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: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist is focused on a personal three-peat, not worrying about a changing of the guard or any awkward moments with Javier Baez. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly said that Zobrist will be the primary second baseman and another "Javy Being Javy" highlight reel from the World Baseball Classic won't change that thinking right now.

Zobrist sees the big picture better than almost anyone else in the clubhouse after going undrafted out of Eureka High School in downstate Illinois, perfecting the super-utility role Maddon envisioned with the Tampa Bay Rays and helping transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into World Series champions.

While Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year, bursting onto the scene as the National League Championship co-MVP, Zobrist became the World Series MVP with his clutch hitting and still has three seasons left on his $56 million contract.

Maddon didn't spare anyone's feelings during the playoffs, turning $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward into a part-time player, giving a quick hook to major-league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and shunning relievers not named Aroldis Chapman.

"We haven't had an extended conversation about it," Zobrist said. "But at the beginning of spring, we talked about it. I think his words were: ‘I really think rest is the next improvement in player performance.' Learning what rest means, what good rest is for players and what kind of rest certain players need versus others.

"That doesn't necessarily mean just because you're 35. It could mean you're 25 and you still got to take care of yourself and make sure you're getting the proper rest. Because we have such a deep team, he's able to do that at any given point in time and still feel confident about the team we have on the field.

"It's a good problem to have when you have really good players not playing and sitting on the bench. We had that all last year and we had guys accept their role and just buy into the team concept.

"The makeup of this team is the same, basically. We've got a few new guys and they've got the same mindset, so I anticipate more of the same."

Injuries are one variable that prevents Maddon from getting too stressed out about dividing the playing time over 162 games while the NCAA tournament is still going. Zobrist's stiff neck felt good enough to hit leadoff and play right field in Tuesday afternoon's 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants, seeing his first Cactus League action since March 19.

Zobrist plans to play again on Wednesday in Mesa and catch up with more at-bats on the minor-league side of the complex. Assuming Zobrist and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) are ready for Opening Night, Baez will be an NLCS MVP, all-WBC talent waiting for the right matchup or break in the schedule or to sub in as a defensive replacement.

"It's pretty impressive, looking around at the young talent in this clubhouse," Zobrist said. "All throughout spring training, we've seen there's definitely other talent coming, so this team is poised to have a good, long run of success. If everybody stays healthy and we stay together, this is a very good team.

"The biggest thing that I go into the season with this year is we have to be healthy and we have to make sure that we don't relax too much. That's the temptation for teams that just won, to go: OK, well, we're tired, because we had a long season last year and you kind of just assume things are going to go as well as they did.

"You can't assume anything. No matter how good this team is, we have to still go out and execute and perform – and that's going to determine where we are in the standings."

In real time, as the Cubs experienced their lowest moments during last year's regular season, Zobrist correctly pointed out the exhaustion factor while the team played 24 days in a row, losing 15 of their last 21 games before the All-Star break.

What looks like overwhelming depth on paper should help the 2017 Cubs survive and advance into October.

"It's huge," Zobrist said. "It's up and down the lineup on offense. It's all throughout the pitching staff and on the defensive side. It's so deep that you can absorb a little bit of injury here and there.

"With that being said, there are certain guys that you just don't want to lose. So we got to protect everybody. We got to protect our horses – both on the mound and in the lineup – and just make sure that we have our key cogs in there. And if we do, we're as good, if not better, than anybody out there."

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

MESA, Ariz. - Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella - and a combination of right/left, outfield/infield and contractual considerations - appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

The Cubs returned Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to the New York Yankees on Tuesday and assigned injured non-roster players Jemile Weeks and Chris Dominguez to minor-league camp. That left 27 players still technically in the mix, though depth catcher Carlos Corporan isn't really part of that conversation.

The projected eight-man bullpen would look like this: Wade Davis; Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing.

Szczur, who is out of minor-league options, could be a good fourth outfielder on a team that didn't have so much depth and World Series expectations, making him a potential trade chip for pitching. La Stella offers infield insurance and a left-handed bat off the bench.