It may be the offseason, but the Cubs still have a massive to-do list to address before spring training. Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 19, so the end to another harsh Chicago winter will be here before you know it.
“We've got a lot on our plate at the moment,” Crane Kenney, Cubs president of business operations, said at the recent Cubs Convention. Let's break down the winter agenda for the North Siders.
1. Embrace the role of World Series favorites
Usually archrival St. Louis is the hunted in the NL Central. Not in 2016. Sports betting website Bovada gives the Cubs 6-1 odds to win the World Series, tops in MLB.
"We're not sneaking up on anybody," current Cub and former Cardinals outfielder Jason Heyward said. "The odds are going to be against every other team that comes in here, and that's what's fun about baseball."
2. Integrate the new players
The Cubs retain their stellar young nucleus from a team that won 97 games last year and add Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Adam Warren and John Lackey. Fans are especially fired up for Heyward and Lackey; both defected from St. Louis. Overall, the Cubs upgraded their pitching and plugged a few holes since bowing out of the postseason.
3. Secure the Cy Young winner
Last year the Cubs relived 1984, in a good way. That year was the first to see three Cubs claim major National League awards. They achieved another trifecta in 2015, including Jake Arrieta's Cy Young honor. The ace of all NL aces will now see a hefty pay raise via arbitration. Arrieta's agent seeks $13 million while the Cubs pitched $7.5 million.
"I know the spread seems big, but the filing numbers don't always represent the offers," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "If we go to a hearing, we go to a hearing. We think he had a historic season; we think he deserves a huge raise."
4. Adjust to the Wrigley Field renovations
The Cubs feel fans' pain regarding Wrigley concourse congestion. They're adding a western gate to alleviate the logjam. Kenney recently updated the media on the 1060 Project, saying the clubhouse is on the verge of completion.
"The bleachers will be finished opening day," Kenney said. "There’s all sorts of structural work that’s going which isn’t really sexy or fun, but it’s really necessary for the next round of improvements. It’s a little less dramatic for the fans, [but] far more dramatic for the players in 2016.”
Of course, we've heard "the bleachers will be finished by opening day" before, and it didn't work out that way. 2017 is the year that will be "dramatic" for fans. That's when the ballpark hotel and party zone and entertainment areas are scheduled to open.
5. Lock up the architects
The contracts of both Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer are up at the end of 2016. October was a testament to their rebuilding efforts. Sure, I'm being Captain Obvious here, but owner Tom Ricketts needs to keep this dynamic duo in town.
"I see myself as staying in the exact same role for a very long time," Epstein said. "I think Tom sees it the same way; we're completely on the same page. I imagine once my deal is done, Jed’s will follow in short order."
6. Make new fans feel welcome
The recent Cubs Convention was the most electric in the event's 31-year history.
"It's been awesome, we haven't seen a convention like this before," Lackey said. "Y'all turned up for this deal, it's been special."
As incessant erectile dysfunction pill advertising in October indicates, baseball is huge with baby boomers. However, this young, exciting Cubs team strikes a chord with Millennials, too. The upcoming season will feature a new way for anybody attached to their smartphone to watch the team play.
"I'm finally pretty confident that we're going to have streaming in 2016, so that local games will be available on our mobile devices," Kenney said.
The final box to check on the Cubs to-do list is "Win World Series," but we'll revisit that in October.
"We have a team that's ready to roll into spring training," Epstein said. "And every player who had to watch the Mets celebrate on our field is extraordinarily hungry to win eight more games in October than they did last year."
Paul M. Banks is a RedEye contributor. @paulmbanks