CHICAGO -- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts takes pride in being present in the Wrigley Field stands, where he can interact with fans. Those conversations, Ricketts told a small group of reporters on Saturday morning, have remained positive this year. He added that he does not bother checking social media.
"I walk around every single game, as you know. The fans are great," Ricketts said. "They're happy. They're happy about a team that cares about winning. And they're happy about a team that plays hard. They're happy with a lot of our younger talent and seeing the future."
There is undoubtedly some shine remaining on that 2016 World Series trophy for some of the team's faithful. There are also heightened expectations and, in turn, less patience as the franchise has embarked on another rebuilding phase.
Ricketts' impromptu chat Saturday came before a 5-2 loss to the Giants that dropped Chicago's record to 6-14 in its last 20 games. This recent downturn follows a stretch of six consecutive series wins that injected a small dose of second-half optimism into this trying season.
The question going forward is whether this season -- one that has seen 61 players don a Cubs jersey, 37 for the first time and 15 MLB debuts -- has convinced the team's roster builders that a solid enough foundation exists to warrant an aggressive winter.
"A lot of that's out of my control, but I think we're close," said Marcus Stroman, Saturday's starter for the Cubs. "So hopefully we make a few moves. I think we have a great core group of guys, great young guys coming up that are going to make great contributions throughout a full year.
"If we add a few pieces, I think we can compete in the division right away."
Stroman was one of the big-ticket free-agent signings last offseason, when Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer reeled in the pitcher with a three-year, $71 million contract. The other major move was the five-year, $85 million deal (plus a posting fee that pushed the total value to nearly $100 million) with Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki.
Both of those deals, combined with a wave of short-term pacts with a group of veteran players, fit into the blueprint of a team not primed for immediate contention. Ricketts said Hoyer will have the ability this coming offseason to approach the situation how he sees fit.
"The balls in Jed's court when it comes to how and where he puts financial resources to work," Ricketts said. "He's got a lot of flexibility, so we'll let him do it. Let him decide what he wants to do."
Ricketts reiterated his trust in Hoyer, given how he and former Cubs executive Theo Epstein orchestrated a rebuild a decade ago that produced a championship and five playoff teams in six years. That said, the team's owner emphasized that there is "a point in your development" when a team has to run with young players.
That has been what has defined this 2022 campaign, which has seen, among other things: Nico Hoerner prove he can be one of MLB's elite shortstops; Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson emerge as reliable rotation options; rookies like Christopher Morel add production and excitement to the offense; and reliever Brandon Hughes earn late-inning trust.
"The fact is that you can't buy a championship team in baseball," Ricketts said. "You have to build it. And that's what we're doing. And in order to build it, you've got to take years where you let young guys get at-bats, give them a chance to prove themselves and find out who you actually have to build around. And that's been what this year is all about. And it's a success."
Cubs manager David Ross was asked earlier this week for a self-assessment from this second transition season in a row. The manager said one of his biggest goals has been to continue to stress the importance of keeping a "winning" mentality, even as the losses pile up.
"This is not the standard that I want to hold us to," Ross said of the team's losing record. "The standard is really high here and I don't want that ever to leave while I'm sitting in this seat. I'm pretty passionate about that. And so, I continue to push those messages."
On Thursday, the Cubs had an announced attendance of 23,910 for their game against the Reds, marking the smallest crowd at the Friendly Confines since 2013. But the atmosphere on Saturday felt more like recent seasons, with 40,000-plus packed in on a gorgeous September afternoon.
"It's been incredible this year and we haven't been rolling," Stroman said of the fan support. "So, I can only imagine being in a playoff run, playing well deep into the season and having the opportunity to play in the playoffs. I think this place would be rocking and I think this fan base deserves it.