Will Cubs Convention open with extension for Epstein?
The official run-up to spring training begins this week for the Chicago Cubs.
After a couple of days on the winter caravan, the team will gather in Chicago for its annual fan convention Friday-Sunday.
Excitement should be at an all-time high this weekend after last year's 97-win season and appearance in the National League championship series. Expectations for 2016 will be just as high.
The convention has been known to provide its share of breaking news. Just a couple of years ago, chairman Tom Ricketts announced the massive Wrigley Field renovation plan, which is well underway.
Spring training is approaching. Cubs pitchers and catchers report Feb. 19 with their first workout Feb. 20. Position players report Feb. 23 before a Feb. 24 workout.
With the convention in town, here are a few things I'd like to see this weekend:
More time for Theo:
Don't look now, but we're coming up on the fifth season of the five-year contract given by Ricketts to Cubs baseball president Theo Epstein.
Ricketts would bring the house down Friday night if he announced at the opening ceremonies that he has given Epstein a five-year extension.
Of course, the public and the media view such things differently from how Epstein and Ricketts view them. Neither Epstein nor Ricketts has expressed any urgency to get things done on an extension.
Whether it happens at the convention, spring training or early in the season, an extension for Epstein should be a no-brainer. Ricketts brought him in from Boston to revamp and modernize the baseball-operations department, and Epstein's crew has done that, even as Cubs fans suffered through three straight losing seasons before last year's breakthrough.
The Cubs clearly have entered Phase 2 of the Epstein program, and that phase brings with it the expectation of winning every year.
Last year's winning season means the Cubs no longer will enjoy drafting near the top, so we'll see how they do with picking at the bottom of each round.
Theo and field manager Joe Maddon have plenty of rock-star status with most Cubs fans. It's time to make sure the band stays together.
A role for Ryno:
Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg is listed among the alumni who will attend the convention. It's a good thing that the Cubs and Sandberg are back together after his stint as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.
There's no room on the current Cubs coaching staff, and Sandberg already has done the minor-league managerial thing.
It would be nice if Epstein could find an advisory or special-assistant role for Sandberg (if Ryno wants one) the way he has done for former players such as Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and John Baker, who spent only one season as a Cubs player.
A dash of spice:
With the Cubs having turned the corner toward winning, current players such as Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell should be reason enough for fans to get excited about the convention.
But as convention creator John McDonough used to say years ago, the weekend is a lot like a college reunion. Hall of Famers Sandberg, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins will be there this weekend, and it also would be nice to see more players from the 2007-08 division winners and maybe even a few more from 2003.
Right now, Kerry Wood, Dempster, Lilly and former reliever Scott Eyre are scheduled to attend. It would be great to see others such as Derrek Lee, Mark DeRosa and manager Lou Piniella.
The name of Sammy Sosa (1992-2004) gets brought up every year, but so far it's another year without Sammy. The PED questions that have dogged Sosa seem to have the Cubs keeping him beyond arm's length, and maybe nobody needs that distraction during a feel-good convention.
But at some point Sammy should be part of things again.
A voice for the fans:
WSCR 670-AM is the new radio home of the Cubs. If any of their staffers are hosting the Saturday morning baseball-management session, here's hoping they stay out of the way and let the fans enjoy a full hour of asking questions to Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and others on stage.
We in the media can have our shot daily with Cubs people. The fans get this one chance. Let them be heard.