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Cubs, White Sox Thursday spring-training report

Theo Epstein has just been named the world’s greatest leader by Fortune magazine. (We said WORLD, not World Series — but world’s greatest leader, edging out the pope). So it seems fitting that the Cubs should be fitted with the most expensive championship rings — for any sport — in U.S. history.

That’s the claim being made by chairman Tom Ricketts.

Ricketts was in Monaco last month to accept the Laureus World Sports Awards for Team of the Year, on behalf of the Cubs. Interviewed on the red carpet, Ricketts made his claim about the Cubs’ rings.

“Primarily, you let the players get what they want, and they’re the ones that earned it, so let them design it,” Ricketts said. “But I’ve been a little bit involved.

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 04: Jon Lester (L) and Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs pose with the World Series trophy during the Chicago Cubs victory celebration in Grant Park on November 4, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs won their first World Series championship in 108 years after defeating the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in Game 7. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“It’s going to be snappy — very nice. It’s going to be probably the most valuable ring in the history of U.S. sports.” 

The Cubs plan to present the rings during an April 12 pregame ceremony at Wrigley Field. Last week, they announced 20 fans would help present rings to players and coaches. Ricketts vows that the rings won’t be revealed before April 12.

In this interview with Graham Bensinger, Ricketts also says Epstein is “clearly on his way to the Hall of Fame.”

Ending World Series droughts in Chicago and Boston will stamp that automatic ticket for an executive. Let’s see the pope do that.

WELL WORTH IT

If Jon Lester never throws another regular-season pitch for the Cubs, he’s still worth every penny of that six-year, $155 million contract he signed before the 2015 season. Helping deliver the Cubs to back-to-back postseason appearances, including that World Series title last season, makes that a great contract.

“It was like winning the lottery,” manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday, repeating the first words he uttered to the media the night Lester signed. “And it has been.”

Our Gordon Wittenmyer takes a close look at the deal for Lester — the Cubs’ 2017 Opening Day starter — and compares his contract to that controversial $136 million deal that Jim Hendry gave to Alfonso Soriano.

I still defend the Soriano deal as a great signing. The Cubs reached the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time in 100 years, and they don’t get there without Soriano. Same holds true for Lester.

WORLD AFFAIRS

There’s no question the World Baseball Classic, with Team USA breaking through for victory, was thrilling. Before the tournament, the WBC drew some criticism because many stars — including reigning MVPs Kris Bryant of the Cubs and Mike Trout of the Angels — decided to sit this one out.

Bryant chose to miss it because the Cubs took a deep run into the postseason, and it’s hard to argue with that decision. But Bryant said this morning he is eager to join the fun next time.

“It is something I would love to do at some point,” Bryant said. “But this year just wasn’t the year. It was really fun to watch and really good for the game.”

ON THE SOUTH SIDE

ESPN The Magazine is out with some of its baseball preview material — scheduled for release April 10 — and calls Yoan Moncada of the White Sox “baseball’s most intriguing prospect.”

Acquired in the Chris Sale trade with the White Sox, Moncada is one big reason to buy into the White Sox’ rebuilding plan.

ESPN says: “Moncada is the player the Red Sox trusted with $31.5 million but could never trust to show up on time for his mandatory English classes. He is a versatile defender with natural speed and a sculpted upper body, and yet his agent says Moncada has sometimes mowed through 85 Twinkies in a week.”

Check out the ESPN profile for an interesting look at a name Sox fans will be hearing regularly over the next few years.

Moncada spoke with White Sox beat reporters today in Arizona and the five-tool prospect who has been compared to Mike Trout says he is eager to get started at Class AAA, and he’s not feeling pressure to live up to the expectations from the Sale trade.

I don’t really feel the pressure because of those situations,” Moncada said Thursday through White Sox translator Billy Russo. “I feel good, relaxed and I’m just trying to enjoy this team.”

WAITING GAME

Reynaldo Lopez is another White Sox prospect sent down this week. Among the crop of highly rated prospects, Lopez looked the most major-league ready, so he took his demotion a little harder.

“Yeah, I thought I would make the team,” Lopez said Thursday morning through translator Billy Russo. “That was my goal. I was kind of surprised when they told me I wouldn’t make the team. But I have to keep working hard.”

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