With Theo Epstein and Co. firmly ensconced in the Cubs offices at Wrigley Field, Tuesday was time for Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts to finally discuss the process that he followed in wooing Epstein away from his hometown Boston Red Sox. Ricketts shed some light on the hiring and what it took to convince him to take on the ultimate sports challenge in trying to win a World Series with the Cubs.
I sat down with the chairman for a one-on-one interview for an "Inside Look" epsiode that will air in a couple weeks on Comcast SportsNet.
Ricketts touched on a multitude of topics, including the future of Crane Kenney, the Cubs' president of business operations who has come under fire from some members of the media as well as the Cubs' rabid fan base who have linked him to the failures of the past regime. However, Ricketts pledged tremendous support for Kenney and even went as far as announcing that he is working on a contract extension for him.
Day one, square one when we bought the team, everyone that was already here started fresh," Ricketts said. "What Ive seen firsthand is execution. The baseball side and the business side are two sides of the same coin. We have to be working together to push the team forward to be the best we can be on the field.
"Im talking with Crane on extending his contract. Were going to have him as part of this organization for a long time, locking down all the business side. Crane has done a great job of executing on the business side. There has been some stuff in the media (about Kenney) and that doesnt apply to me. I dont listen to that. Hes doing his job and hes doing his job well and Cubs fans need to know that.
While the Cubs ownership group understands the need to build through player development, Ricketts expects his major league team to be vastly improved in 2012 despite a rough 2011 season that saw the Cubs finish 71-91 and 25 games behind the division-winning Milwaukee Brewers.
"We don't talk about rebuilding," Ricketts said. "We are coming to win every year. However, we will not look at 2012 at the expense of our long term future."
With large contracts on the books for Carlos Zambrano (one year left at 18.875 million) and Alfonso Soriano (three years left at 18 million per season) many around the baseball world have assumed the Cubs are stuck with both players but Ricketts made it clear that if Epstein decides that he needs to eat both deals and move forward, then he has the authority from ownership to do just that.
"Theo and his team have complete and total authority on all baseball decisions," the chairman said. "You as the owner cannot insert yourself into the process. If you do, then you have no level of accountability in the organization."
Ricketts had been under fire from the media and an increasingly apathetic fan base as the 2011 season spiraled out of control and saw the Cubs far out of the race in early July. It was at that point that he had a meeting with then-GM Jim Hendry and both men decided it would be best for the Cubs and Hendry to part ways.
"We think we gave Jim a fair shot, but when it looked like it wasnt going to be where we needed it to be, we had a great conversation and just decided to part ways, and that got the process started," Ricketts said. "The period between when Jim left and Theo came in was a little awkward because you couldnt really tell people what you were doing. But there was never a moment where I didnt really feel we had it under control."
Ricketts spoke with approximately 20 people within the baseball world and got varying opinions on how to rebuild his baseball organization. But he posed one question to everyone he spoke with and their answers were key in how he proceeded to find Hendrys successor. The question was in a perfect world, who do you think is the right guy for this team?"
We went through all that process and, obviously, Theo came right to the top," he said.
With Epstein and his team now on board, the next big project on Ricketts' plate is the renovation of Wrigley Field and that process will have to be a team effort between the Cubs and the City of Chicago, according to the chairman.
"Where were at right now is we really just have to keep the dialogue going with our elected officials on what we can all work on together, because for the amount of money were talking about to really get Wrigley up to where it should be, its going to have to be a team effort," he said.
"Its going to have to be a contribution from us, a contribution from the different levels of government, a few other pockets if possible, to really package up something that works for everyone."
Ricketts has heard the suggestions of knocking down Wrigley Field from foul pole to foul pole and rebuilding the ancient grandstand from scratch replete with all of the modern amenities. However, he does not favor that model and believes that his intensely loyal fan base does not either.
"I dont think people want a replica of Wrigley Field; they want Wrigley Field," Ricketts said. "And I think that fans, when they get here and get to their seats and look out on the field, theyre where they want to be. This is the best place to watch a game and the energy and the field, the charm are all there."
On the topic of how the new collective bargaining agreement will change how the Cubs do business because of the restrictions on spending in the amateur draft and in international free agency, Ricketts is confident that his new baseball operations team will maximize the value of their draft picks and will spend their available dollars wisely.
"What the league has done is theyve taken that play out of the playbook, where you spend a lot on the amateur players to build up the system which we probably would have done, much like we did in June," he said. "We probably would have kept that going and spent more on amateur players than well be allowed to spend in the current CBA. Its a fact of life; were just going to have to adjust the strategy around the new rules. And ultimately, I think well be fine.
"We have the best fans. They need to see a plan and with Theo, Jed and their team, they have a plan and fans can be confident about the future"
See more of Tom Ricketts on Chicago Baseball Hot Stove, CTL and SportsNet Central.