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2011 Cubs Convention: Accountability

Jessica did it again, though she might not have realized it at the time, and no one called her "sweetheart".

In the baseball management session, her question -- not directed at anyone in particular -- had to do with the fact, discussed here many times over the last couple of years, that veteran players seem to get a lot of slack when it comes to going on the DL. We know that Derrek Lee hurt his thumb on Opening Day last year and yet, played through it, having a miserable first half. We know that Aramis Ramirez was suffering from some sort of injury for the first two months in 2010, posting barely over a .500 OPS until finally going on the DL in June (and then playing up to his career norms after he returned). And in 2009, Alfonso Soriano hurt his knee in April, yet continued to play, and not well, until he was finally shut down in early September.

Jim Hendry answered the question by praising trainer Mark O'Neal -- but it was manager Mike Quade's response that told all of us that this is going to be a new regime, a different way of doing things. Quade said that he wasn't responsible for those kinds of decisions. Without looking back at who actually was responsible -- because that person was kind of a non-person at the convention, not mentioned at all nor even seen in passing in the 2010 highlight video -- this tells me that Quade is going to hold his players accountable, even the veterans, and he elaborated further by saying he intends to keep the lines of communication open, even while not calling out players publicly.

What a breath of fresh air that is. That's going to sound like a swipe at Lou Piniella, but it's not. It's just a different way of going about managing a baseball team, and the more I hear from Mike Quade, the more I think that he was exactly the right choice.

And that's not a swipe at Ryne Sandberg, who I supported for the job. Tom Ricketts was asked "how could you let Sandberg leave", and he deferred that answer to Hendry, who made the decision. All parties said that Sandberg will "always" be a Cub, and will always be welcome back; the door is clearly open for a role with the team sometime in the future.

Quade also said he was open to "mixing and matching" when it comes to the leadoff spot, as the Cubs don't have a "traditional" leadoff man. (In fact, how many of the 30 teams do? Not many.) That's the right thing to do and Quade seems to understand that getting on base is the most important thing from the leadoff hitter, not necessarily be that "speedy leadoff guy" we used to hear about from... other managers.

One thing I did not like about the convention was the schedule of sessions. Several of the important sessions were either back-to-back (as the Ricketts family session and the baseball management session were) or overlapping, so it was necessary for me to leave a couple of the sessions early to make sure I got a seat. Even with the far smaller attendance -- noticeable everywhere you went; it was way less crowded in the vendor area with fewer vendors -- some sessions were overstuffed; the session with management discussing plans for new team construction projects in the Dominican Republic, Mesa and at Wrigley Field was held in a room far too small for the number of people who wanted to see it. Again, as I said last year, the convention has clearly outgrown the Hilton, even with the smaller attendance, and the Cubs should look for another venue.

Speaking of the construction projects, one of the most interesting ones is the new complex the Cubs are planning in the Dominican. They're about to close on some land there and build a complex that will house, feed and educate young Dominican prospects, as well as teach them baseball. Other teams (notably the Pirates) have similar complexes. This is the kind of investment the Cubs want to make in player development. The team has also spent money hiring more scouts and reorganizing the scouting department and is committed to spending more money on all aspects of player development.

Similar things will be done at the new spring training complex in Mesa. In fact, calling it a "spring training complex" isn't accurate at all. It's not just being built for six weeks a year; the current complex at Fitch Park is in use 11 months a year (the only time it's really not in use is in December), for things like rehab for injuries, extended spring training, the Arizona summer rookie league and AZ Fall League. This offseason, the Cubs held what they called "Camp Colvin", named for Tyler Colvin, who did a workout program a year ago that helped him put 25 pounds on and have the good rookie year he did. (Incidentally, Colvin is completely recovered from the shattered-bat incident from last September.) This fall -- starting in October, right after the season ended -- 12 players were in Mesa doing a similar workout program. More wanted to come, but there isn't enough space in the facilities. That's one reason the Cubs want the new complex. Darwin Barney put on 18 pounds doing this program -- I'd look for him to be significantly improved this year.

About the Wrigley renovation plans, Tom Ricketts did express some regrets about how the money proposal was brought forth last fall. It's going to be reworked -- they didn't provide details on the financial plans, other than to show some of the same renderings I posted here last November, and say that they hope to be finished by 2014, the 100th anniversary of Wrigley, and if not, then by 2016, the 100th anniversary of the Cubs in Wrigley. In addition to modernizing the park, they hope to bring back some older features like the wrought iron and terra cotta that were on Wrigley originally.

Also discussed was the possibility of a Jumbotron. The Cubs claim to have done a survey where 60% of the respondents said they would be in favor of one as long as it did not affect the current board. In the room yesterday, it seemed split more 50/50. The issue is, as we have discussed here before -- where would you put it? Crane Kenney, in response to a question I asked, revealed that a ribbon board on the upper deck facade is in the renovation plans and almost certainly will happen.

For the immediate future, the Cubs announced that AT&T has created a hotspot at Wrigley, spending $5 million upgrading wiring, so that iPhones will work better there. Kenney said other cell providers have done the same, so that the sometimes spotty cell service at Wrigley will be improved, even with a full house.

They mentioned some other promotional things the team is working on, even though no promotional giveaway schedule was released at the convention. In Mesa during spring training, they will be holding a food drive and on March 18, a charity golf outing to help benefit Little League in Mesa; the Cubs want to give back to the community there. There have been discussions -- and at this time, they seem only like discussions -- about having "Wildcat Way", the street fair they had at the Northwestern game, for certain "big" games (Yankees, perhaps). I'm skeptical about this; the atmosphere around a college football game (especially the one at Wrigley, which was billed as sort of a "bowl game atmosphere") is far different than the atmosphere around a random regular season baseball game in June, even if the opponent is the New York Yankees. There will likely be concerts again, though the Cubs don't really have a lot of choice as to who they get; it depends in large part on bands' tour schedules.

Going back to some player discussion, the Matt Garza deal was analyzed in some depth. Hendry mentioned that he had first laid the groundwork with Rays GM Andrew Friedman at the winter meetings, then revisited it after Jan. 1; several clubs were involved in trying to get him, but in the end, everyone -- including Greg Maddux, who was involved in making the deal -- was on the same page. The baseball management people asked Carlos Pena, too, since he had been Garza's teammate in Tampa.

There was apparently a snafu with counterfeit autograph tickets for the Aramis Ramirez and Billy Williams autograph sessions, the ones won by lottery; the team will make good on anyone who didn't get them and they are considering a different way of making the tickets for next year, so this doesn't happen again.

The "Remembering Ronnie" session with Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, Glenn Beckert, Randy Hundley, Fergie Jenkins, Jose Cardenal and Milt Pappas all telling stories of their memories of Ron Santo, was the best attended of any, filling the Hilton's Grand Ballroom over capacity. While we are all sad at Ron's passing -- and the Cubs are still interviewing for the radio position, including at least one by Crane Kenney over the weekend -- that's how a man like that should be remembered, with laughter and fun, as Pat Hughes said at Ron's funeral, "Remember him with a smile." And as you may have already heard, there will be a No. 10 patch on the Cubs' uniform this year, and a statue dedicated to Ron on Aug. 10 before the game vs. the Nationals.

Finally, one note on the team schedules passed out this weekend that, as far as I know, has gone unnoticed everywhere. Last year, Fox-TV began televising some of their Saturday dates in prime time during the month of May (the Cubs were involved in one of those games, on May 22 in Texas). This year, the Saturday, May 14 game at Wrigley Field against the Giants is listed as a 6:10 start -- this would be the first Saturday night home game in almost 20 years. The Cubs must have received some sort of waiver for this, as the current night game ordinance does not allow Saturday night home games. The game the following Saturday, May 21 at Fenway Park in Boston will also be a Fox-TV night game; also, the Sunday, May 22 game at Fenway will be the ESPN Sunday night game. So far, that's the only Sunday night game the Cubs have on the schedule, but June 12, June 19 and August 21 are listed as "TBA". 28 home games are currently scheduled at night, out of a maximum allowed of 30.

I'm sure I've forgotten something; if there's something you heard about and I may have missed, ask in the comments. For those who asked, single game tickets go on sale Friday, Feb. 25.

And now, it's only four weeks until pitchers and catchers report. Regardless of how you feel about the Cubs' offseason moves and their chances, I think we all agree on this: it's always exciting when a new baseball season begins. It gives you hope.