By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is not buying the widespread perception that his team can’t contend for a playoff spot this season.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday at Cubs’ spring training in Mesa, Ariz., Ricketts emphasized he’s confident in the Cubs as currently constructed.
“I think we have a team right now that can go to the playoffs,” Ricketts said. “We have a good, young nucleus. We have to have guys step up, but we’ve got depth in our system, and like I’ve always said, you have to build a championship team. We’re doing that. We’ve got good young guys on the team this year, we’ve got good guys coming and every year we’re going to keep getting better and better and better and we’re going to be consistent.”
The Cubs are coming off a 66-96 season in 2013 and made no big offseason moves. They are largely relying on the development of young players — such as first baseman Anthony Rizzo, shortstop Starlin Castro and prospects like Javier Baez — to get better.
Still, that’s no deterrent to the expectations — or some would say imagination — of Ricketts.
“We’ve got a good, young nucleus of guys,” he said. “Some of these guys are going to have to improve on last season, but I think they’re all up for it. I think we have great new leadership. It’s just another step in the right direction for us, absolutely.
“The whole organization has a great vibe right now, from top to bottom. Everybody knows we have a lot of talent coming up. Everyone knows we’ve got some young guys that are going to step up this year and perform. We’ve got energetic new management. It’s a great energy.”
In other business, Ricketts was also hopeful that a conclusion to the rooftop snafu that has stalled construction at Wrigley Field can be amicably settled soon.
“It is our goal to get the project started at the end of the season,” he said. “I’m not sure there is a hard date that goes along with it We want to get it behind us.”
The Cubs have had some open and creative talks with the rooftop owners about moving signage around. Ricketts was firm on the fact that he expects the new Budweiser sign to go up somewhere in the outfield in time for opening day.
“There are a few issues left that we are working on,” Ricketts said of the rooftop conversations. “I don’t want to get to detailed on it because we are still talking . I am still optimistic we will get to the finish line on this.”
The Cubs have a new deal with Budweiser that will pay them $10 million a year, which is more than three times the amount they were paid by the brewery giant in 2013, according to an industry source. The new deal gives Budweiser the exclusive rights to sell their beer alone in the stands for the first time. (Other beer companies brands such as Old Style can only be purchased in the concourses.)
The Budweiser deal includes signage agreements that include a sign or bottle that was slated to go up in right field as advertising.
“Obviously we are working through this stuff, but it is our intention to have that sign up on opening day,” Ricketts said. “Anheuser is a great partner, and we look forward to a long relationship with them.”
Bruce Levine is a baseball reporter/analyst for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.