At a crossroads, Cubs search for some direction

At a crossroads, Cubs search for some direction
September 30, 2011, 1:38 am
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Theo Epstein faced the Boston media and tried to explain the anatomy of a collapse that might pull him back to the Red Sox. Billy Beane told reporters that he plans to stay in Oakland, meaning Moneyball probably wont be playing at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs didnt have a general manager to do a state of the team address on Thursday.

Eventually, there will be a power grab at Clark and Addison. Whoever takes over will be pulled into the crosscurrents of an organization that hasnt won a World Series title in more than a century.

There will be a battle of ideas. Before Game 162 of another lost season, chairman Tom Ricketts was asked about the patience it will take to get this right.

We look at everything from a long-term perspective, Ricketts said Wednesday in San Diego. So well make the right long-term decisions. And like weve always said, its about player development. Its about putting an organization (in place).

If you are a player angling for a huge contract extension like third baseman Aramis Ramirez you will think that the Cubs can never truly commit to a youth movement. The fans and the pressure inside a big market would never allow it.

If you have worked for years in player development, watching all these minor-league teams go to the playoffs, then you want to see what they can do at the highest level. Why not give the kids a chance?

If you have spent your entire professional life of the road scouting, you will believe in the art of projecting, the database of comparable players in your head. But you dont know who your next boss will be, and how much he will be guided by numbers. Several insiders noticed that stats guy Ari Kaplan became a much more visible presence on the field and in the clubhouse once Jim Hendry got fired.

If you are on the business side of the operation, you have to find new revenue streams, even if it means putting a noodle outside the stadium and letting fans stand behind a rope in right field during batting practice.

If you get ridiculed on Twitter for Undercover Boss, well, it was a free advertisement to build the brand and get more tourists to Wrigley Field.

The Cubs still hit the three-million mark, even though there were so many empty green seats, and that means the overall budget for baseball operations is expected to essentially remain the same next season. The question becomes how much money will be funneled toward major-league payroll.

Our attendance numbers speak for themselves, utility man Jeff Baker said. Thats having a pretty bad year (and) they still came out and supported us. So I really dont think you can ever strip it down and start over here.

The market (and) the history and the tradition it would be really hard to do. Im not sure how tolerable the fans would be if you (did that).

The Wrigley Field renovation plans team executives have been lobbying for quietly could be a game-changer for this franchise.

Carlos Pena the alternative to Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols has played in seven different organizations. The relentlessly optimistic first baseman doesnt think the stadium presents more obstacles to winning.

Everyone plays the same (game), Pena said. Sometimes those things can work to our advantage. The other team has to wake up early, too. The other team also has to play in the cold weather. I hate to make excuses like that. Those are too cheap.

Instead of making excuses, you just need to look at this year, take it all in and learn how to put it behind us.

The Cubs only see Carlos Zambrano in the rearview mirror. Zambrano was placed back on the 40-man roster on Thursday (and Justin Berg and Brian Schlitter were designated for assignment), though it would be shocking to see the enigmatic pitcher in a Cubs uniform again.

In a division without any superpowers, you might not have to make too many dramatic moves.

Add two starting pitchers, even if theyll never get a Cy Young vote, because theyll help you weather the perfect storm of injuries that wrecked this season.

Hope a disappointing year andor a new coaching staff motivates Carlos Marmol and helps the closer refocus and regain his confidence.

Push Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney to get better and anchor the middle infield, knowing that improved defense is a quicker fix. Give top prospect Brett Jackson a chance to live up to the hype.

Those are the kind of incremental moves that could begin the turnaround. But this winter the Cubs will be asking much broader, deeper philosophical questions about how they do business. The answers will shape the franchise for years to come.

The Cubs have come to a crossroads and need to find some direction: What needs to change?

You can say a lot of things, pitcher Matt Garza said, but Im going to keep my nose to that grindstone and let them figure it out. Its going to be an exciting, fun offseason, Ill tell you that.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.