'Winning mode' won't change Chicago Cubs' plans to stockpile talent
The Chicago Cubs clearly have entered Phase 2 of the Theo Epstein era.
Last year's 97-win season and appearance in the National League championship series signaled that the Cubs had emerged from their painful rebuild and now are expected to contend year in and year out. That was Epstein's mantra all along as president of baseball operations: build from within for "sustained success."
All of the losing in the early Epstein seasons enabled the Cubs to stockpile high draft picks. Those high draft picks won't be there anymore, but Epstein said over the weekend at the Cubs convention that the commitment to young players is still there and still strong.
It's just going to be more challenging and will require good scouting to get those good young players with lower draft picks. With Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber now in the big leagues, the Cubs' ranking among farm systems may drop down a few notches from at or near No. 1.
"I think we're pretty good still," Epstein said during the convention's baseball-managment session. "I'd say we're probably going to end up in that fifth-through-seventh range.
"When you consider the prospects that we've graduated, most of our farm system is playing third base for the Cubs, shortstop for the Cubs, right field for the Cubs, left field for the Cubs.
"I think we're still going to have a very good farm system. The important thing is now that we're transitioning into this winning mode at the big-league level, I promise you we will not abandon the pursuit of elite young talent. It's fundamental to what we do."
TV deal on the horizon:
The Wrigley Field renovations, coupled with a winning team in 2015, are helping the Cubs increase revenue streams.
The next big step will be a new TV setup, but that won't come until 2020, after the current deals with Comcast on cable and WGN and WLS for over-the-air expire.
It's difficult to say what a new deal will look like and how much money will be involved, but the Cubs say they remain committed to building a Cubs channel.
"I can't predict what's going to happen in the next 3-4 years," said Crane Kenney, the Cubs' president of business operations. "One thing we can control is launching our own network. We're focused 100 percent on that. As we have conversations, which are ongoing with all sorts of partners, if somebody offers us something dramatically better, we'll of course look at it.
"But at the moment, what we control is the idea of launching our own network in 2019 … We love the trajectory of sports rights. If you look at any of the recent deals that were done, they're still going up. We watch with a very wary eye what's going on in the cable universe.
"You'd have to be a fool not to pay attention."
He's seen it before:
The Cubs convention can be an intimidating experience for even the most seasoned of players or managers, with thousands of fans packed into a hotel.
Recently acquired pitcher John Lackey didn't seem fazed, though.
"I played for the Red Sox," he said. "They take their baseball pretty seriously there, too."