field in 2012. This team isn't built to compete in a championship way. Everyone knows this, but the new front office is left to promote its foundation for sustained success, because hope, once again, is all Cubs fans have. At least this time, there is some heft behind it.
Cubs tickets are still expensive, despite three straight down years, with minimal reductions scattered across the schedule. If you want to see a Saturday game from the bleachers from mid-May to mid-August, it will cost you $85.12 a ticket. I guess the Cubs Convention crowd is a bad place to look for spendthrifts, though. Tickets cost $65; a steep price to hear Carl Rice speak.
Is Theo enough to spark some fans' fading light? All he's done so far is sign middling to slightly promising veterans to fill the gaping holes. That's not an indictment, just the facts. One contract he's expected to shed is Soriano, who is owed $54 million over the next three seasons.
Soriano, who just turned 36, is a dinosaur on this team. Or perhaps a better term would be a ghost. He represents the team's failure to break the hexes, jinxes and self-made roadblocks through wild spending. I've always liked Soriano, and I think he should be kept around this year, if only to give the team a legitimate power bat. He could still be a very useful designated hitter.
Soriano wasn't originally scheduled to be at the Cubs Convention, but he was in town with family, so it worked out. He'll even sign some autographs Saturday, after Epstein deftly handles questions about getting rid of him.
Epstein, who has to take off after taking part in what promises to be a fawning/nerd-centric panel, will get a chance to talk to Soriano for the first time Friday, if he hasn't already this week.
Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, hadn't been able to connect with their high-priced slugger previously. I guess that means Soriano wasn't included on Epstein's listening tour before he got rid of Carlos Zambrano.
Soriano will be fine with whatever response he gets. I'm curious to see the reaction to Starlin Castro's presence at the convention, and in turn, how Castro handles the unwanted attention from his legal situation.
A couple days ago, I asked a Cubs employee if Castro was still coming and the employee wondered why I'd even wonder about it.
Hey, it's not like he's been in the news for anything negative.
Castro has been accused of, though not charged with, sexual assault, stemming from a late September incident. According to ESPNChicago.com sources, Chicago police could speak with Castro this weekend. Castro's attorneys have stridently denied the charges and the Cubs have said all the right things in response to the questions they can't answer.
Since I don't know what happened, and all we have is a vague police report to go off of, I can't say much about this story, but he's innocent until proven guilty.
As a reporter, I'm all for transparency and facing the question-firing squad. I love the interesting story.
But I don't get why the team is teeing up the young All-Star for a media inquiry on Friday night. If the Cubs try to hide him, and Castro doesn't talk to the media at the convention, he will look like he's hiding something. I guess the same goes for keeping him away from the event as well. I just wonder if this is a good idea.
There's no reason for Castro to come, unless the team really wants the 22-year-old All-Star to take all the tough questions now, rather than the first day of spring training. And is it good marketing to remind fans your best player is also being accused of a crime?
The good news for the Cubs is that fans have short and highly selective memories. And Castro is the only player to get excited about, because he represents the future.
With the exodus of Aramis Ramirez, Sean Marshall and Carlos Pena, there is every reason to believe this team will be just as bad, if not worse, than last year's 71-91 team. I believe Dale Sveum will be a better manager than Mike Quade and Chris Bosio a better pitching coach than Mark Riggins, but I'm just not seeing the Cubs having the horses to compete in the NL Central.
That's fine. This is a rebuilding year, no one expects too much. Epstein and Hoyer have a track record of success, and even the cynics like me are confident in the new leadership of the team.
I never stay long for Cubs Convention, but I'm eager to gauge the mood of the fans. Who will they boo and why will they pay money to watch this team?
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.