Optimistic Epstein ready to face Cubs fans
We're not quoting directly, but Cubs president Theo Epstein seemed to have three words for fans asking tough questions at this weekend's convention: bring it on.
"I welcome all questions," Epstein said Friday before what turned out to be a subdued opening ceremony. "I really believe in what we're doing. We just wrapped up a phenomenal weeklong rookie development program with several players who are going to have a significant impact on the future of this franchise. Morale is great among that group, and we're incredibly optimistic about the future."
This is Year 3 of the Epstein regime at Wrigley Field. The Cubs have lost 197 games in the first two years as Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have undertaken a massive rebuilding project. Those two will meet with fans during a Saturday morning session as will chairman Tom Ricketts and his family.
Although most fans appear to be on board with the rebuild, patience is fraying around the edges.
"Obviously, the results haven't manifested yet at the big-league level, and that's what the fans pay to see," Epstein said. "So we should answer for that. We have to be honest where we are as an organization, where we are as a major-league team and where we're headed. I couldn't believe more in where we're going and hope to share some of that vision today, all being accountable for the product they see on the field."
Epstein said he has heard positive feedback from fans. And give him credit for sticking to his story.
"There aren't shortcuts," he said. "I know some of you are sick and tired of hearing that, but it's the reality. We're not going to deviate from the plan. We feel great about where we're headed. Compared to where we were a year ago, certainly two years ago, I'm very bullish on our future."
The Samardzija situation:
A year ago, people seemed surprised that pitcher Matt Garza was still with the Cubs at convention time. The Cubs wound up trading Garza to Texas during the 2013 season.
This year, it was pitcher Jeff Samardzija's turn. Samardzija remains a Cub, for now.
"Nothing's changed with me," Samardzija said. "I start working out Dec. 1, same as usual. I took my time off before that. It's just the chatter on the outside. There was always chatter before. Before, it was whether I was going to make the team or not or be a starter or this or that.
"I'm hopeful (of remaining a Cub). I've said that from Day 1. Ever since I signed my first contract with the Cubs, I've wanted to be here. The big reason for not playing football was to come here and play in Chicago. Obviously, it means a lot for me to be here."
Samardzija cannot become a free agent until after the 2015 season.
"I'm a big fan of Jeff," Epstein said. "He's got a great future. Actually, I think his best days are ahead of him. He's under Cubs control for the next two years, and hopefully we get a chance to extend that window. Obviously, there's been public speculation at times, (about) a trade at times. I can't tell you what's going to happen, but I can tell you I'm really happy he's a Cub and look forward to him getting the ball on Opening Day."
Half empty or half full?
The Cubs avoided salary arbitration with four players: Nate Schierholtz ($5 million), Pedro Strop ($1.325 million). James Russell ($1.775 million) and Luis Valbuena ($1.71 million).
They exchanged arbitration figures with four others: second baseman Darwin Barney, Samardzija, pitcher Travis Wood and newly acquired outfielder Justin Ruggiano.
General manager Jed Hoyer expressed optimism they could reach deals before arbitration hearings.
Barney is asking for $2.8 million while the Cubs are offering $1.8 million. Samardzija is seeking $6.2 million, and the Cubs' offer is $4.4 million. Wood is asking $4.25 million while the Cubs are offering $3.5 million. And Ruggiano is seeking $2.45 million while the Cubs' offer is $1.6 million.
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