The Cubs Convention is basically a three-day commercial to sell tickets for the upcoming season. Yet something’s conspicuously missing from this year’s lovefest.
My best guess is the lack of the new top-of-the-line starting pitcher Cubs fans were promised has dimmed their enthusiasm a bit. The event was considerably quieter than previous versions, especially since Theo Epstein’s regime staged its first production in 2012.
What this convention desperately needs is a buzz — not that Bryzzo and mini-Schwarbomb aren’t buzzworthy.
Has anyone seen Jake Arrieta lurking?
“Haven’t talked to him,” Anthony Rizzo said. “I thought they were going to maybe surprise the fans here, so I’ve been looking out for him.”
With all the incoming revenue from the Wrigley Field renovations, why can’t the Cubs spend whatever’s needed to bring back Arrieta or sign one of the other top starters?
“Obviously Theo has the resources to do what he has to do to win on the field,” Chairman Tom Ricketts told reporters after the owners’ Q-and-A session with fans.
“We’ll see what happens this year. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the free-agent market. … Everybody’s got constrained resources, and they have to be put together in the right way, and we have to think about 2018 and beyond 2018.
“I just trust those guys (Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer) to do what’s right with the dollars.”
Ricketts said avoiding the luxury tax was one reason for the current market, which has gone from slow-moving to barely breathing. He also pointed to next year’s free-agent class, which should include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson, as a contributing factor.
“A lot of teams out there would rather have dry powder a year from now,” Ricketts said. “Luxury tax is a component. Also … a lot of times the last few years there’d be a new TV deal somewhere or some other team gets a slug of money from some other pocket.
“There aren’t those kinds of fresh revenues this year. So there are a lot of pieces and parts. But ultimately I think teams are just trying to keep their powder dry.”
I asked Ricketts if that meant he was saving his money for Harper. He just smiled, or gave a reasonable facsimile of a smile. I wasn’t really sure.
The Harper-as-a-Cub rumor has been a recurring theme at CubsCon. Kris Bryant lauded his hometown friend again, and when a kid asked Epstein on Saturday where he could buy a Harper jersey, he was told to ask Bryant.
“He seems to have a few,” Epstein said.
Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, naturally also is Arrieta’s agent. When I asked Boras in November about the Cubs’ ability to re-sign Arrieta, he said the Rickettses have increased the franchise value “by a billion dollars in three or four years” and pointed to their TV contract coming up soon.
“And they have this amazing group of everyday players who are young and gifted,” Boras said. “They have all these choices. (With) the amount of money that’s rolling in, the revenues annually and in the future, the Cubs can do whatever they choose to do in this free-agent market and the next ones.
“And to not have championship pitchers on your team? There aren’t many of them. There are (none) with the championship numbers of Jake Arrieta in this market.”
The Cubs seem baffled by Arrieta’s availability in mid-January.
“I have no idea what’s going on,” Rizzo said. “I don’t how guys are still unsigned.”
“Probably,” he said. “But I don’t even know about that. I’m not smart enough to know about all that.”
Asked by a reporter Saturday if he’d heard the collusion theories this winter, Ricketts replied: “No one has brought that up until you, but there’s nothing to it. I think everyone just has finite resources. And they’re just looking at the playing field for the market, and they’re all making whatever decisions they make for their team.”
So far, it seems Arrieta miscalculated his value in this market. Ben Zobrist said “everyone” on the team hopes Arrieta returns.
“No one has a question about that,” he said. “It’s just what (contract) is going to do it. That’s the big question mark right now on everybody’s mind.”
Zobrist subscribes to the theory that the longer Arrieta remains unsigned, the better the chances the Cubs bring him home, like they did with Dexter Fowler shortly before the 2016 season.
“It seems like the way this offseason has gone in terms of (the lack of) signings, it kind of plays into our organization’s hands a little bit,” Zobrist said. “You want him and some of these other guys you know to get the best deals possible, but if there’s not the ‘best deals’ out there, maybe we can get him back.”
So far, the only thing that could count as a surprise at this year’s convention is the re-emergence of legendary Cubs fan Ronnie “Woo” Wickers, who was ejected from the bleachers last year and appeared to be persona non grata at Wrigley Field.
On Saturday, after Laura Ricketts gave Mr. Woo a chance to ask a question at the end of the owners’ Q-and-A session, he began a chant of “Laura, woo! Ricketts, woo!” It provided an instant flashback to the second Cubs Convention in 1987, when former Cubs President Dallas Green ordered Wickers to stop his signature chant during a Q-and-A with incoming manger Gene Michael, who was dumbfounded.
After the public falling out, Tom Ricketts welcomed Wickers back in the fold.
“Ronnie is an icon,” he said. “Obviously he had some issue last year at some point, but he’s part of the family.”
So Ronnie Woo is part of the family again, while Arrieta remains in limbo.
It’s a strange new world for the Cubs.