The Rundown: Recapping CubsCon ’20, Cubs May Be Interested in Ellsbury, Sunday Baseball Notes

If you were looking for the big reveal (read: a Nick Castellanos signing) coming out of Cubs Convention 2020, you were probably a little disappointed. Allow me to summarize the weekend, please:

  • I thought Tom Ricketts was treated a little bit harsher than he should have been. He struggles at times to come across as a genuine individual, but I do think he truly wants the Cubs to compete for a championship every season and fully intends to provide the best MLB experience for the team’s fans. His methods of achieving both may not jibe with our suggestions and desire to spend his money, but after seeing him speak a few times this weekend, I believe that he has 100% faith in his front office and his ballclub. And even though there was no family panel this year, the Cubs owner did make himself available all weekend.

  • With all the announcements regarding Marquee, it’s probably a good time to dispel some of the notions about the transition to the team’s dedicated network. For starters, the Cubs’ executive group wants their programming to be available to everybody in their viewing market. Also, Marquee is not going to be a subscription channel with buyer opt-in choices. If your cable provider carries the network, you will have access, just like with previous broadcasts on WGN and NBC Sports Chicago. To access Cubs content, you paid for those channels indirectly through your cable provider’s basic subscription price. That will not change. “Free” broadcasts were only truly available to cord cutters accessing games on WGN and ABC using a digital antenna.
  • The team currently has 25 carriers after announcing new agreements this weekend, including RCN. They continue to work toward an agreement with Comcast and Crane Kenney is hopeful the two sides will reach an agreement before the season starts. Cubs broadcasts on Comcast accounted for 50% of the carrier’s sports revenues last season through subscribers and advertising, so that’d be awful tough for Comcast to turn their backs on. With increased competition in that space, it is unlikely that the NBC-owned behemoth wants to risk a mass exodus of Cub fan subscribers.
  • Carriers that have agreed to host Marquee believe their subscribers want the content the team will provide and that the retransmission fees the Cubs and Sinclair are asking for are both fair and reasonable. In other words, they are not demanding anything more from Comcast than what they’ve asked of other carriers. In fact, Kenney mentioned that the rate the Cubs are asking is actually more favorable to the carriers than the team.
  • Kenney also mentioned that the team fully intends to put Marquee revenues into the baseball budget. A successful launch in 2020 will go a long way toward subsidizing baseball operations in 2021. I also thought it was great that the president of business operations praised individuals like Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Kerry Wood, broadcaster Harry Caray, and producer/director Arne Harris as significant contributors in building the Cubs’ brand.
  • David Ross is amped to lead this team and he really looks the part. If you think about it, the Cubs are in a unique position with Ross, who was a teammate of most of the players on his squad. He knows their strengths and weaknesses better than anybody, and, more importantly, appears to be in a better position to leverage that in a way that Joe Maddon may not have been. I was also  impressed with his coaching staff, one that has a much more serious tone and determined demeanor than years past.
  • The Cubs are going to modify Wrigley Field by extending protective netting “to the elbows.” I’m probably in the minority here, but I don’t believe foul pole-to-foul pole netting is necessary given Wrigley Field’s unique architecture. Starting this season, attendees that sit between home plate and the areas where the foul line meets the bricks in left and right field (just beyond where the bullpens used to be) will be protected.
  • I got to speak with Ian Happ off the record for about two minutes and he seems incredibly confident in being an everyday player. He and Kyle Schwarber were two of the team’s best players in the second half of last season. I expect Happ to have a big season, as does Theo Epstein.

Cubs News & Notes

Updates On Nine

  1. Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez confidently expressed that any investigation into the Red Sox regarding the illegal use of technology to steal signs will reveal nothing of substance. “I’m excited for the investigation to get over with, just so they can see there was nothing going on here,” Martinez said at the team’s Winter Weekend fan festival.
  2. Retired White Sox pitcher Jack McDowell has accused his former manager Tony LaRussa of using electronic means for sign stealing. “I’m gonna whistle-blow this now because I’m getting tired of this crap. There was that – La Russa is the one who put it in. … It’s just, this stuff is getting old where they target certain guys and let other people off the hook.”
  3. Rockies starter Kyle Freeland had a horrible follow-up to his 2018 season, after which he was in consideration to win the Cy Young award. Freeland had a very unsightly 6.73 ERA last season, and his 5.99 FIP wasn’t much better. He’s altered his delivery and the starter is highly confident that he’ll be an impact pitcher this season.
  4. The Pirates and Mets have again engaged in trade talks that involve Pittsburgh center fielder Starling Marté.
  5. Marcell Ozuna still wants to re-sign with the Cardinals and is still waiting for the team to increase its offer.
  6. Efforts to have Shoeless Joe Jackson included in the Baseball Hall of Fame may intensify after a recent revelation by MLB that acknowledges a deceased player is no longer bound by the constraints of a lifetime banishment from the game.
  7. The Blue Jays have inquired about Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor and were reportedly interested in Didi Gregorius earlier this winter.
  8. Astros’ second baseman José Altuve is confident the team will rebound from the drama surrounding the organization and return to the World Series this year.
  9. Cleveland starter Mike Clevinger thinks the Astros should feel shame for cheating, and was very critical of the punishment imposed by Rob Manfred, which Clevinger said was “too lenient.” The Indians and Astros will meet for the first time on June 29 when Houston travels to Cleveland. Should be an interesting series.


Apropos of Nothing

The practice of trying to identify and decipher another team’s elaborate on-field sign language is almost as old as the game itself. Baseball signs were common enough in the 1860]s that they were occasionally mentioned in newspapers and books. “Haney’s Base Ball Book of Reference for 1867” urges teams to pay attention to “private signals” between players to communicate “without giving notice to your adversaries.”

Extra Innings

Glad to hear that Len and J.D will be back, but I’ll miss Kelly Crull, who I thought did excellent work.

They Said It

  • “As their friend I’ve always told them the truth, I’ve always shot ‘em straight. I said last night, I truly believe this, it’s like being a dad. You love your kids, but when they get out of line you’ve got to kind of set them straight. And we’ll have those tough conversations. On the other side, I expect them to come in when I mess up and kind of hold me accountable. I want them in my office asking me why I did certain things and being able to explain myself.”David Ross
  • “I wish I was up here introducing a marquee free agent to our fans. It’s just not in the cards right now.” – Tom Ricketts
  • “Sometimes you’re only one phone call away from signing a guy to a long-term contract. Sometimes you’re one incoming call away from a deal. What’s most likely is status quo.” – Theo Epstein

Sunday Walk Up Song

Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ by The Velvet Underground. Theo Epstein did a great job of acknowledging that he wished he could do more this offseason without throwing his bosses under the bus. By the way, this song has a killer guitar solo as it approaches its coda.

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