Cubs Convention Day 2 - January 18, 2020
This weekend, I am attending the Cubs convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. Day two was a full day of convention fun on a bitterly cold January morning .
On this day, I mainly went to all the sessions. I circled around booths to stretch my legs, and the wife and I also got our picture with the 2016 World Series Trophy. But in general, we just stayed in the main ballroom for all the sessions. I woke up late and we were half an hour late for session one, arriving at 9:30. We left after the last main session at 4:30, and skipped out on bingo because I was sick of drunk pushy older people. We didn't spend any time in autograph lines or fighting to get into prestige areas.
Baseball Operations Update: Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer
I caught the second half of this because I was late. There were not any earth shattering revelations, just more detailed explanation of the state of the Cubs. If you are rushing to judgement on why this offseason has been slow transaction wise, I'd encourage you to view it (when video is released). Theo and Jed outlined how they are trying to balance 3 main aspects in this current season:
• Staying out of Luxury Tax implications, particularly with multiple year penalties looming
• Making sure the team does not fall off a cliff after the 2021 season when everybody hits free agency
• Making sure the team is competitive in 2020
Unfortunately, very few moves take care of all 3 of the above, as Theo likened it to "threading a needle." He did say that usually when the convention hits, they are done making major moves, but that was not the case this year. They are still looking to do a few things, and that will continue on. I'm assuming he's talking about the Kris Bryant grievance to be completed, then whatever dominoes need to fall will fall.
They also spoke of their plan for the bullpen, and I was please to see that it fell in line with a lot of the analysis I've done in the past. They talked about how prime time relievers are typically paid more for their past performance and in the inherit volatility, those contacts rarely pay off. So rather than expensively pay for big name RPs, that they have a different strategy that is and I quote directly "trying to catch lightning in a bottle."
David Ross and the Coaching Staff: David Ross and Friends
David Ross and the entirety of his coaching staff were introduced, went over a basic plan, and took questions. It was all pretty standard stuff. There was a lot of talk about culture, and comparisons of how Ross would do things compared to Maddon. There were not a lot of specifics that were shared, because spring training hasn't begun yet. Ross shared that he's basically open to anybody being the leadoff man at this point, and a similar open ended process for determining bullpen roles. He spoke a lot about respect, full effort and accountability. It was very consistent with what both front office members and players were saying. Ross seems authentic, and it seems like everybody is on the same page. I don't have specifics about Ross that makes me excited for 2020 and his new regime, but he seems like an even keeled guy who will be knowledgeable, and I think he's a good fit. Fan reception of him has always been very high.
Baseball Players: Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Victor Caratini, Kyle Ryan, and WIllson Contreras
These guys got up on stage and answered questions for about an hour. Pretty standard stuff. Some funny moments, and some insightful. Kyle Hendricks clearly has a strong head on his shoulders, and Willy has a great sense of humor. Highlights:
• Willson Contreras has moved most of his family to the US from Venezuela. He's still trying to get his older brother here, but for now, his parents and other siblings are safe from the unrest that plagues that nation.
• None of the 5 players support electronic strike zones, but are anticipating the change to happen. However, Contreras and Hendricks strongly disliked the electronic strike zone.
Business Operations Update: Led by Crane Kenney and other business ops executives.
This was an hour and a half session. I stayed for the first half hour, left to get lunch, then came back for the last half hour. It was mainly about Marquee sports network. This is another session I wish all the boo birds from opening ceremony were here to see. Kenney, at one point, paused for boos about Marquee missing from Comcast, and there was not a single one. I am confident that Friday's complainers are a very small and loud minority. Kenney outlined the network, and how it will be a 24/7 Cubs channel with content. They are very optimistic about it, because the Cubs YouTube channel is #1 in the majors.
He did outline a few issues, and where they are at with getting Marquee onto most cable providers. At this point, it's still a work in progress. I'm expecting hiccups for year one, but suspect that almost all complaints will be silenced within a couple years at absolute maximum. A couple of highlights:
• The Cubs are tired of their games being split across multiple channels leading to inconsistency. Kenney outlined that Cubs games were literally on a dozen channels in 2019. They want a consistent, simpler approach for fans.
• With new marquee network resources, ALL spring training games will be on TV in 2020, instead of the meager handful that we'd always get in the past.
• The Marquee network is the last big project of the Ricketts transforming the Cubs out of the stone age. Along with revamping competitiveness and rehabbing Wrigley, they want to transform the Cubs TV into a cutting age force on TV. Considering how successful they've been in accomplishing their other goals, I expect them to be putting full resources into the TV game.
Yes, there will be hiccups. Kenney outlined the disagreement with Comcast as clearly as he can (because obviously he can't share all details of negotiations in an open forum). Comcast has been carrying Cubs content for 15 years. They would miss out on the Cubs if they allow this to proceed. The Cubs have offered a standard deal that over 25 other cable networks have accepted. Translation: Comcast is playing hardball. I suspect Comcast will blink and add them once they realize what they are missing out on.
Kids Press Conference Session: Anthony Rizzo as Host, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Javy Baez and Clark.
Basically an hour and a half of Cubs players answering funny questions from kids. It was alright, in my opinion. A 5 minute video sums it up nicely, but honestly an hour and a half of it is a bit too much. There are too many kids set up for staged questions by parents. There were some funny ones, but IMO it's not the must see session that everyone makes it out to be.
It probably didn't help that I had a loudmouth older woman sitting behind me who'd loudly gush over Javy Baez every single time. Then she'd be so loud she wouldn't hear what Javy said, and then ask people around her to repeat it.
Welcome Back: Miguel Montero, Jason Hammel, Reed Johnson, Geovanny Soto, Darwin Barney, and Travis Wood.
I had to walk around to stretch my legs and missed 2/3rds of this session. Essentially, it was semi-older players talking about old memories. They had some good stories, and it was nice to see them all back again. For the section I saw, it was mainly Johnson and Soto talking about the 2008 NL central champion Cubs.
Get to know active Cubs: David Bote, Nico Hoerner, and Ian Happ.
The three players told fun stories and personal details, rather than being baseball focused. Another fan question heavy session. Ian Happ really jumped in and made his presence known. He seems like a super cool guy with an under the radar sharp sense of subtle humor which I can greatly appreciate. Bote shared some good stories. Hoerner talked a bit too, and seems like a solid young man. It was a fun cute little session, even if lighter hearted than the other ones.