LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Theo Epstein jokes about how the Cubs lead the league in approvals.
While the $500 million Wrigleyville project made it through another City Council meeting on Wednesday, the baseball operations department stayed quiet at the winter meetings. The Cubs will check out of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort on Thursday and leave Florida without making a splash.
Epstein said the Cubs had free-agent offers out to a starting pitcher and a reliever – plus a trade offer for a position player – but those would be value deals more in line with the Scott Feldman and Nate Schierholtz signings last offseason.
When will the Cubs be major players again? Epstein’s front office has a general sense of when Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora should be breaking into the big leagues (though there are no guarantees with prospects).
The threat of a lawsuit from the rooftop lobby has delayed the stadium renovation and the Cubs have a staggered television portfolio. President of business operations Crane Kenney is on the clock.
“You can’t pinpoint it,” Epstein said. “On the business side, it just depends on a lot of different variables. It depends on how quickly we get these obstacles removed with the Wrigley situation, how the TV situation resolves itself. We have a rough idea of when it’s coming. But, no, I can’t pinpoint it for you. I don’t think fans really want to hear about this. But I also don’t think they want to sit here and watch us do nothing.”
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The Cubs are locked into WGN for one more season but can’t start their own cable network until 2020. There’s a lot of industry buzz that Fox wants the Chicago market after making aggressive deals with the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels, fueling their payrolls.
“The most important component of our financial picture is the TV deal,” Epstein said. “If you follow the megadollars in free agency, you can pretty much trace them back to the teams that struck pay dirt with their local TV deals.
“There are ways to perhaps try to activate it sooner and take advantage of it. Or if you know the money’s coming, there are ways to do different things. So our business side’s working on it and we have a lot of faith in them. It’s not ideal. Ideally, the whole TV package would be up now and we could do something or we would have signed a massive deal a couple years ago like some of our competitors. But that’s not the case, so we have to operate with our reality.
“We have to build a really healthy baseball operation – and we’re going to – and it’s going to put us in a position to do a lot of different things and put a team on the field that can win year-in and year-out. We have to continue to build a really healthy business, too. I’m confident we’re doing that.”
Right now, that’s not good business for Scott Boras. The Cubs won’t be giving Shin-Soo Choo a megadeal this winter. But eventually they should start acting like a big-market team again.