2016 Cubs Convention: Cy Young Winners

The 2015 season was spectacular for Jake Arrieta, as he captured the NL Cy Young Award after posting a 22-6 record and a sparkling 1.77 ERA. Jim Deshaies hosted this panel with Arrieta and former Cubs right-hander Rick Sutcliffe (NL Cy Young 1984). Each former Cub great relived their award-winning seasons.

Cubs television broadcaster Jim Deshaies (who posted an 84-95 career record with a 4.14 ERA in 12 big league seasons) kicked off the Cy Young panel by informing people that Fergie Jenkins was unable to attend. So it will just be Sutcliffe and Arrieta. Both Sutcliffe and Arrieta get a standing ovation when they’re introduced.

Sutcliffe was in Cleveland before he came to Chicago and said he was pitching well, but no one noticed because the team wasn’t good. Once he came to Chicago, he felt like he had a 5-0 lead before he ever took the mound every game because the Cubs were so good.

Arrieta says there’s no better city to have success in than Chicago. He says it took a lot of failure for him to get to this point a a pitcher, but he worked hard until it all culminated in last season. He says he felt like there was a point last season around midseason where he kind of “blacked out.” He woke up months later a Cy Young winner.

Sutcliffe compared Arrieta’s 2015 season to Bob Gibson’s, after which they lowered the mound to benefit hitters.

Deshaies talks about the inevitability of Arrieta’s no-hitter. He says everyone saw it coming because of how close he’d gotten in the past. Arrieta said he wants the next one to happen at Wrigley Field.

Next up is the question and answer session:

  • Arrieta talks about how much pitching coach Chris Bosio, who also threw a no-hitter has helped him. Arrieta has been picking the brains of guys like Bosio and Sutcliffe to find out how they go about their business. Arrieta says in Baltimore he was trying to make too many changes and getting away from what was comfortable to him. He got back to being himself in Chicago.
  • A fan compliments Arrieta on his beard and asks for some advice on growing a good one. Arrieta says it comes from his dad (as does the back hair). He said his dad is a very hairy man.
  • Sutcliffe says he would have given away his Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards to win a championship here. Arrieta agrees. The goal is to win with 25 other guys and enjoy it with your team. But to be clear, they both loved winning the award.
  • Arrieta’s family knew he won the award before he did. They were bringing champagne out to the patio, and he didn’t know what was going on.
  • Sutcliffe says the only difference after winning the award is it takes longer to sign your name because people want you to put “Cy Young winner” and the year. Deshaies says that’s why he decided not to win one.
  • Sutcliffe says winning the Cy Young changed his life. He’s not sure ESPN ever would have called if that hadn’t happened.
  • Sutcliffe says one of the guys he surprisingly did really well against in his career is George Brett. He has no idea why he was so good against Brett. He jokes he did hit him with a few pitches. Sutcliffe also says Mike Schmidt killed him. Actually, both him and Lee Smith.
  • Sutcliffe says the hardest worker he was ever around was Trevor Hoffman, but Arrieta surpasses that. Sutcliffe has never seen anyone as physically prepared as Arrieta. Sutcliffe says all Arrieta does is work out.
  • Arrieta says he does about three hours of stretching and Pilates before a game starts to get his body as ready as he can get it.
  • Arrieta says the team is really like a family. And winning with that family is the most important thing. He says David Ross is like his granddad. Lester and Lackey are like his older uncles.
  • Arrieta says he thinks he will be a little less stubborn about coming out of games in 2016 so he can save more innings for October. Maddon is good about trying to save innings on his pitchers’ arms.
  • Sutcliffe talks about how the game has changed. There were 39 complete games in the majors last year. Fergie Jenkins had close to 30 in a single year. Sutcliffe wanted to pitch deep into games, but bullpens were not as specialized back then.
  • Arrieta talks about how he gave it to Pirates fans on social media before the Wild Card game, so he had to go deep into that game to back it up.
  • Arrieta says Pittsburgh and St. Louis are his favorite teams to play against because the stakes are higher. They’re always trying to beat those divisional teams. He also says he gets up a little more for St. Louis because Matt Carpenter is one of his closest friends (they played together at TCU). He can’t let Carpenter beat him.
  • Arrrieta says outside expectations are always lower than his personal expectations for himself. He feels like he should dominate every time out. He says he never second guesses himself. He does everything in his power to prepare himself. Inside the lines on game days is the fun part. They real work is the four days in between.
  • Arrieta talks about how good Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke were this year and how he knew it would be tough to beat them in Cy Young voting. Mind you, they already have multiple Cy Young awards between them. Arrieta thought he should get one this year since he didn’t already have one.
  • Both talk about how hard it is to pitch day games after a night game. It’s tough to wind down after night games or get to bed before 3 a.m. With travel, there are times the team doesn’t get home until very late and then has to play again that afternoon.
  • Both talk about the new clubhouse. Sutcliffe says he wonders where the Ricketts family was 30 years ago.
  • Arrieta says he developed his funky throwing motion as a kid. That’s when he started to throw like that and it just stuck. There are no perfect mechanics. People complain about how he throws across his body, but 80 percent of lefties throw that way. Plus, his delivery does help him create some deception and really hide the ball.
  • Arrieta talks about how important diet is to him. He works out a ton (obviously), but a clean diet really is the key. He says he started eating well at an early age. Training and nutrition were always important to him.
  • Arrieta says the mustache onesie after the Dodgers no-hitter was a little tight, but it felt good. He got it in Tennessee when he was there for a short rehab assignment a few years ago. He bought it then thinking he might need it someday. He says that night in LA was the first time he put it on.
  • Sutcliffe says his “I made it to the big leagues” moment was in 1976. He struck out Steve Henderson four times in a game in the minor leagues. The next day Henderson got traded to the Mets in a deal for Tom Seaver. It made reaching the majors seem more realistic.
  • Arrieta says his moment was a slower burn because he had a sense the call was coming. But when he made the drive from Norfolk, Virginia, to Baltimore for his first game, he realized he was facing the Yankees the next day. And the first batter up was Derek Jeter. That was the moment he really felt like he made it.
  • Sutcliffe talks about helping Chicago get to the playoffs for the first time in 39 years in 1984, when the Cubs clinched the NL East. He was pitching in Pittsburgh with a chance to clinch and saw a fan holding a sign that said “39 years of suffering is enough.” Sutcliffe was new to the organization and didn’t know what it meant, so he asked the fan. The fan explained it to him, and Sutcliffe says he didn’t mean it to be cocky, but he said, “After tonight, that’s all going to change. I promise you that.” After the Cubs clinched behind Sutcliffe’s two-hit complete game, they went out on the field and somehow they had piped in what was going on at Wrigley Field on the screen in Pittsburgh. He realized what it meant to Chicago then.

2016 Cubs Convention: Rock Star Rookies

Cubs rookies stood out in a big way in 2015, helping the Cubs reach the postseason. Hear from Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber on what it was like to make such a big impact in their first season in the big leagues. Jim Deshaies will get these key contributors talking.

Kyle Schwarber doesn’t want to put individual number goals on himself. He just wants to contribute, even if that just means moving the guy over to third when he’s supposed to. As a team the playoffs and the division are a goal, and they’ll see what happens from there.

Addison Russell doesn’t feel the pressure. But he believes that with the new additions, they have the capabilities to win it all. Whenever Russell sees his teammates play, he says their natural talents speak for themselves and they don’t let the pressure get to them, which allows him to play more freely as a result. Javier Baez agrees, and feels that getting a ring would be the goal.

Kris Bryant had a big year, including an engagement. He called 2015 the best year of his life. He also said he thought 2013 was the best year of his life, then 2014 happened.

Russell’s play in the hole against the Cardinals during the tail end of the regular season was his, “Welcome to the big leagues moment.” He believes that his excitement was something that he doesn’t generally show, but it was a great personal moment in his baseball career.

Russell said he gave up No. 22 because Heyward has always had a good reason to wear it, honoring an old high school classmate. Russell has always liked the No. 27 and had never been able to wear it. Schwarber wasn’t able to wear No. 12 at Indiana and switched to No. 10. Obviously he wasn’t able to wear that number with the Cubs, as it’s retired for legend Ron Santo. Both Baez and Bryant both liked the No. 23, which was also unavailable due to Ryne Sandberg’s jersey number reitrement. Baez switched to No. 9 because he liked it and Bryant took No. 17 because of his dad, who wore that number in the minors.

Russell joked that he got a lot of spankings as a kid, but he could go on and on talking about how great his parents are. Schwarber said his parents are his role models. The lefty slugger said he would go out to fields to take batting practice with both his parents; his dad would toss pitches and his mom would shag fly balls on her own.

Baez said he went into manager Joe Maddon’s office when he first came up where, “He told me just to go out there and ‘try not to suck.’”

Schwarber was tutored and mentored by both Jon Lester and David Ross. He and Ross would sit together in the dugout for a lot of the season to break down the game, especially fellow catcher Miguel Montero. Russell said Ross and Lester helped him out also, as well as former Cub Edwin Jackson. He felt he could connect with the ex-Cub pitcher. Baez credits Manny Ramirez and former Cub Starlin Castro. He also said Pedro Strop knows a ton about the game and is always somebody he has conversations with. Bryant was helped out by both Anthony Rizzo, former Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler and Ross as well.

Bryant believes the biggest difference between the minors and the majors is just the star factor and that he’s facing guys on a regular basis that he grew up watching on a daily basis.

Schwarber said he didn’t really change as a player when he first became a Cub, but the most important thing to keep in mind is just to remember where he came from.

Russell credits minor league guys like Anthony Giansanti for making the transition easier from Oakland’s system to the Cubs.

Bryant enjoys the idea of playing all over the field. He thinks it brings a new focus. Schwarber was told he almost went in to play third base during the NLCS. He told Maddon he hadn’t played there before but “he’d block it for him.”

2016 Cubs Convention: Meet the New Cubs

The front office has made several key acquisitions this offseason, bolstering the pitching staff and adding to the lineup. Come welcome some of the newest Cubs to Chicago: Rex Brothers, Jason Heyward, John Lackey, Adam Warren and Ben Zobrist. Ron Coomer and Dave Otto will lead the conversation as the guys talk about their lives on and off the field, and what they’re most looking forward to about playing for the Cubs.

Ron Coomer and Dave Otto hosted the afternoon panel, which got underway right away with questions.

John Lackey says the main reason he decided to play in Chicago was to make history and do something special. He loves visiting Chicago as a member of the road team. There’s a little extra energy in the playoffs, things get “amped up.”

Jason Heyward loves coming here as a visitor as well, crediting a lively Wrigley Field and the fan loyalty as part of his reason for signing. He says he’s just trying to get out of the first round of the postseason, something he’s been unable to do in his previous six seasons at baseball’s top level. Baseball is his job and he’s just fortunate to get to do it in front of Cubs fans.

Ben Zobrist, who played with manager Joe Maddon in his time in Tampa,  says he got to know what some of manager’s tendencies are, but he definitely keeps everybody on his toes with his willingness to play guys all over the place. Players even rolled their eyes at some of the moves just because they originally sound so outside of the box in principle, but he loves playing for him.

Zobrist was also asked what advice he would give a 14-year-old team. He suggests continuing to work hard and that youth ballplayers are learning skills that may not even go to the baseball field, but in life. He also reminders the questionnaire to just have fun.

Adam Warren got an opportunity to play with Mark Prior in the minors and had a great experience. He also said if he was given an opportunity to play with Kerry Wood, it would have been fun.

Zobrist joked that Maddon gave him the nickname, “Zorilla,” which is actually, “one of the smelliest animals on the planet.” He hopes Maddon was unaware of that, but he’s not entirely sure if that’s the case.

When asked about the fandom, Heyward said, “We chose you.”

Zobrist called his experience in the World Series an unreal one. But when it comes down to it, it’s still the same game and they need to go out there and win the game. Zobrist claimed a title with the Royals in 2015. Lackey, who won in 2002 with the Angels and 2013 with the Red Sox, agrees with that notion. He believes that there’s a lot of things going on outside of the game including the pregame and postgame requirements, but after first pitch, it’s time to lock in.

Adam Warren referred to entering any season in New York as, “World Series or die,” every year. The former Yankee said it makes him feel like he needs to play great, because you don’t want to be booed by the home crowd.

Rex Brothers, unaware of the quantity of day games on the Cubs schedule, calls playing in the afternoon a different style game. From a reliever standpoint, during a day game, he’s sitting in the sun, it just is a different animal.

“It sounds like I have quite an adjustment to make,” Brothers said. after quickly being informed of the many 1:20 starts at Wrigley Field. “I know me personally, I’ve walked out of Wrigley too many times hearing that, ‘Go Cubs Go.’”

Zobrist relived the last time he was at Wrigley Field as a player (in 2014), and he was in awe of the ballpark. He envisioned himself playing there when he became a free agent.

Brothers says he’s always had a tough time getting out former Cub Chris Denorfia. He claims he’d often have Denorfia in an 0-2 hole, and the right-handed batter would somehow get it back to a full count. Then he’d tip off a few pitches and Brothers decided the next pitch was going to be the last one he’d throw to him and Denorfia, regardless of the outcome. He said Denorfia generally proceeded to crush the ball into the gap.

2016 Cubs Convention: Business Operations Update

The business operations of the Chicago Cubs continues to deliver growth for the long-term success of the organization. At this panel, fans heard directly from Cubs business executives on initiatives underway to grow revenue, enhance the fan experience and support the Wrigleyville community. Fans also received an update on the progress of the 1060 Project.

Crane Kenney leads off with an update on what the organization accomplished in 2015 and says he will look ahead at what’s happening next year and beyond.

He begins by thanking the fans for their support through this process of restoring Wrigley Field. The fans have stuck with the team through good and bad.

The decision to play at Wrigley Field while restoring it was like flying a plane while you’re building it. It was a difficult process. They knew they would be opposed by the alderman, rooftops, etc. They appreciate the way the fans stuck with them.

The Cubs asked for your patience last year and will ask for it again in the coming years. The plaza and office building will be built during the 2016 season. Work on the western gate will go on throughout the season and be completed by end of season.

The greatest thing the Ricketts family has done for the team is to give each department time. Owners are thinking about the organization in the long term. This isn’t a rush job. The philosophy is to make sure things are done right.

Patience needs to be rewarded, and the Cubs feel like they’ve made a bit of a down payment on some of the fans’ patience with the success last season. Kenney celebrates some of the teams’ on-field accomplishments. He also talks a bit about bringing Ryne Sandberg back into the family.

Kenney celebrates the success of the video boards and talks about how the fans have accepted them. He speaks a little about the new partnership with CBS Radio and ABC-TV. This allows them to reach a greater audience in Chicago. Their average rating was the same as TBS got for the NLCS broadcasts.

Paid attendance increased by 300,000 at Wrigley Field. Season ticket holders just renewed at a 98 percent clip. They also broke a spring training attendance record at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. And spring training sales have already doubled so far this year.

Kenney gives a big shout out to Cubs Charities and the work they do in the community.

The 1060 Project has been one of the largest job creators in the state in the past year. Kenney runs through the work they did on the park and shows a video recapping the progress. They’re now budgeting for shorter offseason work schedules to accommodate postseason play. That gets some applause. This will likely make the project more expensive, and it will take a little longer.

This season, the left-field terrace seats are being replaced.

The new clubhouse is progressing and will be ready by opening day. It will be one of the largest in baseball and the most expensive in history. Another video gives a sneak peek on the work. Phase 2 is more about steel structure in the stadium for the fans and the new player facilities. The new player spaces are 30,000 square feet.

Work on both the new plaza and hotel will be ongoing during the 2016 season.

Kenney says they are close to completing their journey from worst to first in terms of player facilities. He then shows pictures of the plan for the new plaza on the west side of the ballpark. This new plaza will be ready for opening day 2017.

The Cubs just announced the acquisition of three new rooftops. They also launched WrigleyRooftops.com for fans looking to book the rooftops.

They are also working on the center field bleachers to finish that part of the project. They’re bringing back the planters boxes from decades ago. There will also be an interactive history display on the bleacher concourse.

The new concert schedule at Wrigley Field includes James Taylor, Billy Joel and Luke Bryan. The concert business is a major contributor to the Cubs bottom line and has helped them grow their payroll. But the priority is still keeping the field ready for play.

The majority of the Friday afternoon games will be 1:20 starts this year. They are forgoing the 3:05 starts in 2015. Joe Maddon wanted more consistency with game time starts.

Kenney then opens the floor to questions. He is joined by Colin Faulkner, Alex Sugarman, Alison Miller and Carl Rice.

Carl Rice talks about how the mild winter weather has helped them with the construction season. Plus the project is not as exposed to the elements this year. A lot of the work is enclosed.

 There will be increased security measures in MLB this year. Kenney says how seriously they take security. There will be metal detectors this season to protect players, fans, etc. The Cubs have asked the city for help protect the stadium by extending their perimeter of control. They wouldn’t own that space, they would just know which cars, etc. are traveling there. The Cubs ask that you plan to give yourself more time to get into the ballpark this year.

 They will be extending the protective netting at the ballpark this year.

 A fan asks why Ernie Banks wasn’t more prominent at this convention. Kenney says they probably should have had a moment of silence.

 Kenney and Faulkner talk a bit about digital ticketing. More fans seem to prefer digital tickets to standard paper tickets.

 Season ticket holders will have a chance to purchase their old seats that have been removed and replaced. The Cubs will reach out to season ticket holders about this.

 A fan asks about the increase in season ticket prices. Ticket prices stayed flat during the lean years. The goal is to put as many resources as possible into the Cubs three primary goals for the organization. They looked at data, talked to fans. It was a tough decision, but the right one.

 The pavers that were removed are all being replaced. They are in place right now (but covered) and will be unveiled on opening day.

 In the long run, the Cubs would like to close off Sheffield as a pedestrian mall like they do at Fenway. It’s not a high priority right now.

2016 Cubs Convention: Joe Maddon and His Coaching Staff

Joe Maddon and his staff engineered the biggest turnaround in the big leagues last season, as the Cubs won 97 games. He made waves off the field too, from themed road trips to bringing zoo animals to Wrigley Field. This panel covers what’s ahead for the 2015 NL Manager of the Year and the rest of the Cubs coaching staff. It was hosted by Len Kasper.

Full disclosure: We missed about the first 20 minutes of this panel while covering another one. Here’s what we were able to catch from the questionn and answer session:

The first question we caught was about Kyle Schwarber and where he will play next year. Mike Borzello, the catching coach, starts by saying he wants Schwarber to be a catcher. Dave Martinez, the outfield coach, wants him in the outfield. Martinez says people don’t realize how athletic Schwarber is. Schwarber wants to steal bases. He’s also been picking Jason Heyward’s brain to try to be a better outfielder.

Maddon called Eric Hinske Schwarber’s dad. Hinske joked that he looks like Schwarber and often gets asked to sign autographs as Schwarber. He takes that as a compliment (Hinske is 38 years old).

The coaches all talk about how special 2015 was. Maddon talks about Javy Baez’s home run in the postseason and how special that was for the young player and for him as a manager. He also talks abotu the fight his team displayed in the postseason. He says he’s good at reading players’ faces to see if they still have some fight in them. His team never gave up.

One fan asks about Baez playing center field in winter ball. Maddon really likes the idea of Baez in center. He’s very athletic and is one of the best on-field defenders Maddon has ever seen. Maddon praises Baez’s baseball acumen. He also likes winter ball for players and likes to see guys playing year-round.

The next question is about the great prospects who came up with Dave Martinez, comparing that class to the current one. Martinez said he just wants to keep all these guys for a long time. He’s surprised at how big these guys are. The talent pool right now is unbelievable. He’s ecstatic to be able to work with these guys on a daily basis. He feels their job is just not to screw these guys up. They players are just that good.

There is a question about the depth in the bullpen and how many swingmen there are. How will this get sorted out? Maddon says you can never have enough relief pitchers. He wants at least four guys who can pitch in high-leverage situations—even-or-ahead-guys, he calls them. He thinks they have seven guys this year who can do that. “When you have interchangeable people like we do, you can keep guys frisky until the end of the season.,” Maddon says. He wants to dole out the work and keep guys fresh. Bosio says they have something that no one else in baseball has. Four bullpen guys who have four to five pitches. Other teams are trying to follow what the Cubs are doing. Maddon talks about how the game can be won or lost in the fifth or sixth inning, so he wants to use the key guys in the key situations.

Maddon talks about wanting starters to go deep in games, which makes for a better bullpen. But he uses Kansas City as an example or the Yankees. Maddon thinks the Cubs bullpen could be comparable to those in terms of shutdown pitchers. He looks at how sharp the starter is and how fresh his bullpen is. But he generally looks at the hitters more than the skillset of the pitchers. He’s playing matchups in leverage moments. It’s about leverage moments and who is the best guy for the job against each hitter.

Bosio talks about how the game as changed and compliments Maddon on how he manages the game and the pitchers. Bosio has an old-school mentality about pitching as a former starter. Now he knows the game is going to tell you the move. That’s what Maddon does so well. Bosio says you’re trying to win every game, but you’re also trying to win every at-bat, every out. That’s something he learned from Maddon.

There’s a question about the hardest decision Maddon had to make. He says it was the time he took Jason Hammel out of a game early against San Francisco. He knew how important that series was and thought he needed to start managing like it was a playoff situation. That decision made sense to him in that big series. He wanted to get that first win in the series. It was difficult, but it was the right thing to do. They ultimately swept the series.

Someone asks a question about Martinez’s managerial aspirations. Martinez says there’s no better man to learn from than Maddon. When he first started coaching in Tampa, he asked Maddon what he wanted him to do because he’s not a yes man. Joe said he wanted Martinez to be himself and tell him what he saw, whether Maddon agreed or not. the manager wants to be challenged. Martinez also says he learns a ton from this coaching staff. Maddon told him early on never to think he knows enough about the game. Just be a good listener. Martinez is happy with where he is. He chose to be here and wants to win here.

The last question is about whether Maddon has any regrets from the season. He says perhaps he should have said more rosaries.

 

 

 

 

2016 Cubs Convention: Baseball Management

After the highly successful 2015 season, the Baseball Operations department has been hard at work gearing up for the 2016 campaign. Len Kasper interviews President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, Executive Vice President/General Manager Jed Hoyer, and Assistant General Managers Randy Bush and Shiraz Rehman about the offseason and what lies ahead in 2016.

Theo Epstein opened up the panel, thanking fans for their loud applause during the Opening Ceremony. He discussed the successful offseason, especially with Jason Heyward, where he felt it didn’t feel like signing a free agent, it felt more like adding to our young core. Adam Warren, the return for Starlin Castro, is a guy that could sneak up on people.

Hoyer was reminded of how hard it wins 97 games. He and Epstein looked at each other that last week as the wins kept racking up, and were in some disbelief.

They were asked at what point they may part with members of the elite bench or prospects for top-level players, and they said that with so much talent on the major league front, they may be more willing to dip into the minor league depth.

The front office is extremely excited about Minor League Player of the Year Willson Contreras, and they see him as an incredibly talented catcher. He projects to be a front-line backstop in the big leagues for a long time.

They were asked about some drastic splits with a few of the young Cubs, and how they can be better balanced. Hoyer think Kyle Schwarber will be able to hit lefties if they allow him enough at-bats, which they plan to do. He believes Kris Bryant’s home/road splits are a little more random. They also just hope Jorge Soler will get used to the cold weather.

Hundley discussed the difference of Wrigley Field versus any other stadium in terms of hitting. He says the weather plays a big role and there is an adjustment period involved, especially with young players.

Rehman was asked about the back-to-back transaction of the Ben Zobrist signing turning into a Starlin Castro-for-Adam Warren deal. He said a lot of work is involved.

“Getting access to starting pitching was something we really wanted to do this winter,” Rehman reiterated.

Epstein also brought up that relationships and trust are important when making multi-level moves. He said it took almost two full months of Zobrist’s trust. They also had talked about the Castro-for-Warren deal with the Yankees at the 2015 trade deadline.

Hoyer anticipates the changes of the international market spending policies. There could be an international draft at some point soon.

Epstein said they have so many hitters coming up, that they all would like a designated hitter, but it’s out of their hands.

With regards to adding talent prior to Spring Training, Hoyer talks every day with teams and agents trying to upgrade the team. But they’re not looking for big changes at this point. There is a lot of versatility, both with the position players and the pitchers. He believes the Cardinals are going to be good year after year, but it’s in the Cubs’ best interest to build the best roster for themselves.

Epstein is planning for projected lineups for the next half decade. He made that point to state they won’t abandon the search for young players and hope to keep a deep farm system.

Epstein said there was plenty of talent ready for him in Boston that they were able to win from the beginning. He realized when he got to Chicago, he needed to build from the ground up. He thanked fans for their patience and he hopes the upcoming seasons will be worth it.

Rehman thinks the players enjoy the idea of potentially coming in and playing positions or doing something they maybe haven’t done in previous seasons. It makes it fun for the front office too because manager Joe Maddon is willing to try something new or outside of the box when a transaction is proposed.

Epstein isn’t a fan of the arbitration. He hasn’t had a player go to arbitration in 15 years. They are the biggest Jake Arrieta fans and they want to see him in a Cubs uniform for the foreseeable future.

The Cubs were aggressive this offseason because of how “dry” the upcoming free-agent class is going to be. They don’t want to rely on free agency every year.

When going into a draft, the front office talks about the person drafted just as much as the player. They are going to have to project how a young player gets challenged in a new situation.

2016 Cubs Convention: Ricketts Family panel

In their sixth year as owners of the Chicago Cubs, the Ricketts family goals to win the World Series, restore Wrigley Field for future generations and be a good neighbor, remain the same. Tom, Todd and Laura Ricketts will be on hand as 670 The Score’s Mully and Hanley discuss with them the strides they have made across each of these goals over the last year, plus answer questions from you, the fans.

The Ricketts Family panel opened up the full slate of Saturday panels at the 2016 Cubs Convention. With Tom, Laura and Todd Ricketts on hand, Tom opened up the discussion with the excitement of the offseason. He described his post-season meeting with baseball president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. The front office duo proposed an ideal offseason for the club, with the understanding that it was unlikely it would all come to fruition. However, as Hoyer stated at last night’s Ryan Dempster panel, the organization was able to land just about everyone on their wish list; the team signed Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey in a trio of free-agent signings while flipping Starlin Castro for pitcher Adam Warren.

On the same note with Heyward, Tom was jokingly bitter at the reminder that the first game of the Ricketts’ ownership began with Heyward launching a homer to right field off of then-Cub Carlos Zambrano in the first inning of Opening Day, 2010.

The panelists were asked their favorite moments of the season, and Tom actually pointed to a moment in 2014, when Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo challenged the entire Reds dugout after Aroldis Chapman had thrown a few pitches high and tight on then-Rizzo teammate Nate Schierholtz. It showed his leadership capabilities and showed that as a team, they were not going to back down from anybody. It’s a trait that he feels carried over into 2015.

Laura’s favorite moment came during the one-game playoff in Pittsburgh, where the whole family was able to attend. Though it was on the road, she applauded the atmosphere, describing how loud the setting was.

“There were a great number of Cubs fans there that night,” Todd added. “I had a transformation of mind, like ‘we’re here, we’re in the fox hole, this is incredible.’”

Todd then described his wife as somebody who wasn’t initially committed to baseball, but something that has grown on her. But bitter from her take on Mets fans after the Cubs NLCS, she loved the Royals winning the World Series. After Matt Harvey refused to come out of the World Series game and the Mets wound up blowing a lead, his wife jumped out of her chair and yelled, “Screw you Matt Harvey, screw you!”

Tom said there won’t be many notable visible changes to Wrigley Field for fans this year, believing the updated clubhouse will be the biggest change to the ballpark. He explained the inferior state of the players’ facilities before they took ownership, and didn’t want to sell a first-class organization with third-class amenities.

The emcees then turned the questions over to fans in attendance.

The Ricketts’ were asked about, “the holdup on the extension” with Theo Epstein, who’s in the final year of a five-year deal.

Tom said they’re on the same page, with a deal that will likely work itself out in due time. He was unwilling to give a timeline, but believes a deal will get done that is beneficial to all parties. Ricketts also applauded his front office, noting that Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod have turned down bigger jobs from other organizations in exchange for seeing out their World Series goals.

The family was asked about what it’s like to work together as a family. Todd said that as a kid, he was told by his mom that there could be squabbles inside the house, but they need to remember that they’re a family. Laura said that they have weekly family business meetings, where everybody is kept up to date. She also said Tom makes a lot of decisions, but they are all in the best interest of the family.

Another fan asked if there would be the ability to walk around the entire stadium in the near future. Tom fielded the question, and noted that one of the big issues is that the bleachers are general admission and there are not many other ballparks in baseball with general admission, making it difficult to regulate seating. And they’re highly desirable seats, people want to sit there.

In regards to Alderman Tom Tunney, the three wanted to remind people that the hope with the exterior Wrigley Field renovations are for people who live around Wrigley to treat Cubs Plaza like a town’s square of sorts.

2016 Cubs Convention: Friday Night with Ryan Dempster

The highlight of the 2015 Cubs Convention is back again in 2016, as former All-Star Ryan Dempster hosts a late night-style talk show with your favorite Cubs executives, players and alumni. Comedy sketches, baseball stories and off-the-wall interview questions highlight this fan favorite. Scheduled to appear are Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Joe Maddon, Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, David Ross, Kyle Schwarber and more.

The 2016 Cubs Convention kicked off Friday night in memorable fashion. Shortly after players and coaches were cheered at the Opening Ceremony, former Cubs favorite Ryan Dempster took to the stage to host the wildly popular Friday Night with Ryan Dempster variety show.

The opening monologue was full of praise of the 2015 season, a campaign that included 97 regular-season wins and a defeat of the rival St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Divisional Series. The mere mention of the NL Central foe brought a chorus of boos from the crowd, which also got excited with every mention of the NLDS win and St. Louis’ current hacking scandal.

It also included praise for some of the newcomers on the team. The size of outfielder Jason Heyward’s eight-year, $184 million deal was something that could not be ignored.

“Jason Heyward won Powerball before it even happened,” Dempster joked.

He also had some fun at the expense of new starter John Lackey, who was a teammate of the host’s in Boston. Aside from jokes about potentially being the father of some current Cubs, the 37-year-old Lackey, had, “made incredible adjustments since they lowered the mound.”

The first guests on the show were President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. They discussed how difficult it was to lay out and then execute “Plan A” in terms of offseason goals, something the duo felt they accomplished by landing Heyward and fellow veteran Ben Zobrist.

“It doesn’t happen often, but we felt this was a year to be aggressive,” Hoyer said.

Epstein mentioned that 2015 was the most fun he’d had in baseball to date, crediting the loyal fans and their excitement for the team.

“Jed took over the team from 2012-2014, I took over last year,” Epstein said with a laugh.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon also made an appearance, and kicked off his time discussing how exciting it was to do some charitable work in Chicago this week. On Wednesday, the three-time Manager of the Year hosted “Thanksmas” dinner at the Chicago Help Initiative, an effort to feed the homeless.

He said he had a busy offseason and didn’t have an opportunity to travel like he might have expected. He also cited the season lasting longer as something that pleasantly cut into some valuable post-season free time.

Aside from the purchase of the Cousin Eddie 2, a 45-foot Winnebago, Maddon said he’s spent a lot of the offseason trying to come up with a team message. The skipper also said that with expectations as high as they are, it’s important to get there on the first day and make sure everybody is on the same page. He believes that this is not something that will be an issue given the personnel.

“We have a unique situation,” Maddon said. “There’s such a strong bond among these guys, … we have a chance to do something really special based on the personalities and talents in the room.”

ESPN ranks Cubs outfield among baseball’s elite

SchwarberHR(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

With a bevy of young superstars and a strong group of valuable backups to spell the starters or play the matchups, the Cubs outfield looks like one of the game’s best on paper. Buster Olney and ESPN agree, as they placed the Cubs second overall in their outfield team unit rankings, revealed Thursday. Here’s some of what they had to say:

The Cubs felt sure enough about Jason Heyward — particularly his defense — to agree to spend $184 million to sign him, and they’re confident left fielder Kyle Schwarber will continue to be a high-impact hitter, with his short swing, power and intense approach.

They’re not quite sure what to make of Jorge Soler, which is why they’ve been reluctant to move him to date for less than what could turn out to be equal value. After playing well in a small sample in 2014, Soler struggled in 2015, especially in chilly conditions and on defense. Chris Coghlan provides depth in the outfield, and starting second baseman Ben Zobrist could always move out there as well.

As of right now, it appears Schwarber, Heyward and Soler will go left to right across the outfield, as well as make some noise in the top half of the batting order. Schwarber debuted as a rookie in 2015 and proved to be a big bat, hitting 16 homers in 232 at-bats. Newcomer Heyward is one of the game’s best defensive outfielders, and though he has made his living in right field for the majority of his six-year MLB career, his athleticism could make for a seamless transition to center. Soler is a bit more of a wild card, but the 23-year-old has never given anyone a reason to think his raw power won’t translate into game action.

Of course, the knock on the group is defense, especially in the corners. But the hard working Schwarber informed the media Wednesday that he has spent a lot of time working on his outfield defense this offseason. And Soler demonstrated that runners should think twice before trying to take an extra base on his arm in right.

Cubs infield ranked best in baseball, according to ESPN

Rizzo_Bryant(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

Anthony Rizzo was top five in NL MVP voting in 2015, and Kris Bryant claimed Rookie of the Year honors. Addison Russell established himself as top-tier defensive player with a promising bat, while newcomer and two-time All-Star Ben Zobrist brings World Series experience and a veteran presence. When you put all of them together in one infield, it’s easy to see why the Cubs are getting so much attention.

Buster Olney and members of the ESPN staff released their top 10 MLB infields on Wednesday, and it should come as no surprise the Cubs were ranked No. 1. With a combination of youth, athleticism, leadership and an overall high level of must-see playmaking abilities, it’s hard to argue that lofty ranking. Here’s some of what they had to say:

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo finished 10th in the National League MVP voting in 2014, and fourth last year. Third baseman Kris Bryant was the NL Rookie of the Year, after reaching base 230 times in his first 151 big league games. Addison Russell and the Cubs thrived after he took over at shortstop and established a more consistent defensive presence at the most important infield position.

And during the winter, the Cubs added the cherry on top of what appears to be the best and most well-rounded infield in the majors, signing Ben Zobrist to play second base.

Rizzo and Bryant ranked in the top 11 in WAR, home runs, RBI and on-base percentage in the National League last year. Between both middle-infield positions, Russell’s 19 defensive runs saved was sixth in the NL. Zobrist is fresh off a World Series win with with the Royals and had another solid 2015 at the plate, posting a .359 on-base percentage to go along with a top 20 walk rate and a top 10 strikeout rate among all MLB hitters who qualified.

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