Cubs fans cut right to it Saturday at the team's annual convention.
The question was this: Even with all of the hope that's being sold for the future, why should fans come out to the ballpark now and spend money on an obviously inferior product?
One such question drew hearty applause during the baseball-management session.
"I would never tell anyone how to spend your money," said team president Theo Epstein, who is entering his third season at the helm of baseball operations -- with the Cubs having lost 197 games in the two years of the rebuilding process. "I would say that choice is yours. I think there's something special about being part of it the entire way. We're being transparent. We're not proud of our results the last couple of seasons. We wish that we were farther down the road with the talent at the major-league level.
"We think we'll see some young players improve, and you can say you were there when the light went on for good, for Anthony Rizzo, for Starlin Castro. And you were there when young players made their major-league debuts as Cubs."
This line of questioning scored a trifecta. It came up during the session featuring the Ricketts family, owners of the team. And it came up during the session on Cubs business management, conducted by Crane Kenney, the team's president of business operations."
"We feel your pain," said board member Laura Ricketts. "Your pain is our pain."
One fan mentioned to the family that he spent $11,000 on season tickets and that "there is just not a lot of talent on the field this year."
Chairman Tom Ricketts told the fan that the ultimate goal is to win the World Series.
"The way to get us there is to build an organization that has consistent success," Ricketts said, adding that Epstein is doing it the right way by building from the bottom up, with the Cubs' highly rated minor league system.
Later in the day, Kenney cited the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s and 2000s as a team that went from poor performance to winning at the major-league level on a consistent basis.
Kenney did take one disingenuous swipe at former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, who doled out big contracts after the 2006 season, leading to division titles in 2007 and 2008. However, Kenney said the Cubs eventually were hampered because of those big contracts without pointing out that he was Hendry's boss and approved the big spending.
When the subject of the team's finances came up, Ricketts said the debt his family took on to purchase the team from the Tribune Co. in 2009 "is not as big a piece of the puzzle as people think."
That's relevant because the Cubs appear to be one of the front-running teams to sign Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who will command more than $100 million over a multiyear deal.
Kenney was asked if the team could take on such a deal. The Cubs have been tight-lipped on the Tanaka talks, respecting his agent's requests for confidentiality.
"We're really fortunate as a team to have the resources we do," Kenney said. "The choices we're making are ones we're making with a lot of input. These are Theo's choices. That's the way we're going to build this thing. We're committed to it. We hear the fans. They would like to see improvement at the major-league level. That improvement is going to come, but it's going to come through the system.
"Resources are available. We are busy. I'm not going to comment on Tanaka or anyone else. That's really Theo's area. We have resources, and when we need them, they'll be there."
Big money could be coming soon with new radio and TV deals. The Cubs' contract with WGN-TV, which has televised games since the late 1940s, is up after this year, and the Cubs could get a monster deal along the lines of other teams, either with WGN or another carrier. Kenney and Ricketts said they value their relationships with both WGN-TV and WGN radio.
A new radio deal could be announced before Opening Day, but Kenney insisted that popular play-by-play man Pat Hughes would remain at the microphone even if the Cubs change radio stations.
"Teams that are spending are teams with big TV contracts," Tom Ricketts said.
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