As fans began to pour into the lobby of the Sheraton Grand Chicago on Friday for the first day of the Cubs Convention, chairman Tom Ricketts didn’t have to think long about what he would tell those wondering when the Cubs’ next championship window would open.
‘‘We feel like our team will compete for the division this year,’’ he told the Sun-Times while seated at a coffee table in a suite across the street.
Later that day, several offseason additions — including shortstop Dansby Swanson, right-hander Jameson Taillon and center fielder Cody Bellinger — would take the stage during the opening ceremonies of the convention, greeted by a standing ovation, flashing lights and blaring music. By the end of the weekend, news would break that free-agent first baseman Trey Mancini had agreed to terms with the Cubs.
‘‘We had a couple of years where we had to be careful to think about the longer-term prospects of the team rather than the shorter term,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘But I think we’re coming out of that now.’’
Even with expanded playoffs, the Cubs’ best chance at making the postseason will be by winning the National League Central. Last season, the Brewers (86-76) finished second in the division but missed the postseason. The Phillies (87-75) claimed the last NL wild-card spot.
New Cubs catcher Tucker Barnhart said outright what several of his teammates cautiously had alluded to: ‘‘We all feel like the [NL] Central is a winnable division.’’
As a former longtime member of the Reds, Barnhart is as qualified to make that analysis as anyone.
‘‘The Cardinals are going to be good; the Brewers are going to be good,’’ Barnhart said. ‘‘It’s obvious where the Reds and the Pirates are.’’
Last season, the Cubs finished better than the Reds and Pirates but far behind the Cardinals and Brewers. But they’ve done more this offseason than any team in the division to improve run prevention.
They’re also in the largest market by far, giving them a resource advantage over the other NL Central teams. Ricketts, however, has shied away from blowing past the luxury tax, citing escalating penalties for exceeding the competitive balance tax (CBT) in consecutive years — something big-spending owners, such as the Mets’ Steve Cohen, have paid little mind to.
‘‘When you’re going to go over, like we did a few years ago, you just have to be strategic,’’ Ricketts said in his family’s convention panel Saturday. ‘‘We know that we’ll have the financial resources to put a really competitive team on the field. There will be years where it makes sense to maybe stretch those resources and go a little deeper into CBT and pay those penalties. We’ll just have to take advice from [president of baseball operations] Jed [Hoyer] on how he wants to manage that.”
Mancini’s deal — reportedly for two years and $14 million, pending a physical — brings the Cubs’ 2023 luxury-tax payroll to about $11.6 million under the CBT threshold ($233 million), according to numbers from RosterResource.
‘‘You want to get to [the trade] deadline and be adding players; you want to be making the moves,’’ said second baseman Nico Hoerner, a homegrown player who has watched the Cubs do the opposite during the last two years. ‘‘You want to be putting pressure in the division, leading the division, going from there. And, obviously, this team has had a ton of changes, and I’m sure there’s all sorts of different projections going on. But that’s really up to us at this point.’’
NOTE: The international signing period opened Sunday with a flurry of prospect signings around the majors. The Cubs have a $5.284 million bonus pool to work with.
As of Sunday evening, the Cubs had agreed to terms with three shortstops ranked in the top 20 of MLB Pipeline’s international prospect list: No. 6 Derniche Valdez of the Dominican Republic ($2.8 million bonus), No. 14 Ludwig Espinoza of Venezuela ($1 million) and No. 19 Angel Cepeda of the Dominican Republic ($1 million).