Cubs ownership could be open to Pujols deal

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Cubs ownership could be open to Pujols deal

Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011
Posted 11:39 a.m. Updated 6:53 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. More than 2,000 miles away, Albert Pujols casts his shadow over this entire camp. It is the baseball story that will not go away until he signs his next contract.

The Cubs hadnt gone through their first full-squad workout yet and wont play a meaningful game for another six weeks but there was chairman Tom Ricketts on Saturday morning at Fitch Park, deflecting questions about the best player of this generation.

All I know is what I read in the paper," Ricketts said before addressing the team. "I guess it just has to sit until the end of the season.

Pujols broke off extension talks this week as soon as he reported to Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Fla. Though his representation has said that theyll revisit negotiations once the season ends, it looks increasingly likely that he will hit free agency.

Ricketts once again voiced confidence in general manager Jim Hendry, but theres a belief that approval for the type of deal Pujols seeks would have to come from the ownership level. The Cubs chairman has also specifically mentioned that he would like the front office to become smarter in how it structures contracts.

Im not sure there are parameters that are officially set, Ricketts said. But well be open-minded to what we think is best for the team when that comes up.

In listening to Ricketts across the 16 months since his family purchased the team from Tribune Co., its clear that he believes in statistical analysis and the player-development system. The philosophy isnt unique to Ricketts, but he believes a contracts length is more troubling than its average annual value.

Anyone in baseball would say the length of the deal is often a bigger problem than the amount of dollars, Ricketts said. You have to be very careful if youre going to sign one of those longer deals. If youre going to take a guy on for seven, eight, nine years, you better make sure thats the guy you want.

The Cardinals reportedly discussed a Pujols deal that would be around 200 million for eight years and include a potential ownership stake in the club.

After this season, the Cubs will be shedding several big contracts worth approximately 40 million. First baseman Carlos Pena is using this as a platform year to launch himself back into the free-agent market. The noise wont be turned down any time soon.

How many major-leaguers are there? Like 300? Aramis Ramirez said. If you ask all of them, everybody wants Pujols on their team. But at the same time you got to respect we got Carlos Pena here.

Pujols could retire tomorrow and still be a certain Hall of Famer. But he will be 32 next season and its fair to wonder how his body will hold up through 2020. One freak injury could be crippling to a franchise.

This is just all just speculation. It will be a guessing game right to the moment Pujols holds up his jersey at a press conference in November or December, announcing what might be the biggest deal in baseball history.

Theres going to be a little more financial flexibility at the end of the season than weve had in years past, Ricketts said. Well have to assess the situation when we get there and see whats available.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Theo Epstein tops Fortune's list of World's 50 Greatest Leaders

Theo Epstein tops Fortune's list of World's 50 Greatest Leaders

The Cubs keep raking in the accolades.

Theo Epstein is the latest to be honored, with Fortune naming the Cubs president of baseball operations No. 1 on the newly-released list of the World's 50 Greatest Leaders.

Epstein — the architect of the Cubs team that ended a 108-year championship drought — beat out such names as Pope Francis, John McCain, LeBron James and Joe Biden.

Fellow Chicagoan and White Sox ambassador Chance the Rapper also made the list at No. 46.

The rationale for Epstein includes:

In his book The Cubs Way, Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Tom Verducci details the five-year rebuilding plan that led to the team’s victory. The Cubs owe their success to a concatenation of different leadership styles, from the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts to the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of club president Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox. In the following passages, Verducci describes how a deeper understanding of important human qualities among his players—the character, discipline, and chemistry that turn skilled athletes into leaders—­enabled Epstein to engineer one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports.

For more on why Epstein and the Cubs topped the list, head to Fortune.com.

Epstein had a classic reaction to the honor with his official statement:

"Um, I can't even get my dog to stop peeing in the house. That is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It's baseball - a pastime involving a lot of chance. If Zobrist's ball is three inches farther off the line, I'm on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. And I'm not even the best leader in our organization; our players are."

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

MESA, Ariz. — Now what? Ryan Dempster believes these Cubs are young enough, hungry enough and talented enough to become the first group to win back-to-back World Series since the three-peat New York Yankees built a dynasty with titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

But Dempster already understands the expectations at Wrigley Field this season, especially after pitching on disappointing Cubs teams that got swept out of the playoffs and working as a special assistant in Theo Epstein's front office.

"Nothing can top it," Dempster said. "You can win 162 games and sweep everybody in the playoffs and it won't be as exciting for people, other than maybe the guys playing it."

That's why Jon Lester isn't putting up the "Mission Accomplished" banner at his locker, even though the Cubs had the parade down Michigan Avenue in mind when they gave him the biggest contract in franchise history at the time. Dempster — who also earned a World Series ring with the 2013 Boston Red Sox — had given Lester a scouting report as the Cubs went all-out in their pursuit of the big-game lefty.

There are still four years left on Lester's $155 million megadeal. It has been less than five months since the Cubs finally won the World Series and unleashed an epic celebration.

"Now the hard part is you don't get complacent," Lester said Wednesday after throwing six innings against an Oakland A's minor-league squad at the Sloan Park complex. "I talk about these young guys — that's where that helps. Even though you've accomplished things personally, you still want these guys to accomplish things.

"That's where that drive still gets you. You don't want to let your teammates down. You still want to be accountable for what you do. And that means showing up and doing your work in between starts and in the offseason."

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Lester believed so much in Epstein's vision, the pipeline of talent about to burst and the lure of Chicago that he signed with a last-place team. The Cubs needed a symbol to show they were serious about winning, a clubhouse tone-setter and an anchor for their rotation.

A new comfort level in Year 2 of that contract helped explain how Lester performed as an All Star, a Cy Young Award finalist and the National League Championship Series co-MVP. But Lester wants to make sure that the Cubs don't get too comfortable — or feel like they're playing with house money.

"You enjoy that, you learn from it," Lester said. "The biggest thing is not getting complacent with yourself and with your teammates. That's what drives me, making sure I'm prepared to pitch.

"I'm called upon every five days, and I have to be there. That's where that goal of 30 starts and 200 innings comes into play. I feel like if I do that, then I've done my job, for my teammates and this organization.

"The championships and the World Series — that's stuff you can't predict. It's stuff you strive to do every single year. So that's all we're going to focus on again. Our team goal again is to win a World Series."