COMMENTARY | If you've read an article or a column about the Chicago Cubs and their current state, or, more accurately, if you've read the subsequent comments section of a Cubs-themed piece, you are aware of a division among fans regarding the team's direction.
Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Co. are either geniuses or lucky fools who are still coasting along on the momentum of the Boston Red Sox's two titles. The Ricketts family, Tom in particular, is either bent on squeezing all the money and fun out of the Wrigley experience, or they are trying to construct both a team and a ballpark that can succeed in today's market.
With that in mind, here are some hot-button topics with admittedly subjective responses:
Wait 'til 2015: FACT
While "Wait 'Til Next Year" has been both a tongue-in-cheek refrain and a mocking barb for longer than most fans care to remember, the current regime never promised a quick fix. If your house has been decimated by termites, a contractor won't promise to have it like new in a week. It might have to be gutted, even razed down to the foundation, before being put back together. And so it was with the structurally unsound organization Sam Zell jettisoned in the Tribune Company sale. It takes time to put a baseball team back together from the ground up, and that's exactly what all Epstein's horses and all Hoyer's men are doing.
The Cubs will chase a big-time free agent this offseason: FICTION
Look no further than the response above. Given the team's overall dearth of talent at the major-league level, one player will not put the Cubs over the top. Increased attention to pitch counts and reliance on middle relief has conspired to decrease the value of starting pitching while raising the price of elite pitchers. The risk/reward factor of breaking the bank on a starter is simply too high, particular for a team that doesn't expect to contend for at least another year. And given the wealth of talented position players scattered through the farm system, the Cubs will be content to let those players develop until they make the team or are flipped for a missing piece.
The farm system is for real: FACT
The list of heralded Cubs prospects is long. And the annals of North Side baseball are littered with 5-tool players who drank their cup of coffee and never got a refill. Any fan worth his salt can list off enough next big things to fill out a lineup card. So what's different this time around? In the past, the Cubs' stars of the future seemed to come one, maybe two, at a time. So high were the hopes on that one shooting star that when he fell to earth as little more than a tarnished piece of space junk, the disappointment was that much greater. But with several known quantities matriculating through the minors, it appears that the building-from-within approach will soon pay dividends.
Tom Ricketts is only out to make money, even at the expense of the team: FICTION
The reality of the situation is that the Cubs and Wrigley Field are a business, and the goal of a business is to make money. The aim of the new video board and increased signage, combined with the construction of a boutique hotel and retail space is to increase revenue, about that there is no debate.
An exhaustive article could be written on the intricacies of the debt-to-asset ratio the Ricketts accumulated in purchasing the team and the ballpark, but the long and short is that the need to rapidly increase Wrigley's value before big money can start flowing to the payroll. While they could continue to squeeze money out of the Cubs' faithful fans for years without fielding a winner, Ricketts knows that the real money will come with a competitive team. The merchandise sales alone from a Cubs World Series title would make up for the cost of a couple free agents. The Cubs are profitable as losers, but they're a goldmine when they're winning.
Evan Altman spent his formative years on a farm in Northwest Indiana in the days before Wrigley Field was illuminated. As a result, every summer afternoon was spent watching or listening to the Cubs on WGN, a practice that ingrained the team into his DNA. His kids are named after the team and years of frustration have made him a self-loathing, yet still unapologetic, Cubs apologist. And yes, he knows that that is contradictory.
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