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.

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."