CHICAGO -- The 30th annual Cubs Convention is this weekend at the Chicago Sheraton & Towers. Hopes are high for 2015 and optimism is never greater than at the fan convention.
While the media gets an hour with players and coaches Friday, the real fun starts when fans get to ask questions, as this is really the only time all year they get that kind of access.
There will be plenty of time to rehash the event next week, but here’s a prediction of some of the things that you might hear if you’re attending:
Tom Ricketts: "Sammy Sosa is not here. We still need to mend some fences with him. We hope to do so in the near future."
Analysis: It’ll be about the same script that was used last year, and if there was a major breakthrough over the past 12 months wouldn't Sosa be here? How hard is it to fix this thing anyway? He’s just a baseball player who, yes, had a few relatively minor bad moments in the grand scheme of things. Do he and his former teammates really need to get along for him to appear? If the fans’ interests are first among all parties, then the answer should be easy in regards to the franchise’s all-time home run king. PED suspicions might keep him out of the Hall of Fame, as it did again earlier this month, but the fan convention? Come on. Short of a major arrest record or something similarly nefarious, he should be there.
Crane Kenney: "The bleachers won’t be ready on Opening Day, but we have a plan to move season ticket holders into other locations throughout the ballpark."
Analysis: Some media and fans will take their potshots at the optics of a Sunday night opening game against the St. Louis Cardinals without fans in the bleachers, but this is the price you pay for rehabbing an old park while trying to play games in it. The Cubs could have chosen to leave Wrigley Field altogether for two full years and the whole project would have been done. Maybe in hindsight that was the better route as renovation obstacles are bound to creep up, causing things like the bleachers closing. Then again, they’ll be open within a month when the weather is better and no one will really care. In a major rebuilding of the team, and the ballpark, not sweating the small stuff is probably a good idea. Up to one month without bleachers -- if that’s all it is -- is pretty small.
Ricketts, Part 2: "We are working on our relationship with the rooftop owners."
Analysis: Stop if you’ve heard that one before. There was a brief moment in time after last season that it looked like the sides were going to live (somewhat) peacefully with each other or the Cubs would end up owning the majority of rooftops and the fight would be near moot. That’s not the case, as current owners are essentially accusing the Cubs of extortion. The crux of it is they say the Cubs will block views unless they sell. How has this fight not ended up in court already? It is now.
Theo Epstein: "We’re going for the playoffs in 2015, but we won’t sell out for it."
Analysis: The term “sell out” has been used often this offseason by Cubs management, especially Epstein. It allows them to straddle that fence between rebuilding and competing. Some fans and media members will take umbrage, as it’s been Epstein himself who has stated that every season is “sacred.” But what everyone accepted as a five-year rebuilding plan is only in Year 4, even though the Cubs made headlines with significant winter additions. If they wanted to “go for it” they would trade Addison Russell or Kris Bryant for Cole Hamels, but we all know how stupid that would be for the long-term health of the team.
Anthony Rizzo: "We want to (or hope or expect) to win the division."
Analysis: He already made that statement once -- on the final day of the 2014 regular season -- and he’ll more than likely make it again. Of course, every team at this time of year can say the same thing. Every single one of them. At least this year Rizzo or anyone else that declares some form of “its playoffs or bust” can say it without getting ridiculed. Last to first has happened a few times before. Just not that often.
Starlin Castro: "I’m planning on moving my family to Miami (or somewhere that isn’t the Dominican Republic)."
Analysis: The Cubs and Castro’s agent are probably hoping he says something like this. It’s not that Castro is a major troublemaker -- if he is, trouble will find him wherever he goes -- but from most who know how things work in the Dominican Republic, they say players are targets. After a couple of incidents this offseason that had Castro talking with police and subsequently in the news, there is no reason to risk staying there. That can be easier said than done considering all the factors involved when it comes to family, but that’s what a long term-deal with security gives you: options.
Javier Baez: "I feel better now after playing in winter ball. I worked out some things with my swing."
Analysis: Again, wishful thinking, but maybe the time off and then some at-bats away from the limelight did him some good. As stated in this blog previously -- and just about everywhere else -- just cutting down on the swings on pitches above his head should change things dramatically. But no matter what he did in winter ball, no matter what he does in spring training, it’s all about April. With Baez, there’s a good chance we’ll know sooner rather than later if he’s found some plate discipline. If nothing has changed it’s going to be a long first few months.
Kris Bryant: "I’m just going to go to spring training and try to make it a hard decision for them."
Analysis: It won’t just be the first question of Bryant, it will be all of them. OK, that’s exaggerating, but it’s all anyone who follows him wants to know. Is there any chance he breaks camp with the Cubs? If he does, he can become a free agent after 2020. If the Cubs bring him up closer to May, they have him until 2021. Nothing is for certain, but all signs point to the latter happening. And the notion that the Cubs “might lose the division” because Bryant is in Chicago in late April instead of early is silly.