Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts speaks to the media prior to a spring training baseball practice, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Matt York
February 24, 2016

MESA, Ariz. (AP) Like Joe Maddon and his players, Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is ready to ''embrace the target.'' He also appears ready to give a new deal to Theo Epstein.

Ricketts acknowledged the unprecedented hype and expectations that surround the Cubs - as embodied in the manager's catchphrase - in his annual spring training talk with reporters on Wednesday.

''Obviously the team has all the talent and the right leadership to go all the way this year,'' Ricketts said. ''It's a different offseason than when you lose 101 games, that's for sure. It's a different vibe than we've had in the past. But it's one everyone accepts. Obviously the goal is to win the World Series.''

Ricketts praised Epstein, the team's president of baseball operations, for sticking to the team's plan to develop a young, talented core of players ''from the bottom up'' and then seek out players to ''help get us over the hump.''

''From standpoint of ownership, it was a matter of trusting him and supporting him,'' Ricketts said. ''From standpoint of fans, we appreciate the patience that they've had to allow him to do what he has to do to build this great organization. Now, we're there. And the key is sustaining it.''

Ricketts said he had dinner with Epstein, whose contract is expiring this year, on Tuesday night. He said there's ''nothing to report'' on a new deal, but added that ''we're on the same page. We just have to sit down and kind of hammer it out.''

''I think he's the best at what he does in the game,'' Ricketts said. ''I think from a compensation standpoint, it should be reflected.''

Chicago won 97 games last year and advanced to the NL Championship Series in its first season under Maddon, sparking hope among long-suffering fans that a championship might finally be on the way. The World Series title drought dates to 1908.

The Cubs signed three-time Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward ($184 million, eight years) and pitcher John Lackey ($32 million, two years) from NL Central rival St. Louis, and they brought in two-time All-Star Ben Zobrist ($56 million, four years).

Ricketts said the Cubs would apply to host an All-Star Game once renovations in and around Wrigley Field are closer to completion. Chicago last hosted the game in 1990.

''It's about our turn,'' he said.

The Cubs staged their first full-squad workout on Wednesday, though many players have been working out. Maddon said he didn't want his players pushing too hard early.

''I really like the spring training dance,'' he said. ''It should be a slow dance.''

Notes: Ricketts said the Cubs and city officials are discussing ways to enhance both the game-day experience and overall security around the ballpark, keeping in mind the recent terrorist attacks around the world. Changes could include closing parts of Clark and Addison streets.

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