By Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune reporter
8:26 PM EST, January 12, 2013
The Cubs say they're "re-inventing" their 28th annual fan fest, which convenes Friday at the Sheraton Chicago, a switch from their longtime home, the Hilton Chicago.
Whether a new and improved Cubs Convention can awaken fans from a winter malaise is another question.
Selling hope has been the Cubs' marketing strategy since John McDonough invented the concept of fan conventions nearly three decades ago. Wrigley Field markets itself now, and the tourists will ensure near sellouts from June through August, 100 losses or not.
But this season figures to be a harder sell for average Cubs fans.
Suffice to say the addition of well-traveled starter Edwin Jackson as the Cubs' marquee free agent hasn't exactly created a buzz. Most are bracing themselves for another difficult season in the rebuild, hoping it won't be quite as painful as the end of 2012.
Still, fans have to get past the botched Ryan Dempster-to-Braves deal in July, the decision to leave doomed pitcher Chris Volstad in the rotation in September, the aborted Carlos Marmol-for-Dan Haren deal in November and the re-signing of underperforming third baseman Ian Stewart last month.
While the Cubs haven't been deterred from executing their overall meticulous rebuilding game plan, recent developments suggest a slight alteration. When the offseason began three months ago, Theo Epstein called it a "fools' errand" to try to build a team through buying expensive free agents, adding "it's not a way to get good return on the investment."
The Cubs stuck to that philosophy early on, adding one-year free agents at modest prices in Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Dioner Navarro and Nate Schierholtz. The risk was low, and flipping them for prospects next July likely would be an option.
But just when the Cubs appeared cashed-out, Chairman Tom Ricketts did an abrupt about-face last month, offering Anibal Sanchez a five-year, $75 million deal. Sanchez ultimately signed a five-year, $80 million deal the next day to return to the Tigers and the Cubs felt their next-best option was Jackson, who agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal before Christmas.
On Saturday, Cubs fans get a chance to ask Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer to explain their thinking on Sanchez, Jackson, Marmol, Stewart and other topics of interest. The second day of the convention also will feature an hour-long session with manager Dale Sveum and his coaching staff.
Other highlights include a Ricketts family session, and a glimpse of their latest plans for Wrigley renovations, including expanded clubhouse facilities and another rendition of the triangle area west of the ballpark. Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Darwin Barney are among the Cubs' players expected to attend.