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.

How Indians regrouped and reloaded after losing unforgettable Game 7 to Cubs

How Indians regrouped and reloaded after losing unforgettable Game 7 to Cubs

MESA, Ariz. — As Major League Baseball officials responded to an unbelievably timed rain delay, Cleveland president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti huddled in a suite beneath Progressive Field and recognized what he saw in Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer after nine innings in a World Series Game 7.

"(We're) trying to figure out: Hey, what's going to happen here? How long are we going to have to wait? Are we going to have to pick up this game tomorrow?" Antonetti said. "I remember the look on both Jed and Theo's faces — it was the same as mine — just like exhaustion and fatigue and angst."

Soon enough, Epstein would be standing in the visiting dugout, his black suit completely drenched, winging it through a CSN Chicago postgame show interview: "Jed's in charge. I'm going on a bender."

However Cleveland fans processed the 10th inning — at least LeBron James had already delivered the city's first major sports title since 1964 — the Indians regrouped and reloaded as one of the favorites to win the 2017 World Series.

Danny Salazar — who hadn't built himself back up to full strength by the Fall Classic — threw two scoreless innings during Sunday afternoon's 1-1 tie in front of a sellout crowd at Sloan Park in Mesa. The Indians also survived and advanced into early November without frontline starter Carlos Carrasco (broken right pinkie finger) throwing a single playoff pitch or All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley (right shoulder complications) playing beyond May.

But the Indians didn't just sit back in their comfort zone this winter and simply hope for good medical reports and assume their young core players would improve. Sensing an opportunity, Cleveland swooped in around Christmastime and made a three-year, $60 million commitment to Edwin Encarnacion, who put up 42 homers and 127 RBIs last season for the Blue Jays, weakening the team that lost the American League Championship Series.

"It certainly has a positive impact on the momentum that we established and revenue heading into the following season," Antonetti said. "But I still think beyond that, it's been a big leap of faith by our ownership to really step out beyond what may make sense, just looking at where our projections might be.

"It's really a belief in our fan base that they'll continue to support our team and build on the momentum from last year."

Cleveland already paid the price for Andrew Miller — the Yankees wanted Kyle Schwarber or Javier Baez from the Cubs as a starting point last summer — and now control the game-changing reliever for two more pennant races. The Indians also invested $6.5 million in Boone Logan — a reliever the Cubs had monitored closely — when the lefty specialist lingered on the open market until early February.

Between the future Hall of Fame manager (Terry Francona), a Cy Young Award winner (Corey Kluber), the young All-Star shortstop (Francisco Lindor) and the dude from Glenbrook North (Jason Kipnis), Cleveland has way too much talent to be consumed with what could have been in Game 7.

"Hopefully, our guys learned from all of their experiences," Antonetti said. "They went through a lot last year. But I think at the same time, we have an appreciation and realize how hard it is to win, and how hard it was to get to the postseason.

"Continuing that mindset — and remembering what helped us get there — will benefit our guys the most. They'll reflect back and realize we didn't just show up and end up in the postseason and in the World Series. We started that work on Day 1 of the offseason and Day 1 in spring training."

What if… Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s takeaways from epic World Series Game 7

What if… Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s takeaways from epic World Series Game 7

MESA, Ariz. – Imagine the vibe here if the Cubs had lost Game 7, what Miguel Montero might have said to the media and how anxious the fan base would be now.

Instead of the World Series trophy on display, the sellout crowds at Sloan Park could see flashbacks to the biggest collapse in franchise history. Joe Maddon’s press briefings, regularly scheduled stunts and interactions with the players wouldn’t be quite so carefree. A rotation already stressed from back-to-back playoff runs would only have a one-year window with Jake Arrieta and John Lackey positioned to become free agents. 

“I do think about that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s just not a thought I try to keep in my head for very long, because, yeah, it is a scary thought.

“Obviously, we would be super-hungry. But there’s a daunting nature when you go that deep in the playoffs. Going through six weeks of spring training, going through a six-month regular season, going through a month of the postseason and getting back to that point is unbelievably difficult.

“It is daunting, sometimes, when you lose really late in the season, thinking about the length of time it takes you to get back to that. I’m sure that’s what Cleveland’s dealing with right now.”

The Indians crossed off Game 2 on their Cactus League schedule with Sunday afternoon’s 1-1 tie in front of 15,388 in Mesa, the beginning of the long journey they hope will finally end the 69-year drought.

Hoyer remembered looking around Progressive Field during the World Series and noticing the banners, thinking about the lineups built around Kenny Lofton’s speed, the explosive power from Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez and two-way players like Omar Vizquel and Sandy Alomar Jr.

“We were talking about it on the field before Game 7,” Hoyer said. “There’s no doubt we’re built – especially from a position-playing standpoint – to have the same players for a long time. Hopefully, we can have a lot of really great Octobers going forward. But you can never take that for granted. You have no idea what the future holds.

“You know when you’re playing in Game 7 how important it is to win in that moment, because you never know if you’re going to get back there. There are some good teams that have gotten bounced in the playoffs early or never quite got over that hump. There are some great teams that have never accomplished that.”

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In theory, this is just the beginning of a long runway for Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr. But there is an element of luck involved and maybe the matchups won’t be quite as favorable in 2017 or 2019 or 2021. Injuries happen, priorities change, players underperform and the next impact homegrown pitcher in Chicago will be the first for the Theo Epstein administration.  

“You look at those mid-90s Indians teams,” Hoyer said. “Those teams were as loaded as you’re going to get from an offensive standpoint and all that young talent. They got really close in ’95. They got really close in ’97. They were never able to win that World Series.

“Look at that position-playing group – it’s incredible – and they never won a World Series. So being a really good team and having really good regular seasons – and actually winning a World Series – those are very different things. And there’s no guarantee that because you’re a good team you’re going to win the World Series.”    

Epstein fired manager Grady Little after the 2003 Red Sox lost a brutal American League Championship Series Game 7 at Yankee Stadium. That search process led to Terry Francona, the future Hall of Fame manager who led the Red Sox to two championship parades and guided the Indians to the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7. 

Hoyer, the former Boston staffer, spoke briefly with Francona last month at the New York Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner. Hoyer showed up at the New York Hilton to support Bryant, the National League MVP, while Francona collected the AL Manager of the Year award.

“Honestly, there’s some awkwardness there,” Hoyer said. “We won and they lost. And no one wants to hear a lot about it. We chatted about the game for five minutes or so, mostly talking about what a great game it was.

“Forget about the victor, that was just an incredible baseball game. We’ll always be part of history. People will always mention that game among the top five or 10 games of all-time.

“But I don’t think they want that game brought up over and over. Nor would I in the same situation. I don’t love talking about Game 7 when Aaron Boone hit the home run in ’03. It’s not my favorite topic. I think it’s probably that times a hundred when it comes to Game 7 last year for the Indians.”