Cubs lay out their new vision for Wrigley Field

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Cubs lay out their new vision for Wrigley Field

As Cubs executives tried to figure out ways to renovate Wrigley Field, they visited Fenway Park, Lambeau Field and the Rose Bowl. They wanted to get a sense of how those iconic stadiums changed with the times without losing its charms.

Beyond lobbying City Hall and figuring out how to pay for this $300 million project, that will be the trick in restoring Wrigley Field, which will be 100 years old in 2014.

The renderings put up on big screens inside the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers on Saturday became the story at Cubs Convention. The plan would remove 50 million pounds of concrete and steel. In its place could be a completely different experience.

Here are some of the bullet points, drawn from 30 focus groups and almost 23,000 total surveys: rooftop patio; party decks in left and center field; expanded luxury suites; new LED board in left field; Jumbotron-like video screen; club lounge; restaurant where the old administrative offices used to be.

But the driving force will be player facilities that president of business operations Crane Kenney called the worst in Major League Baseball. Beginning to address that will be the first priority if construction begins in October or November and is phased in across five offseasons.

When general manager Jed Hoyer first toured the Cubs clubhouse in the fall of 2011, he thought it was fit for a Double-A ballpark. This vision will include a much bigger clubhouse, batting tunnels, a video room, a new weight room and a physical therapy/rehab center.

This helped the recruiting pitch as team president Theo Epstein walked away from the Boston Red Sox and Hoyer chose to leave the San Diego Padres.

"When we talked through it and decided to come to Chicago, the promise of this project was a huge plus for us," Hoyer said. "We both started with the Red Sox before any kind of renovation to Fenway Park. I can assure you that the facilities were every bit as subpar for the players as they are at Wrigley Field right now.

"There was one batting cage out in center field, which sounds familiar, a tiny clubhouse that was infested with a lot of rats. It was certainly not good enough for a big-market team. Theo and I both saw how it changed the organization."

You cant draw a straight line to the Red Sox winning two World Series titles within the past decade, but a new Wrigley Field could be a game-changer.

Hoyer recalled one of his first days on the job, when he went on a tour with Kenney and Epstein and saw the home clubhouse.

"We looked up at the ceiling and there was a net," Hoyer said. "Were like: 'Oh, whats the net for?' Crane said: 'Oh, that's where the players warm up during the game.' Both of us laughed. We thought it was a joke.

"He goes: 'No, no, guys, Im serious. Before a guy pinch-hits, we actually drop the net. We put a wooden slab over the TV and guys take swings in the clubhouse.'"

As Kenney said: "We were smart. We didn't tell Theo about that when we were hiring him."

But the possibilities clearly intrigued Epstein. In theory, this will generate more and more revenues to pour into the on-field product. Kenney said personal seat licenses are not on the table now.

The Cubs project that their concession capacity could increase by more than 100 percent. Restroom capacity would rise 42 percent. Changes would be made to the electrical, plumbing and telecommunication systems. A new press box would also be created.

These plans have been about three years in the making.

The Cubs have been working with several influencers, including: DAIQ Architects, a force in modernizing Fenway Park; Gunny Harboe, a historic preservation architect who worked on The Rookery and Sullivan Center in the Loop; VOA Associates, which helped design Navy Pier; and Gensler, the firm with a portfolio that includes L.A. Live and Roland Garros, the home of the French Open.

Now chairman Tom Ricketts will have to live up to the promise his family made to Cubs fans.

"The character of the Wrigley that we all love will be retained," Ricketts said. "It will be the same place you always loved, the same place you went with your grandfather. But the amenities for the players, the fans, everybody, will be dramatically improved."

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Kyle Schwarber might have been the most dangerous hitter in a World Series lineup that featured the National League MVP plus four more All-Stars. After spending more than six months recovering from major knee surgery. Against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and a dominant Cleveland Indians bullpen.

“He’s not going to play winter ball,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said with a perfect deadpan delivery. “We felt like he proved he can hit major-league pitching.”

The Cubs spent Monday at the winter meetings inside the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, continuing their search for pitching on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The Cubs are so stacked with hitters that manager Joe Maddon could write out a 2017 Opening Day lineup tomorrow and Theo Epstein’s front office would still have Jorge Soler left over as trade bait.

Schwarber could hit second for the defending World Series champs, and his presence would mean more than any player the Cubs could sign as a free agent. The Cubs expect him to be at full strength by spring training, though it’s unclear how much work, if any, he’ll get as a catcher.

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“That’s the hurdle we haven’t really gone over yet,” Hoyer said. “Can he do it? There’s no question he’s going to want to do it. I think he can do it. I think that we have to have discussions about how heavy a workload we put on him in that regard.

“One of the things we talked about even last year before he got hurt was (how) he’s doing full catching drills, running around the outfield, doing stuff hitting. That’s a lot to put on a guy, sort of like playing two ways in football.”

Schwarber, an all-Ohio linebacker in high school, has a run-through-a-brick-wall mentality and doesn’t like to hear about what he can’t do. He wrecked his left knee in an outfield collision in early April and needed a procedure that reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL.

It took only two warm-up games in the Arizona Fall League before Schwarber made his dramatic return as the designated hitter at Progressive Field, batting .412 (7-for-17) with a .971 OPS during the World Series. 

The Cubs appear to be set with Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero behind the plate, but Schwarber is the type of baseball gym rat who enjoys breaking down video, giving input for scouting reports and being involved in every pitch.  

“We have to talk through all that stuff,” Hoyer said. “We know what his position’s going to be, so we have to figure out what our position’s going to be. I know he’s going to want to catch.

“But he knows he’s coming in as a left fielder next year. And we have to decide how much of the catching drills (he does).”

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The San Francisco Giants had been three outs away from forcing an elimination game that Johnny Cueto would have started at Wrigley Field – and five different relievers couldn’t protect a three-run lead against a Cubs team that made a stunning comeback.

That October crash reverberated throughout the winter meetings as a $10 billion industry gathered outside Washington, D.C. The Giants bought peace of mind for the ninth inning on Monday and finalized a four-year, $62 million deal with Mark Melancon. For the moment, that will be the biggest contract ever for a closer, at least until Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman shatter that record.

The Cubs have been in contact with Jansen’s camp, sources said, monitoring his market to see if there might be a match as the World Series champs try to upgrade the bullpen this week at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

Theo Epstein’s front office doesn’t necessarily have a singular focus – believe the reports linking the Cubs to Kansas City Royals closer Wade Davis – or the appetite to win a Jansen bidding war that will include the Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins and perhaps the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals.

But after telling everyone that they did two offseasons in one last winter – and spending almost $290 million on free agents – this is where the Cubs could make a splash.

“It’s safe to say we’re kicking the tires on any pitching that’s available,” general manager Jed Hoyer said during his briefing with the Chicago media. “We’re not spending a lot of time on bats. We’re spending a lot of times on arms. Anyone that’s available, we’re going to sort of be in on and talking about.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon watched Jansen’s cutter up close and gave this endorsement during the National League Championship Series: “He’s like a 100-pound heavier version of Mariano Rivera.”

Jansen, a homegrown Dodger, converted from catcher and developed into an elite closer, saving 189 games while putting up a 2.20 career ERA and 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Jansen just turned 29 and already showed a willingness to pitch outside the ninth inning and go for more than three outs, something that didn’t come easily for Chapman in an October where former Yankee teammate Andrew Miller became an American League Championship Series MVP for the Cleveland Indians.

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“The postseason was reliever-centric,” Hoyer said. “Bullpens have always been really valuable, but I think the way they were used and talked about – really, not even this postseason, but the last two or three postseasons – people are definitely putting a lot of financial importance on having a good bullpen.”

Kansas City’s blueprint for winning back-to-back pennants and the 2015 World Series featured Davis, who posted a 0.94 ERA during that championship season. But Davis dealt with a strained right forearm this year and will make $10 million in his final season before free agency, at a time when the Royals can begin to see their window to contend closing.

The Cubs haven’t made Chapman a priority – and Epstein’s group has been philosophically opposed to the idea of investing big money in a closer – but they also know they probably don’t get that parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue without that blockbuster deal with the Yankees.

“We see the value of it,” Hoyer said. “Look, we traded a great young prospect in Gleyber Torres to get Chapman, because we felt like that was an area that we were a little bit short. We felt like in order to win the World Series, we had to have that kind of guy at the end of the game. It proved to be right.

“In order to get those really difficult final outs in the postseason, having an elite guy is certainly a huge advantage.”

So if the White Sox become the Chicago team that makes most of the headlines here – and in-house options like Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop disappoint – the Cubs can always reassess at the trade deadline.

“We’ll bolster our bullpen,” Hoyer said. “Whether you do that by adding just a number of good relievers – or whether we do it by adding a guy that’s sort of a known closer – I’m not sure. But we’ll definitely add to our bullpen.”