January 2014

1/22 Wrigley Field and the rooftops

The Cubs are taking steps to install an advertising sign in right field at Wrigley Field this year despite opposition from rooftop owners. According to a story Wednesday, the Cubs will apply for a city permit to install a 650-square foot see-through sign in right field at the 100-year-old ballpark. The Chicago City Council had authorized such a sign last year. The Cubs made the decision to seek the permit after a negotiating session with rooftop owners on Tuesday ended without a resolution, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“We have worked hard to reach a resolution with our rooftop partners which would have helped preserve their views, including reducing the number, size and location of signs,” said Julian Green, vice president, communications and community affairs, in a statement on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, they opted [Tuesday] to reject the proposal and file this lawsuit.

“Since our approvals last year, we have been anxious to get the Wrigley Field renovation started,” Green said. “[Tuesday’s] action will certainly force additional delays to our project.”

The rooftop owners have filed a defamation lawsuit against stadium financing consultant Marc Ganis, who once advised the Cubs’ prior owner, the Tribune Co. In the suit, rooftop owners accused Ganis of making false and defamatory statements, including urging Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to remove the rooftop roadblock and side with the Cubs.

The Cubs were named in the lawsuit as “respondents in discovery.” According to the Sun-Times, Cubs officials felt the suit signaled the rooftop owners’ intention to take further legal action to block two outfield signs proposed for the ballpark. The Cubs’ $500 million renovation plans also included a video scoreboard in left field. The team has not filed a permit for that signage.

The City Council authorized the renovation plan last summer but last weekend at the Cubs Convention, president of business operations Crane Kenney said the team would not begin the project until rooftop owners agreed not to sue to block the signage.

The rooftop owners share 17 percent of their revenues with the Cubs, who are trying to increase their revenues by installing the signs. The Cubs met with the rooftop owners last week, and reportedly explored the option of reducing the team’s share of the rooftop revenues or buying them out.

— Carrie Muskat

1/22 Tanaka to Yankees

The Cubs’ sales pitch to Masahiro Tanaka was not enough. According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Japanese pitcher has reportedly signed with the Yankees, agreeing to a seven-year, $155 million deal that includes an opt out after four years. The Cubs did meet with Tanaka in Los Angeles and tried to sell the 25-year-old pitcher on being a part of their bright future. Instead, Tanaka goes to New York and the Cubs head to Spring Training with Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, Jake Arrieta and several candidates for the fifth spot, including Chris Rusin, Justin Grimm, and Carlos Villanueva.

According to Comcast SportsNet Chicago, the Cubs’ bid to Tanaka was six years, $120 million.

— Carrie Muskat

1/20 Cubs convention wrap up

The Cubs Convention closed on Sunday with an informative session on the Minor League system. Here are some highlights from that:

* Javier Baez will open the 2014 season at Triple-A Iowa and is close to getting to the big leagues. The Cubs already have a young shortstop in Starlin Castro, who turns 24 in March. This spring, Baez may get some playing time at second base, depending on what the Cubs and manager Rick Renteria want to do.

“Our goal for Javy is to have him play shortstop for as long as he possibly can,” said Jason McLeod, director of scouting and player development. “He certainly has some things to clean up with the errors that were made last year.”

The Cubs’ No. 1 Draft pick in 2011, Baez made 44 errors combined last season.

* Some past Cubs’ first-round picks have struggled. Brett Jackson, 25, the No. 1 selection in 2009, and Josh Vitters, 24, the first-round pick in 2007, both battled injuries last season. Jackson batted .210 in 95 games, while Vitters hit .267 in 33 games.

“They did not stay on the field long enough, first and foremost,” McLeod said. “We still have belief in both of them, especially a guy like Josh. He was drafted in 2007, and you’ve heard his name so much, you’d probably think he’s 26 years old or 25 years old. When he was on the field, the performance was pretty good. He was born to hit and he’s always hit. There were other parts of his game that we felt he had to work on.”

Vitters is focusing on left field, and he and Jackson will be in the Cubs’ Spring Training camp.

“They both took this offseason to regroup, get healthy, and they’ll both be in camp here in a couple weeks,” McLeod said.

* McLeod has a little bit of history with Justin Grimm, acquired from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal last July. When McLeod was with the Red Sox, he drafted Grimm out of high school. The Red Sox invited the right-hander to Fenway Park for a visit and he arrived alone. Grimm had a scholarship offer to attend Georgia.

“I think he just wanted a free trip to Boston, to be honest with you,” McLeod said Sunday.

Grimm didn’t sign, and was selected in the fifth round by the Rangers in 2010. He signed. But McLeod saw him before that when Grimm was pitching for Georgia in the SEC Tournament as a freshman. Theo Epstein, who was the Red Sox GM at the time, watched the young pitcher. It was the first time Epstein saw Grimm.

“He comes out firing 97 mile an hour fastballs, and Theo is about 15 rows up behind me and comes down in front of a full section of scouts and tells me, ‘You’re fired,'” McLeod said.

In the end, the Cubs and McLeod did get Grimm as he was part of the package for Garza.

* McLeod said the Cubs are waiting to see which team Masahiro Tanaka picks. Expect a decision this week. Friday is the deadline.

“Obviously, he’s talented and I think any team in baseball would want a 25 year old starting pitcher,” McLeod said. “We’ve scouted him extensively over the years. … The evaluation process is complete. We met with him last week in [Los Angeles] and we’ll find out in the next week. He’s obviously talented.”

* Among the Convention highlights was seeing the fans’ response to Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly and Mark Prior. All received loud ovations whenever they appeared at an event.

* Mark your calendar: Single game Cubs tickets go on sale March 7.

* If you can’t make it to Mesa, Ariz., this spring, you can listen to Cubs broadcasts on Cubs.com with Len Kasper and Mick Gillespie.

— Carrie Muskat

1/18 Cubs Convention notes

* According to Nikkan Sports, five teams made formal offers to Masahiro Tanaka, including the Cubs and White Sox. Also submitting bids were the Yankees, Dodgers and Diamondbacks. All of the bids were believed to be more than $100 million and over six years. Fans at the Cubs Convention asked Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer on Saturday for an update on talks with the Japanese pitcher, and Hoyer said they would not comment on negotiations. The Cubs did have a contingent meet with Tanaka and his representatives in Los Angeles, where they explained the vision of the team.

“There are lots of teams out there who have interest,” Epstein said. “We’ll just have to see how it plays out.”

Next Friday is the deadline for Tanaka to decide.

* The Cubs feel they can complete the Wrigley Field renovation plan in four offseasons, not five. However, the plans are still on hold until the Cubs receive assurances from the owners of the rooftops around the ballpark that they will not sue. The Cubs hope to begin this year. Crane Kenney, president of business operations, said the team had two meetings last week with most of the rooftop owners and the city of Chicago.

“There’s a lot of urgency to get this moving,” Kenney said.

Kenney said he did not regret the way the contract was set up with the rooftop owners, in which they give a percentage of their earnings to the team.

“You have to go back to the landmarking — that’s what I regret,” Kenney said. “This situation was created by the landmarking of the bleachers. We fought it to the end and we lost.”

He said the landmark status meant they could not put any signs in the outfield ever. What changed this summer was that the landmarking was amended. Now, the landmark commission recognizes that the outfield is not a historic feature and the team can add signage.

“That was the big win last summer, among many, and that’s what the rooftops would contest,” Kenney said. “Essentially their contest is, can you un-landmark a building. We think you can, and in fact, the city council did this summer. That’s what we want to make sure doesn’t delay the project.”

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said he expects the video scoreboard to be ready for the 2015 season.

Kenney said to complete the renovation project in four years will require more money but they will do some things more efficiently.

* The Cubs’ deals with WGN Radio and WGN TV both end after this season. Expect an announcement regarding the radio deal prior to Opening Day.

* Epstein said the team made a mistake in promoting Brett Jackson to the big leagues when the Cubs did. Jackson was called up because Dale Sveum wanted to prioritize his swing development, but Epstein said the outfielder may have been better served staying in the Minor Leagues. Epstein said they promoted Josh Vitters at the same time because they wanted to learn more about him as a player. Both will be in Spring Training camp.

* All of the position players who participated in the rookie development camp this past week are expected to be invited to big league Spring Training. Some of the starting pitchers may not be, but that’s because the Cubs want to make sure they get enough innings.

* During the seminar with the rookie development players, a fan asked how they would be different from other highly touted prospects who didn’t have success such as Corey Patterson and Felix Pie. Albert Almora’s response?

“The way we’ve been going, it’s like a family,” Almora said. “Maybe they didn’t have that back then is that family feeling.”

* The Cubs feel they have more flexibility in the bullpen with the addition of another lefty in Wesley Wright. Jose Veras will be the closer, Rick Renteria said.

* The Cubs’ new mascot was questioned by some fans but the team said Clark is here to stay.

— Carrie Muskat

1/18 Theo: Ricketts are in this for long term

Just in time for the Cubs Convention is an article in the Chicago Sun-Times critical of the Cubs ownership, the Ricketts family, and how they have not done enough. Theo Epstein defended the owners on Saturday.

“Here, in my opinion, is the best thing about the Ricketts and their committment to the Cubs,” Epstein said. “They know they’re going to own this club for generations and generations. They’re willing to take the hit now and take some of the heat now … with criticism because they know they’re doing the right thing to lay the foundation to get this right and turn this into a franchise that they can be proud of for generations and generations.

“I am more proud of them for their willingness to take that heat and stick to their plan than I would be if they panicked the first time their name was dragged through the mud publicly and said, ‘We can’t do this, put lipstick on this, and we need to find quick fixes to keep the fans and the media at bay.’ They are in this for the long haul. They’re giving us the ability to lay the foundation.”

— Carrie Muskat

1/17 Autograph seekers


If you come to the Cubs Convention, keep an eye out for players. You never know who you’ll see, like these fans who found Anthony Rizzo in the hotel lobby.

— Carrie Muskat

1/17 Here are the retro uniforms …


The Cubs will be wearing retro uniforms this season as part of the Wrigley Field 100th anniversary celebration. Here are samples.

1/17 Past, present and future Cubs


This is from the opening ceremonies at the Cubs Convention. Alumni are in the front row, with prospects and Rick Renteria and his coaching staff in the second row. The 2014 Cubs are in the back row.

— Carrie Muskat

1/17 The party of the century

Cubs fans obviously are eager to see some of the top prospects. During introductions at the Cubs Convention on Friday, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler received some of the loudest cheers. The 29th convention got underway at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. Players modeled the retro uniforms that will be used this season, and a new television ad was shown celebrating Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday. Several Cubs alum also were introduced, including Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly and Mark Prior. New manager Rick Renteria threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

On Saturday, the Ricketts family and the baseball operations department staff, including Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, will face the fans during seminars. The convention also is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 1984 Cubs.

— Carrie Muskat

1/17 Four Cubs sign; four swap numbers

The Cubs avoided arbitration with outfielder Nate Schierholtz, infielder Luis Valbuena and relievers James Russell and Pedro Strop on Friday, and exchanged salary figures with their other four arbitration eligible players, including Jeff Samardzija.

Schierholtz signed for $5 million, while Valbuena agreed to a $1.71 million contract and Russell signed a $1.775 million deal with the Cubs. Strop signed a $1.325 million contract.

The other four arbitration eligible players exchanged salary figures. The Cubs offered Samardzija $4.4 million, and he is seeking $6.2 million. Travis Wood filed for $4.25 million, and the Cubs countered at $3.5 million; Darwin Barney filed for $2.8 million, and the team offered $1.8 million. Justin Ruggiano, who the Cubs acquired in a trade with the Marlins for Brian Bogusevic, was seeking $2.45 million, and the team offered $1.6 million.

The players and the Cubs will continue to negotiate. Arbitration hearings are scheduled for Feb. 1-21 if no settlement is reached before then.

— Carrie Muskat