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updated: 1/14/2012 2:43 PM

This Cubs party burdened with reality

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  • Theo Epstein speaks to reporters during the 27th annual Cubs baseball convention in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 13, 2012.

      Theo Epstein speaks to reporters during the 27th annual Cubs baseball convention in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 13, 2012.
    Associated Press

  • Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein listens to questions from reporters during a news conference during the 27th annual Chicago Cubs baseball convention in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 13, 2012.

      Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein listens to questions from reporters during a news conference during the 27th annual Chicago Cubs baseball convention in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 13, 2012.

  • A Chicago Fan holds a sign during the 27th Annual Chicago Cubs Convention in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 13, 2012.

      A Chicago Fan holds a sign during the 27th Annual Chicago Cubs Convention in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 13, 2012.

 
 

For more than a century the Cubs have sold hope.

And for more than two decades, the Cubs Convention has come to symbolize the false hope that Cubs fans cling to, buying winter dreams of summer flings -- and Fall Classic rings.

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But for more than two days this weekend, Cubs fans will get a wake-up call.

Cubs fans will hear an inconvenient truth from a group of men unafraid to tell it.

Cubs fans will be forced to come to terms with what Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod have been saying for many months now.

And even though some in the media were too thickheaded to grasp the simple concept, they will nevertheless hear again this weekend about a long-term plan that won't be sacrificed for short-term goals.

"Any time you come in with a different approach, I guess it takes some time for people to understand, but Theo and I were very clear from the start about what we planned to do," Hoyer said with a shake of his head. "Free agency can't be how you build your team.

"You go into free agency to supplement your roster when you're ready to win, but it can't be how you build your team because it's not sustainable.

"The goal here is build something sustainable, where we have a chance to win every year. You don't do that buying big-ticket items at the start of the process. That's not sustainable. That's not what we came here to do and we couldn't have been any clearer about it."

McLeod has the most important job of all right now as director of scouting and minor leagues, and he looked somewhat amused that in a supposedly sophisticated media town like Chicago, there were some shocked to discover just recently that the Cubs were rebuilding.

"Theo set the tone and he set it quickly, and I thought clearly," McLeod said. "He laid out the plan for everyone to see. He didn't try to sell anyone a bill of goods, but he said flat out that there wouldn't be any of those type of free-agent signings.

"I guess it's the first experience for some people with this so maybe it's hard to understand, but really, we're not reinventing the wheel."

McLeod did say, however, that as they rebuild from the ground up, Epstein and Co. have their own manner of doing things.

"We have a certain way of gathering information about players and evaluating players," McLeod said, choosing not to elaborate. "I don't think it's that much different than most teams today and at the end of the day you still have to get eyes on players, you have to evaluate players and you have to select the right players.

"You can have all the information in the world but you still have to get scouts into the parks and you still have to identify players."

Only minutes after saying he doesn't do things for public relations purposes, and after saying he would not sign players because the fans wanted him to, Epstein threw the fans a bone and signed Kerry Wood for another year at team-friendly terms just as the opening intros were concluding at the downtown Hilton.

Perhaps it was owner Tom Ricketts who convinced Epstein that a little gift for the fans can go a long way, especially knowing how far away the team is from achieving the long-term, sustainable success of which they speak.

And knowing tickets must still be sold.

"We're trying to change the direction and it's not easy," Epstein said. "It's like turning around an ocean liner at sea. It happens little by little, and slowly but surely you start to actually see the change.

"But if you're doing it right, there's not a lot you can do to speed up the process."

And that process is going to take some time.

"It may be less than you think," Hoyer said. "We didn't expect anything in San Diego two years ago and we were sitting there with the best record in baseball in August."

But if Epstein has an idea of how long it's going to take, he isn't about to share it with the class.

"I think when you commit to a timetable, you set yourself up for failure," Epstein said. "I have a fundamental goal and I know more about where I want us to be than when I want us to get there."

Cubs fans are starting to get the hang of it and even those slow to understand seem to be catching on.

But what Epstein must remember as he tries to convey his message is that Cubs fans are all too familiar with the ocean liner making that long turn.

They also know from their experience that it usually tips over.


brozner@dailyherald.com


• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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