Selig, Ricketts believe in the Wrigley rebuilding plan

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Selig, Ricketts believe in the Wrigley rebuilding plan

The Miami Marlins are in full-surrender mode, awaiting final approval of a 12-player trade with the Toronto Blue Jays that will gut their major-league roster. They wont be handing out refunds for those orange No. 7 Jose Reyes jerseys.

The Boston Red Sox became a much leaner operation after they traded away Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett in last summers blockbuster. The Los Angeles Dodgers rediscovered their Hollywood swagger after being locked in the Jamie vs. Frank McCourt divorce drama.

The New York Mets keep trying to regain their financial footing after being trapped in Bernie Madoffs Ponzi scheme. The Cubs had the third-highest average ticket price in the majors last season, according to Team Marketing Report, and failed to draw three million for the first time since 2003.

While Theo Epstein builds The Foundation for Sustained Success, the Cubs are out on all the big free agents and their clubhouse is already concerned about getting off to a good start next April, so they dont become sellers again at the trade deadline.

Commissioner Bud Selig isnt worried about the Cubs not acting like a big-market franchise.

Im a disciple of Branch Rickey, Selig said Thursday in Rosemont. What the Cubs are doing (with) Theo, theyre absolutely on the right track. I cant be critical of that. I think I can use my own instinctive baseball judgment.

I dont think anybody accused the Red Sox of not (trying to compete), and I like the way the Cubs are going. If I was running a franchise, I would follow that pattern to a T.

The best-case scenario is that the Cubs hit the jackpot, building their player-development machine, renovating Wrigley Field and cashing in with a new television deal once the WGN contract expires after the 2014 season.

Tom Ricketts said the renovation plans were not on the agenda at the ownership meetings that ended Thursday at the Hyatt Regency OHare. The Cubs chairman also didnt see the commissioners office having to get involved.

Not really, Ricketts said. Right now, were just working through our plans and then well just start the process. Hopefully, sometime soon well have it all figured out, but thats really all we can do.

During a news conference dominated by talk about the Miami-Toronto mega-trade, Selig said hes available.

Ive talked a lot to Tom, Selig said. I certainly want to be involved and helpful, to help them get done what they want to get done.

The Cubs tried to manage the damage control last May after stories about Ricketts father Joe and his Super PAC went viral. The potential attack ads against President Barack Obama angered Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a delicate time for negotiations.

Ricketts was asked if there could be an opening for talks at City Hall and with the former White House chief of staff now that the election is over.

Like I said, its just one step at a time, working on a plan and see what we can come up with, Ricketts said.

Another construction season at Clark and Addison will likely pass by with only general maintenance getting done. Given that, Ricketts was asked if the Cubs would look at playing at U.S. Cellular Field or Milwaukees Miller Park whenever a renovation solution is reached so that its completed in one shot as opposed to incremental changes from one winter to the next.

Weve said this before: The goal is to play at Wrigley, and thats what were focused on, Ricketts said.

The worst-case scenario is that the growth of young players like Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo is stunted by all the losing, the stadium financing gets stuck in political gridlock and the force of all that TV money is blunted by everyone else getting richer with new broadcast deals. And 100-loss seasons become the new normal.

Looking back on how the Red Sox unloaded roughly 250 million in salary, team president Larry Lucchino pointedly said that theres no five-year plan. Selig expects them to compete in 2013.

For the first 10 years of our ownership, we averaged over 92 wins a season, Lucchino said. Last year we (finished with) over 90 losses, so obviously somethings not working right. Besides the epidemic of key injuries, a whole lot of other things didnt go right, but were determined to get us back where we were.

While it may have been a complex transaction with the Dodgers, Lucchino said it wasnt a difficult call for the Red Sox to clean out their clubhouse and sharply change directions.

The merits of that decision were pretty clear to us, Lucchino said. It was an easier trigger to pull than many that we have to agonize over.

Epstein has no second thoughts about leaving Lucchino and the Red Sox and taking the long-range view with the Cubs. Its still weird looking at this like a small-market club (though not as strange as the people dressed up in animal costumes for a furry convention while baseballs owners checked out of the airport hotel).

Scott Baker hadnt been a Cub for more than a few hours on Tuesday when he was asked about the possibility of being shipped to a contender next summer, like Paul Maholm. Its a valid question, whether Epstein is using this one-year, 5.5 million contract as a way to acquire young players.

We hope our season goes better than that and were not in that position, Epstein said. Were realistic. If were out of it and were trying to build a healthier organization, we are going to flip some players, but we dont necessarily flip them all. If you have somebody whos a good fit on the field and off the field, we can look to extend them.

The fans paying money to get into Wrigley Field will have their say. But right now the commissioner is saying this is in the best interests of the game.

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

SAN DIEGO – West Coast atmosphere, late August, almost no-hitter stuff for a Cubs team riding a wave of momentum. Jake Arrieta might be reentering the zone that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet last year. Get your onesies ready.

It felt that way on Tuesday night at Petco Park, where Arrieta shut down the San Diego Padres, allowing only two hits across eight scoreless innings in a 5-3 victory, making another statement in his Cy Young Award defense.

For all the questions about Arrieta’s fastball control and mechanical tweaks – and times where he’s admitted he’s felt a click off – this is still a top-of-the-rotation guy who leads the league with 16 wins and has a 2.62 ERA.

“He should be” in the Cy Young discussion, manager Joe Maddon said. “The only thing that’s been amiss is a little bit of command issues on occasion. Otherwise, stuff is the same. Numbers are fabulous. It’s hard to replicate what he had done last year, because he just nailed it.

“If he gets hot over these last couple weeks…”

It will be up to Arrieta to complete that thought in a World Series-or-bust season for baseball’s first team to 80 wins this year, one that’s now 35 games over .500.  

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This didn’t feel like a perfect game or create any no-hitter drama. The Padres are already 20 games under .500 and years away from being a serious contender. And Arrieta had to bounce back from last week’s ugly win over the Milwaukee Brewers – when he walked a career-high seven batters – and work around a first-inning walk to San Diego leadoff guy Travis Jankowski.

But the Cubs played spectacular defense behind Arrieta, with catcher Willson Contreras make a lightning-quick throw to pick off Jankowski at third base. The Cubs turned three double plays while a thunderous lineup led by Kris Bryant (33rd home run) and Addison Russell (fifth home run in his last five games) lowered the stress level. After Alex Dickerson’s single leading off the second inning, the Padres didn’t get another hit until Christian Bethancourt’s double with two outs in the eighth.

“I really wanted to let my defense work,” said Arrieta, who finished with six strikeouts against three walks. “When you have Addison and (Javier) Baez in the middle of the infield – two of the best athletes in all of baseball – you want the ball to go to those guys.”

At a time when Clayton Kershaw (back) and Stephen Strasburg (elbow) are on the disabled list, leaving potential playoff opponents like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals in scramble mode, the Cubs can see Arrieta building toward October.

The way Arrieta did with that Aug. 30 no-hitter last year at Dodger Stadium on national TV, walking into the press conference in a moustache-covered onesie, Maddon going with the pajama theme again for the flight home after this weekend’s series in Los Angeles.

But the Cubs ultimately paid the price for all that effort poured into the wild-card chase, which explains why Maddon pulled Arrieta after 99 pitches with a five-run lead (leaving Aroldis Chapman to clean up Felix Pena’s mess in the ninth inning and get the final two outs, giving him eight saves in a Cubs uniform).

“Yeah, I was mad at Joe taking me out,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, he came over to me and he said: ‘Hey, just remember last year and let’s conserve some things for October.’

“That’s our game plan. We want to be as strong and as dominant as we can be, but still in the back of our mind understanding that late September, early October, mid-October is really the most important time for us.

“Could I have finished the game? Yes. Does it play in our favor to maybe conserve that for later? Yeah. Joe’s a really smart guy. He knows what he’s doing. I feel like he makes the right moves in the right situations. And that’s why we’ve been playing as well as we have.”

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

SAN DIEGO – On a team bursting with MVP frontrunners and Cy Young Award candidates – and in a clubhouse with louder, flashier personalities – Addison Russell can emerge as an All-Star shortstop and not become the center of attention.

But here at Petco Park last month, Russell drew scrutiny for his spot in the all-Cub infield, patiently answering questions from reporters about whether or not he deserved to be the National League starter the fans voted for in that popularity contest.

Russell might actually be developing into a superstar now, a Gold Glove-caliber defender with legitimate middle-of-the-order power, someone absolutely essential to what the Cubs are doing now. Russell crushed the San Diego Padres again on Tuesday night, opening up a two-run game with a two-run homer in the fifth inning of a 5-3 victory.

“Just watch me over the course of a year,” Russell said. “My numbers may not be great or whatever, but I contribute to my team every single day. I play my heart out for my team.”

Super-agent Scott Boras, posted up at Petco Park to see clients and watch Jake Arrieta pitch, pointed out that Russell is now only one of five shortstops within the last 40 years to have at least 19 homers during his age-22 season, joining Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Seager.

Russell is the first Cubs shortstop to reach the 80-RBI mark since Ernie Banks did it in 1961. For all the comparisons to Barry Larkin, he didn’t make his big-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds until the age of 22, and didn’t exceed 12 homers in a season until five years later.

Russell has homered five times in his last five games, leads the best team in baseball with 23 multi-RBI games and exemplifies a no-panic approach that should translate in October.

“I’ve said all year, we have guys on our team that get on base and it’s my job to get them over or get them in,” Russell said. “I’ve taken that role to heart. It’s a lot of fun out there. I challenge myself whenever I’m in that situation.”

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Russell’s highlight-reel play during Monday night’s victory inspired manager Joe Maddon to give him a bottle of Justin Isosceles wine with a “6-3” written on it. Imagine the reward if Russell wins a Gold Glove.  

“Defensively, it’s as good as there is being played right now,” Maddon said. “It’s getting to the point where there’s nobody else like that right now.”

Whether or not Russell can stay healthy and remain productive enough to become another Mr. Cub – or come close to matching Larkin’s Hall of Fame numbers – you don’t get the sense he will be a one-time All-Star.

“I’m very happy for him, because I know prior to being selected, that was an issue,” Maddon said. “I’m so proud of him, how he came out and confronted it in his own way, very quietly, but in a distinguished manner. That’s who he is.

“Now he’s showing everybody how good he is. And I also believe that event has pretty much catapulted him to the point he’s at right now (with) the status that he felt by being here. In some ways, there was this negative dialogue going on. He’s turned it into a very positive one. Good for him.”

Golden State of mind: Joe Maddon meets Steve Kerr and sees similarities between Cubs and Warriors

Golden State of mind: Joe Maddon meets Steve Kerr and sees similarities between Cubs and Warriors

SAN DIEGO – Wearing a blue T-shirt, jeans and Vans slip-on sneakers, Steve Kerr looked like a believer in the Joe Maddon dress code. The Golden State Warriors coach walked down the dugout steps and into the visiting clubhouse, meeting with the Cubs manager for almost 30 minutes before Tuesday night’s game at Petco Park, a natural connection between two teams that have embraced the target.

Maddon is open to new experiences, and appreciates these opportunities to speak with innovative coaches from other sports. The Padres had shown Kerr, a San Diego resident, on their video board in the middle of Monday night’s game. Kerr also played in Chicago, winning three championship rings on Michael Jordan’s Bulls, and two more with the San Antonio Spurs, before winning another as Golden State’s rookie coach during the 2014-15 season.

“You got a combination of great players and his touch, along with (Luke) Walton,” Maddon said, referencing the interim coach who took over while Kerr recovered from back surgery last season, helping guide the Warriors to an NBA-record 73 wins and earning a head job with the Los Angeles Lakers. “Walton did a great job in his absence, also, which is really unusual, but that also speaks to the quality of the player, too. What that tells me is they built something pretty dynamic culturally.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of freedom within that group, also, to be themselves and play. It’s kind of a loosely based structure that works somehow. Xs and Os – I’m sure there is a lot of that. But when you have individual talent like that – like we do – you don’t want to get in the way too often either. I don’t want to get in their way at all.”

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Of course, those Warriors are also the cautionary tale for Cubs fans watching a team dominate the regular season, only to see LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers win a Game 7 in the NBA Finals.

But when Kevin Durant ditched the Oklahoma City Thunder and joined the team that beat him in the playoffs, the superstar talked up Golden State’s chemistry, culture and vision, sounding a lot like Jason Heyward after the $184 million outfielder turned down the St. Louis Cardinals and switched sides in their rivalry with the Cubs.

“Believe me, it’s not everywhere,” Maddon said. “You don’t get that everywhere. It doesn’t happen. I’ve been in places where it doesn’t feel that way. Not a lot of fun to go to the yard sometimes. I’m sure it’s not a lot of fun to go to the shootaround in the mornings. But when you develop that, and people actually want to come there – good people want to come to your spot – that’s pretty solid.”