Following a 66-96 season for the 2013 Chicago Cubs, the front office, coaches and management have a tremendous amount of decisions and progress to make.
There is a lot of pressure on Cubs president Theo Epstein and his front office to end the now 105-year championship drought for the franchise, a hype which began almost immediately after Epstein's arrival on the North Side from the Boston Red Sox.
The time to win begins now. Following two consecutive seasons of 95-plus losses and declining attendance, the Cubs must begin to right the ship and turn the team into a playoff and championship contender.
So, what steps need to be taken in order to progress the club into a contender?
Hire a disciplined manager
After firing manager Dale Sveum on October 1, the Cubs have interviewed multiple individuals for the vacant position. Although no one has been formally announced yet, sources have said that Padres bench coach Rick Renteria is the favorite for the position.
Because of Renteria's managing experience as high as Triple-A and the 2013 World Baseball Classic and his experience in developing young prospects such as Everth Cabrera, Mat Latos and Yonder Alonso, Renteria appears as a good fit for the team.
Regardless, the Cubs must hire a manager who will provide discipline for their youthful team while not tolerating any attitude or egos. Players like Starlin Castro need a quick turnaround. No more mental errors or displays of cockiness from Castro like his gaffe against the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of the 2013 season that allowed a run to score on a popup to shallow left field.
Watch the video of Castro's ejection and his reaction here.
Settle the disputes with the rooftops and proceed with the Wrigley renovations
One of the biggest storylines from the Cubs' 2013 season was not about what happened on the field, but rather what will happen to the field itself.
The city of Chicago approved a $500 million renovation to the historic ballpark, but the battle is far from over. Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently proposed changes to the renovation plans while the team continues to battle with the rooftop owners over placement of signs around the ballpark. Until the rooftop owners agree not to file a lawsuit over the blocked views, construction cannot begin.
In fact, the team recently installed a mock sign in right field to give the rooftop owners an example of what it may be like. Needless to say, the rooftop owners were not pleased with the obstruction of their view.
The Cubs must make this a priority this offseason. Improving Wrigley Field may be a major step in making the Cubs a contender. An improved ballpark may not only generate more revenue and bring fans back to the ballpark, but it may also improve home-field advantage for the Cubs.
The Cubs lost 50 games at Wrigley last year, marking the first time that the team lost that many in their history at the ballpark. Perhaps that's a major sign that changes must be done drastically to the ballpark, starting with improving the clubhouse and player facilities.
Sources have even said that the Cubs are a favorite to host the 2016 MLB All-Star Game at Wrigley Field, although more recent sources say that the site may be Baltimore's Camden Yards. Chicago's chances would almost certainly be improved if the Cubs were to improve the ballpark in time.
Avoid expensive, risky contracts
The Cubs have had plenty of lessons on why not to overpay a player. Among those mega deals that fell through were Milton Bradley (three years, $30 million), Alfonso Soriano (eight years, $136 million), and Kosuke Fukudome (four years, $48 million). The Cubs have already said that they will make minimal moves in free agency due to the amount of prospects they have in their farm system.
The Cubs must follow through on their word and avoid making a big splash in free agency. With prospects such as Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant deemed the future of the organization, Epstein has the right idea in not wrapping up money in free agency.
Put fans back in the stands
It goes without saying that attendance comes with success. But at the same time, success comes with attendance. The Cubs have declined in attendance every year since 2008 (their most recent playoff appearance). In fact, the Cubs had over 650,000 less in paid attendance in 2013 than 2008.
By improving the ballpark and the team, the attendance figures will improve as well.
The bottom line is that Cubs fans need to be patient while at the same time making sure that they let the management know that they can take no more waiting. Because of such a heralded arrival of Theo Epstein and so much hope placed on his abilities, a failure to turn the team into a contender may be the last straw for many Cubs fans.
With the general managers' meetings just over a week away, Cubs fans will soon know who will be managing their beloved team next as well as what changes may be made to the organization and team.
Until then, all Cubs fans can do is wait and speculate.
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