Tradition. History. Pride. Loyalty that has stood the test of time. Those were the words and phrase that echoed through the Bank of America Theatre when Cubs On Deck 2014 began.
The CCO attended the morning and evening sessions on Friday. Here are the notes from those sessions.
Crane Kenney and Theo Epstein met with the first group of season ticket holders at 12:00pm on Friday and covered just about every Cubs topic from the situation with the rooftops, restoring Wrigley Field, player development, the new facilities in both the Dominican Republic and in Mesa and the amount of talent now in the Cubs’ system that should help the big league team win games in the near future.
The Cubs used a variety of videos to explain to their customers what is going on with the organization from top to bottom. Where and how the funds they provide are being allocated. And how the Ricketts family and the team envisions Wrigley Field and the surrounding area will look in the coming years.
On Deck 2014 began with Crane Kenney addressing the season ticket holders. Kenney acknowledged it was a disappointing and painful season for everyone involved but there have been a lot of positives within the organization and great improvement in the system. Kenney admitted the team would like to hit ‘fast forward’ on the building process and speed up the progress. The Cubs are committed to building the best organization in baseball and will stay the course.
The Cubs are close to resolving the issues with the rooftop club owners and the work will begin on Wrigley in the very near future. Kenney mentioned that everything going on with the Cubs has been part of the Ricketts family strategy since they purchased the team in 2009. There is a passion within the Ricketts family to win.
Under the Ricketts family ownership, no other team has spent more in the draft and international signings than the Cubs. Kenney added that even though their record does not show it, they believe the team is closing to winning than ever before. Kenney explained the team has added to their baseball operations department, business operations department and made huge investments in baseball technology. Kenney added, “We know the success that is coming and we want you to be here when it happens.”
Building an organization with Sustained Success begins with World Class facilities. The Cubs have made it a priority to have state of the art facilities throughout the organization from the Dominican Republic to their Spring Training home to the Major League team. Kenney showed photos of the Cubs current clubhouse and training facility at Wrigley then asked the question, “What player would ever believe an organization’s commitment to him with the facilities we have?
The Cubs new facility in the Dominican opened earlier this year and the new Spring Training home, the largest in the Cactus League, is scheduled to open in December. “Real visible progress has been made under the new owners. The vision is clear and the destination is promising.”
Next on the agenda were the finances and the hurdles the Cubs have to overcome running the team.
The Cubs are at an incredible disadvantage from other teams in the league when a new baseball season begins. The team starts in a $40 million hole according to Crane Kenney due to not being able to maximize revenue streams that other teams have. The Cubs currently have the worst facility in baseball. They have to put millions into the park during the off-season to keep it operational in its current state. The team is losing money to the rooftops plus they pay the highest taxes in baseball.
The Cubs still have a few issues that must receive approval from the city and they have to work out the problem with the rooftop club owners.
As for Wrigley Field turning 100 this year, the team is planning a year-long celebration for the 100th birthday of Wrigley Field. They plan on singing “Happy Birthday” the entire season as Crane Kenney put it. Kenney explained not only is Wrigley where they work and where people watch games but it is the biggest house on the block and it’s definitely going to be the party of the century. The screen behind Kenney said, “We’re Going to Party Like It’s 1914.”
In December the Cubs will release a book celebrating the 100 Years of Wrigley Field that is already available to season ticket holders. A DVD with the Best of the 100 Years at Wrigley will be released in January at the convention. The Cubs will also launch the website, WrigleyField100.com. This year’s season tickets will feature images from past game day programs.
The Cubs’ alternative road uniforms will have a different look during the upcoming season. The Cubs will wear the familiar grey uniforms but with “Cubs” across the front like was done in the 1920s. The Cubs will also celebrate 10 different decades during 10 different homestands with the Sunday finale featuring the uniform from that decade. The Cubs are calling it “Throwback Sundays.” The team will start by recognizing the 1910s. For those homestands there will be bobblehead giveaways for the specific decade being honored, plus the first 5,000 kids will receive a retro toy from that decade. The music and food in the park will also represent the decade that is being recognized.
The Cubs are billing the homestands as “Celebrate 10 Decades, Experience 10 Homestands”.
The main celebration will take place on April 23. Past players will be on hand for the pregame celebration and the team will hand out Chicago Federals jerseys to the first 30,000 through the gate.
Crane Kenney said, “It’s going to be one heck of a birthday.”
Before turning the event over to Theo Epstein, Crane Kenney said the business side and the baseball side are working together on parallel paths and once both departments sync up the team will reach their goal.
Theo Epstein began by saying that seeing the fans and with what is going on with Wrigley reminds him why he is with the Cubs. A friend of Epstein told him, “It takes great courage to be patient” and he believes that is true for the fans. Epstein thanked the season ticket holders for their patience and said the team is not where they want to be in the standingss. He explained he feels lucky that the fan base is being as patient as they have been.
Epstein promised they will not stop working on the team until they reach the goal. The Cubs want to be in a position where they are printing playoff tickets every season.
After asking how many in attendance watched the World Series, Epstein pointed to the importance of homegrown talent. Epstein said that 35 of the 50 players on the Red Sox and Cardinals rosters were either homegrown players or players acquired with homegrown talent. The Red Sox and Cardinals are two of the best organizations in baseball as much as Epstein hates to say it. Epstein said he would not call the Cardinals a model organization, even though they are, because he took an oath to hate the Cardinals when Tom Ricketts hired him. Epstein jokingly said his disliking of the Cardinals organization is starting to come very easy. Then he pointed out the Red Sox and Cardinals have won five of the last 10 World Series.
Theo Epstein brought up the beloved ’69 team and indicated that most fans enjoy seeing young players come up through the system because it gives them a way to connect with the players. The same that happened with the ’69 team.
Why are young players so essential? Young players have a tendency to get better, and stay healthy. The goal is to cram as much talent as possible into the organization. Players peak at 27 now and there is no free agency for young players. By the time a player hits free agency they are past their prime in many cases and the new team is paying for past success. Young, core players give an organization a chance at sustained success and there are only three ways to acquire impact talent … through the draft, international signings and trades.
When Theo Epstein and his baseball department took over it was clear to them that had to step back and take a longer view. The first step was to fix the player development department and scouting department. Epstein pointed out that the Cubs were 30th in baseball in player development from 2002-2011. Next they had to inject the organization with as much young talent as possible.
The Cubs set out to hire in the best scouts in baseball. Once the personnel was in place, Epstein challenged the staff to gather more info than the other 29 teams so they could make the right decisions on players. Epstein is very happy with the job the staff has done and really feels the Cubs have had two very good drafts.
The Cubs had to create new systems for the organization. The Cubs went back to the basics to help create the player plans. Each player has their individual player plan that lists the player’s strengths and weaknesses. The Cubs check in with player several times during the season and discuss their progress based on their player plan. Epstein feels when what a player needs to improve on is written down it makes the player more accountable for their own development.
The Cubs’ brass met for four days in a large hotel conference room to work out the systems and the terminology they would use throughout the organization. Every player in the organization has a copy of the 350-page Cubs Way manual.
Epstein feels the player development department has done a good job and the players in the system showed a lot of improvement this past season.
Theo Epstein went back and expanded on the three ways that a team can add young talent to their organization under the new CBA. The first two things are spending everything a team can on the draft and international signings then trades. Epstein pointed out they found loopholes in the new CBA that allowed them to sign Jorge Soler and overspend in the international market this year. He feels the loophole that allowed the Cubs to sign Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres, among others, will be changed soon.
The Cubs were upfront about their plans to trade short-term assets for long-term, controllable, but Epstein admitted that does not make it any easier. Epstein explained how they turned one year of Sean Marshall into five years of Travis Wood, two months of Ryan Dempster into the careers of Kyle Hendricks and Christian Villanueva, Scott Hairston into Ivan Pineyro, Alfonso Soriano into Corey Black and two months of Matt Garza into four players that included the Minor League Pitcher of the Year, C.J. Edwards. Epstein said the Cubs traded eight veteran players with a combined four year of control left with an average age of 32.5 into 14 players with 78 combined years of control and an average age of 23 years old.
Epstein admitted that not all of the trades they’ve made have worked out. There is a price to pay, and when a team makes the sacrifice and commitment the Cubs have, they better make sure it works. Epstein acknowledged this process can be really tough for fans, especially when over each of the last two trading deadlines they have dealt away 40 percent of their starting pitching staffs.
Epstein is really pleased with the results he is seeing in the organization and he feels in some cases they are ahead of schedule.
The Cubs showed a highlight video of the notable prospects in the system. Javier Baez, Albert Almora, C.J. Edwards, Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant were the focal points. Jed Hoyer said fans are not going to turn away when Javier Baez is at the plate. Hoyer said Albert Almora is a winner and according to Almora, “The Cubs Way means everything.” Theo Epstein thinks Edwards is someone that is going to throw a lot of important innings for the Cubs. Jorge Soler has a chance to scare a lot of pitchers and Bryant was born to hit home runs.
Jed Hoyer was included in the video. Hoyer said obviously it has been a rough two years but there is no question in his mind that the Cubs are about to enter one of the most important eras in Cubs baseball.
After the video Epstein was quick to point out that no one is under the illusion all of the prospects are going to work out. But the plan is in place and is aligned with the business plan. Epstein feels Wrigley will be ready when the team hits its peak on the field.
Development does not stop once the player hits the big leagues and Epstein said, “I have not done as good a job as I could do to help cultivate the environment for player development at the big league level.” That was one of the reasons for Sveum’s dismissal. Epstein believes they have found the right man now.
The Cubs showed a video that was shot on Thursday of Rick Renteria discussing the team. Renteria said he is really excited about the coming season, about the potential of the team and winning.
Both sessions turned to the Q & A section of the program at this point.
Q & A Sessions
David Kaplan led the Q & A in the morning session. Here are notes from the answers provided by Theo Epstein and Crane Kenney.
The Cubs and WGN contract was discussed. Kenney acknowledged the long history with WGN and a wonderful relationship they hope to continue. Kenney explained it is in WGN’s hands right now. The Cubs are looking to extend the contract with WGN through the 2019 season, the same length as their contract with Comcast SportsNet, and they have 30 days to work out a new deal with WGN.
The Cubs are very mindful of having the prospects ready to play at Wrigley, just not physically but mentally before they make their big league debut. Epstein explained the Rookie Development Program that involves prospects coming to Chicago in January as being a part of the process of having the players ready to come up and not only play well but to play to win.
As for an update on the situation with the rooftop owners, Kenney explained the Cubs are fortunate they play in a neighborhood with wonderful neighbors but others are more concerned with protecting their views. The hold-up has been legislative.
Starlin Castro will be better focused this year according to Epstein. Castro could use a player development plan to help him. Epstein spoke highly of Castro and said he is extremely talented.
Theo Epstein admitted Edwin Jackson was not a good signing last winter. The Cubs targeted Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson in free agency last year. One ended up as a Cy Young candidate and the other did not have a good year. Epstein said to give Jackson another year, he thinks he will be better plus there are stats that point to Jackson having a better second season with the Cubs. Epstein admitted they probably got a little ahead of themselves with his signing but they needed pitching. Epstein said, “We missed on Edwin.”
Len Kasper led the Q & A in the night session. Here are those notes.
Revenue is connected to winning and it takes resources to win. Crane Kenney pointed out that the Ricketts family made it clear when they bought the team all of the resources generated by the team will stay with the team. The Cubs plan on weaving their brand sponsors into the fabric of Wrigley the same way they did with Budweiser, Target and Under Armour. Kenney added, “I need to create more revenue and Theo needs to create more players.”
When asked about Starlin Castro’s struggles and if his problems this past season were Dale Sveum’s fault, Epstein said it is totally unfair to blame Castro’s season on any one person. It was not Dale’s fault and Epstein thinks Sveum will be a huge asset for the Royals. Starlin Castro called Epstein recently and asked for the strength and conditioning coach to come down to the Dominican for six weeks. Epstein has already sent him down. The Cubs have a plan in place with Castro for the off-season and they feel Castro will be a happy and productive player next season.
Theo was asked which team had the number one minor league system. Epstein said the Cardinals have a long, head start and Pittsburgh is very good as well. Regarding Pittsburgh, Epstein was quick to point out, “Don’t get worried. This will not take 20 years, at least I will not be around if it takes that long.”
The Cubs have gotten through a majority of the approvals to start restoring Wrigley, about 80 percent. More should pass in December. Kenney said, “The stuff you will enjoy will happen after next season.”