Wrigley renovations couldn’t hurt Cubs’ rebuilding efforts, players say
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter May 22, 2014 10:40PM
Updated: May 23, 2014 12:27AM
SAN DIEGO — It was part of the process that actually landed the Cubs one free agent already.
“That’s one of the things that got me here,” Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva said of the promise of modern facilities and a spacious clubhouse in a renovated Wrigley Field. “When I was talking to [former manager] Dale [Sveum] before I signed, he told me it was going to be this year.”
Sixteen months later, Villanueva has learned more than he wants to know about Chicago politics and rooftops. And he’ll be long gone — maybe by the July 31 trade deadline — by the time the Cubs put a shovel in the ground on their long-discussed ballpark overhaul.
“But we did get new carpet. So at least I got some parts of the renovation,” Villanueva said. “I’m kidding. But I understand. It’s just tough [battling the rooftop owners].”
Ownership’s latest media blitz — announcing it will go forward with an even-more-aggressive plan regardless of potential lawsuits — was met in the Cubs’ clubhouse with “excitement,” optimism and in some cases skepticism about what it will mean for the team’s competitive future.
Most of them won’t be around long enough for it to matter.
“Obviously, the guys that are guaranteed to be here for the next couple years are really excited about it,” said Villanueva as he enjoyed the training luxuries of San Diego’s Petco Park — including a weight room adjacent to the main clubhouse and a visitor’s batting cage about 40 feet down the hall — before Jake Arrieta pitched six strong innings to beat the Padres 5-1 on Thursday night.
Anthony Rizzo, one of those players who expects to be around for the new-look Wrigley, homered and doubled against his former team.
Chairman Tom Ricketts said last month the original plans would add $30 million to $40 million to the team’s annual revenues through video boards and advertising.
What the upgrades to the actual baseball facilities will mean for players and the team’s ability to compete isn’t as specifically measurable.
But players and staff briefed on the details of the plan this week before it was released to the media suggest it will help in recruiting free agents and in keeping players healthy and game-ready.
“Sometimes you have to overpay a little bit, but you don’t want to overpay because you don’t have the right facilities,” Villanueva said. “Hopefully, that’ll get fixed.”
One thing it won’t fix is the Cubs’ ability to keep ace pitcher Jeff Samardzija long term. He admits the long-delayed project at this point has no bearing on that issue.
But he does agree it could be attractive to free agents — even if the self-described traditionalist never has viewed Wrigley’s shortcomings as a hindrance to competing for titles.
“It’s great that it’s happening,” said Samardzija, who is all but assured of being traded. “I don’t think it’s a must-have, but … we’ll see. …
“We didn’t really get blueprints or anything like that. I heard this a couple years ago, that they were thinking about doing this probably about three years ago. I understand Chicago’s a tough place to get permits. You’ve got to know the right people for that.”
Others in the clubhouse, who didn’t want to go on the record, were more skeptical that anything had really changed in the renovations timeline, after all the false starts and promises in recent years — including the suggestion that a court injunction pending the outcome of a lawsuit could take some of the heat off ownership.
But Samardzija, for one, sees this week’s announcement as progress, comparable to the efforts that resulted in a new spring facility.
“They’re trying to take strides to surround the players with the best facilities possible to win ballgames,” he said. “In the day and age we’re in, how tight all the teams are, the parity of the league, you need any little advantage you can get.”