CLEVELAND -- They won the World Series, and that's a lot for one night, especially for players and executives representing a franchise that hadn't won since Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House.But the Cubs are more than just the 2016 champions, and they know it. Tom Ricketts, Theo Epstein,
CLEVELAND -- They won the World Series, and that's a lot for one night, especially for players and executives representing a franchise that hadn't won since Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House.
But the Cubs are more than just the 2016 champions, and they know it. Tom Ricketts, Theo Epstein, Joe Maddon and dozens of others have worked to build a team that has a chance to be the second coming of the Yankees, circa 1996-2003, and everyone knows it.
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That's why the nerve-wracking 10-inning Game 7 victory over the Indians was as gratifying as it was, well, epic. The season would have been successful even if the Cubs had lost after reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945, but no one wanted just to come close a year after being swept by the Mets in the National League Championship Series.
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"I wouldn't have felt any different about the organization or the people or the character [if we hadn't won]," said Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations. "But when you win, it gives people something to hold onto for the rest of their lives. It feels really good."
Miguel Montero, an 11-year veteran who drove home the second run in the 10th-inning winning rally, expects that there will be a lot more winning in the Cubs' future. They're the youngest team to win the World Series since the 1969 Mets, and they are coming off a season in which they won 103 games, eight more than any other Major League team.
The Cubs had primary players at five positions this season who were in their age-26 season or younger, including veterans Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward, and that list didn't include Javier Báez, who was used all over the field, and catcher Willson Contreras, who didn't get promoted to the Major Leagues until late June.
Third baseman Kris Bryant, 24, is a favorite to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award, and 23-year-old Kyle Schwarber used the World Series to remind fans that he could be just as productive as Bryant once he's fully recovered from the reconstructive surgery on his left knee, which sidelined him almost all of this season.
"These guys aren't even in their prime," Montero said. "Not even close to being in their prime. This team is going to be very good."
Maddon, the manager who was hired two years ago after a remarkable run of success with the small-market Tampa Bay Rays, can't wait to see how his team matures.
Because of the Cubs' market size and the resources that Ricketts provides, Maddon knows he'll have a chance to see if the North Siders can sustain a run of success like the Yankees.
The manager was excited about the future of the Rays after a run to the World Series in 2008 behind youngsters such as Evan Longoria and David Price, but limited finances kept the team running in place. The Rays had the second-most victories in Major League Baseball from 2008-13, but they never got back to the Fall Classic.
"You have to do it the first time to really understand it and feel what it's like," Maddon said. "We never got back to the Series. We got in the playoffs often. But these young guys are even younger [than the Rays], and there is a better chance of keeping them together just based on finances."
Riicketts, who bought the franchise in 2009, has overseen a renovation project at Wrigley Field while providing both the vision to invest heavily in the farm system and give Epstein the opportunity to sign major free agents such as Jon Lester, Heyward, World Series MVP Ben Zobrist and John Lackey.
No one's more thrilled to end the 108-year championship drought, but Ricketts wants more than just one parade. He wants to return the team to the tradition from its early years, in particular the ownership of William Wrigley Jr. Ricketts remains driven to attain a lofty goal.
"We want to get back to that consistency," Ricketts said. "Make [Wrigley Field] the best, as it always has been -- and make it even better -- and get back to being a consistent winner, do whatever we can to restore the glory."
The Cubs took their first steps in 2015, winning 97 games and eliminating the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game and the Cardinals in the NL Division Series before losing to the Mets in the NLCS. They went through the Giants and Dodgers this year before rallying from a 3-1 deficit to stun the Indians.
Epstein knows the relentless schedule of activity required of baseball executives. They do not get much time to enjoy success.
"You know what he was doing before the game today?" asked Ryan Dempster, a special assistant to Epstein. "He was talking about roster moves. You want to talk about people who are uber-prepared? That's Jed [Hoyer], Jason [McLeod], Scott Harris, Shiraz [Rehman], all these guys. It's a tight, hard-working bunch."
The biggest questions in the offseason revolve around free agents Dexter Fowler and Aroldis Chapman, as well as the status of Jake Arrieta, who is only a year away from free agency. The Cubs must also design a plan to fit Schwarber back into the lineup on a regular basis and continue to nurture their prospects, including center fielder Albert Almora Jr.
Epstein knows he has built a team that will be tough for NL teams to take down, but he won't rest on this dream season. While he acknowledges the team's future is "great," he says the challenge will be to maintain the edge.
"I hope this is a beginning, but for right now, this is a celebration," Epstein said. "If we do our jobs right, and if we stay humble and hungry, it's going to be a beginning."
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.