ESPN Chicago.com's columnist Jon Greenberg has been all over Tom Ricketts and the Wrigley renovation plan.
I was able to check in with Jon on his thoughts regarding Ricketts, Theo and Jed's progress, and of course Starlin Castro.
TL: What does Tom Ricketts regret the most since he purchased the Cubs?
JG: Probably not having more of a concrete plan to rebuild the stadium from Day 1. Revenue, revenue, revenue. Given the onerous loans that were necessary to buy the team, I don’t blame him.
I thought he should have brought in a baseball guy (right away), but he ended up with Theo Epstein, so I think that’s worth two years of limbo with Jim Hendry’s regime.
But he really should’ve brought in a business of baseball guy. The stadium stuff should’ve been handled better from the get-go. In some respects, he obviously got bad advice, but the timing was bad with the mayoral transition. He still nearly got public money from Rahm, before the Super-PAC debacle, though I think public sentiment would’ve squashed that deal anyway
His plan now isn’t bad, and I’m anti-public money for private stadiums, and I think it would’ve been championed even more if he presented it in 2010. Personally I’m just tired of the Cubs’ whining, even when they’re right. I call their attitude “Cubbie Exceptional-ism.”
TL: How much have Theo and Jed Hoyer been able to accomplish so far? Just how limited have they been?
JG: A decent amount and a decent amount. I’m not criticizing these guys for anything yet. It’s a weird situation, really unlike any other big market team in recent history.
Given the financial restraints levied upon the big league club and with that, a complete lack of expectations from Ricketts, it’s tough to judge these guys from their minor league deals. It seems like they've spent wisely in the draft and international market except for Gerardo Concepcion, what was that about? But we won’t know for another year or so if it’s for real.
Really, Cubs fans can high-five each other about every minor leaguer and draft pick and low-level Luis Valbuena signing, but until it’s time to compete at the major league level, this is all prologue.
One thing they need to improve on is acquiring/developing relief pitching. They've been great at getting starters, but this bullpen performance is shameful.
TL: What are the expectations for 2014?
JG: At this point, I don’t know what to expect. There isn't much ballyhooed minor league talent that’s Major League ready, is there? I guess we’ll know more by the end of this season, and next spring. In that regard, the Cubs are kind of in limbo, they can’t sign guys that will block the top prospects’ ascent, but they can’t rely on them either.
Are they going to add free agents, or veterans through trades, to compete next year? It’s really too early to even guess at their plans.
TL: What are the FO expectations?
JG: I know the front office wants to see this "Cubs Way" start to work, and by that I mean better plate discipline (not walks, but wearing out pitchers, knowing situations) and defense.
If they want to stop hemorrhaging fans (they’re down almost 200,000 fans compared to last year through 36 games) they better start caring more about the big league product. The tourists will come, but local fans are really turned off.
TL: Is Starlin Castro really the only thing that sports radio and print can cover that moves the needle?
JG: Pretty much. And that doesn’t move the needle much either. His play is a bit of a concern. Has he improved at all defensively? I’m not one of those guys saying trade him, but he’s not untradeable, if you think you can get a star for him. Castro’s obviously very, very talented, but given the dearth of talent around him, there are more expectations.
TL: Is this the year your team (Pirates) finish above .500?
JG: I think so, finally. These last couple years have been like the final test of our fandom. It’s like wandering in the desert and seeing a mirage that drives you to the point of insanity, before you finally find that oasis. I’d be like a little kid if they get the second wild card. I was 13, a month from 14, the last time they made the playoffs.
TL: Is the NL Central going to become the next AL East?
JG: The Central could easily be the toughest division in the NL for years to come. Not exactly traditional big markets outside of Chicago and St. Louis, but Pittsburgh is only team not drawing at least 30,000 a game. There’s money out there. It’s a pretty exciting time for this division. Is that good for Chicago?
Maybe, because it’ll make Ricketts spend some of that farmer’s market cash that’ll be pouring in.
Follow Jon @espnchijon
Filed under: Interviews