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Cubs fans’ minds on rebuilding team, not ballpark

Matt GarzChicago Cub pitcher was introduced during 28th Annual Cubs ConventiSheratChicago Hotel   Towers  Friday January 18 2013.

Matt Garza, Chicago Cub, pitcher, was introduced during the 28th Annual Cubs Convention, Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, Friday January 18, 2013. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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CONVENTION 2013

The talk of the Cubs Convention might have been the Wrigley Field renovation project, but by the time the three-day event ended Sunday, it was apparent fans had a more pressing restoration in mind.

“Do you have a five-year plan? A 10-year plan?” a fan asked chairman Tom Ricketts.

“Can you give us any sense at all?” another asked team president Theo Epstein.

“Some of us don’t have that much time left,’’ another fan told a panel of team officials.

Whatever the ballpark eventually looks like, it won’t mean much if the 101-loss start to the Epstein Era doesn’t lead to a contender by then.

None of those questions got an answer, but the general idea is that the nucleus of that competitive team will start coming into focus in 2014, with the potential for impact in 2015.

“By ’15, we should not just be talking about October, but hopefully you fans should be making your plans for October,” Epstein told the crowd.

What does that mean for this year? A look around the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers the last three days offered insight.

Fresh from signing a four-year, $52 million deal, starting pitcher Edwin Jackson officially was initiated into Cubs culture with his convention debut Friday. He said he’s ready to be the building block for that contending rotation.

Jeff Samardzija talked about 200 innings this year after his 2012 breakthrough season as a starter. He also talked about a “feeling’’ he has that the team could be competitive this year.

“Why not?” said Matt Garza, who knows his ability to remain a Cub beyond July depends on it.

Garza’s status as the Cub most likely to be traded this year is a big reason the team signed Jackson, a reliable starter, to a long-term deal.

“If you win, you stay, if you lose, you go,” Garza said. “We’re going to try not to get there.”

Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and other officials repeated the mantra all weekend about the goal this year being to make the playoffs, like any other year.

“We’re realistic enough to know on paper we’re not the favorites to make the playoffs,’’ Epstein told fans.

The club aggressively restocked the big-league roster with established — if not exactly eye-popping — pitchers such as Jackson, Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva and Kyuji Fujikawa.

At the very least, it should mean that, unlike last year, the Cubs will send an actual big-leaguer to the mound to start every game this year, even if Garza and/or anybody else is traded.

“What we did with the pitching this winter I think will pay dividends immediately,’’ Epstein said. “We’ll be in a lot more games. And I think that’ll be reflected in the standings.’’

But the real measure of this season more likely will be in the progress of players such as top prospect Javy Baez, the Class A infielder who might join shortstop Starlin Castro on the left side of the infield — and maybe even push him to third.

It also will be measured in the quality of what promises to be another pitching-heavy draft in June. The Cubs have the second pick.

“Hopefully, it’ll be the last time we pick second overall,’’ Epstein said.



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