MESA, Arizona — Tom Ricketts says he thinks the Chicago Cubs are set to take big steps this year toward ending their century-plus of failure.
"Obviously, we all believe this year's team has what it takes to win the division and go to the playoffs," the Cubs owner said Wednesday at spring training. "Now it's about getting on the field and getting it started."
Chicago hasn't won the World Series since 1908 and hasn't reach the playoffs since 2008. Ricketts called midseason trades such as the one that sent pitchers Jeff Samardzia and Jason Hammel to Oakland for top prospect Addison Russell "really the end of the beginning for us."
"We're looking forward to winning," he said. "We feel this is the year we start to show results."
Ricketts said the reconstructed bleachers at Wrigley Field should be ready to open by May 11, five weeks after the season opener. A federal judge last week denied a request from rooftop clubs overlooking the ballpark to temporarily halt installation of signs they say will block their view and violate a contract they have with the team.
He said the team's inability to sell bleacher tickets in April is "not a big financial hit for us, to be honest," adding: "April in the bleachers is kind of tough sometimes."
Chicago is looking to a new beginning under manager Joe Maddon, who was hired from Tampa Bay. Ricketts denied the Cubs had tampered with Maddon, who used a provision in his contract to terminate his deal with the Rays.
"From everything I know, we did nothing wrong," Ricketts said.
Ricketts spoke to Cubs players Wednesday.
"I want to make sure they are professional off the field," he said. "I want them to treat our fans like gold. We have the best fans in baseball. And if they want to do anything in the community, let us help them. A lot of guys want to do charity things but don't have the time or the help."
The Ricketts family bought the Cubs, Wrigley Field and related properties from the Tribune Co. in 2009 for $845 million and hired Theo Epstein from the Boston Red Sox in October 2011 to become Chicago's president of baseball operations. The Cubs have not had a winning season since 2009 and home attendance has been about 2.65 million in each of the last two seasons, Chicago's lowest totals since 1998.
Ricketts praised Cubs fans for enduring tough seasons.
"Walking around the ballpark is encouraging. Fans are almost exclusively supportive," he said. "They want to see everything done the right way. They want to get to the World Series. We're not going to do that by making short-term decisions. Frankly, the fans have helped me get through the bad years, as opposed to the other way around."
Ricketts said Epstein "has done an incredible job of turning the organization around. The fact is a few years ago we didn't have much depth in the system. We didn't have a lot of hope to win at the major league level."
Chicago is considering options for future local broadcast rights, which could increase revenue. Ricketts said for now, "we'll have the flexibility to do whatever Theo needs to do in the middle of the season.
"But the fact is it's not what you spend, it's what you get," Ricketts said. "The correlation between dollars spent on the field and wins is as low as it's ever been. So the key is making sure is you have the core base of young talent that you control and bringing in the veterans that can help push them over the top."
"The haves and have-nots in baseball are largely decided when they sign their TV contracts. We'll have the ability to enter into some long-term contracts a few years from now. That will be the next big inflection point in terms of financial resources," he said.
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