- In his press conference yesterday, Tom Ricketts reiterated his commitment to spending more on draft picks and international signings, which, particularly given the “tough sign” nature of many of the Cubs’ draft picks this year, is very encouraging to hear.
- Speaking of the team’s financial commitment, Ricketts also clarified that the team’s financial situation will have no impact on free agent signings, suggesting that payroll will not be dramatically slashed in 2012 despite $10s of millions in expiring contracts. That means the Cubs should have the opportunity to make a run at guys like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
- Gordon Wittenmyer is apparently not interested in having a good relationship with Ricketts. Recall, it was his story that flatly said the Cubs would not be able to pursue big-name free agents because of the team’s debt structure, and when Ricketts denied it, Wittenmyer was unhappy:
Ricketts called that a “non-story,’’ saying that the debt-service-rule issue is a function of terms of the sale and that the commissioner’s office is satisfied with the Cubs’ financial condition.
“What every fan should know is that nothing in the capital structure, in the balance sheet or any of the debt will in any way limit our ability to put a good team on the field,’’ he said. “And the fact is that this year we spent more on baseball operations than any year in the past and we continue to invest in the team. And it’s in no way a limitation on our ability to sign free agents or flexibility to build a better organization. It’s just irrelevant to that.’’
The Sun-Times report had nothing to do with MLB compliance or the debt-service rules. According to a source with direct knowledge of the team’s purchase structure, the annual burden of the Cubs’ debt as a result of the purchase and subsequent commitments all but preclude the ability to spend heavily on free agents.
Asked specifically about the possibility of committing to a multiyear, eight-figure-a-year free-agent signing, Ricketts deferred to Hendry. “We do have a lot of money coming off the books. Everyone’s aware of that,’’ he said. “Whether or not that goes back into a large free agent contract will be Jim’s decision.’’
Ricketts said in spring training that a deal such as that — presumably in the Albert Pujols/Prince Fielder neighborhood — would have to go through ownership.
- I’m not sure how to take Ricketts’ comments, when asked about team president Crane Kenney (who is decidedly not a “baseball guy”), that he’s “never bought into” the idea that you’ve got to have a baseball guy on top of your GM. It was an interesting way to respond to the question. If the Cubs had a dynamic GM in whom we all had complete trust, would we still be clamoring for a “baseball guy” to oversee things? Maybe not. (And if you’re wondering where my thoughts are on Ricketts’ comments about Jim Hendry, come back in a couple hours. It’s long.)
- As I mentioned in my brief recap of Ricketts’ comments, I absolutely loved his response to the questions about Wrigley Field’s condition. “Wrigley Field is the third largest tourist attraction in the state, generates over $600 million for businesses in the area, and it’s an economic engine of the city.” In case it’s not obvious, that’s a message to Illinois and Chicago: Wrigley Field brings you huge benefits, so help me freaking fund its renovation.
- Speaking of the renovation, Ricketts also said that he’s not sure whether a piecemeal approach would be best, or a one-year quick shot. He did say that the former would be much more expensive. It sounds like they’re still figuring it out, and aren’t going to share too much more until they have a new proposal put together.
- Jerry Crasnick pens a nice piece on Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney. The highlight is a story from Darwin Barney about the early part of his Cubs career, where he was working with Castro, both as shortstops. Castro was struggling in the field, and despite the natural inclination to see the kid as your competition, Barney opted to help. “After we were done, we walked off the field and I pulled him aside and said, ‘We’re going to figure this out, because I want to win a championship someday. I don’t care if I’m playing behind you or next to you. I want to win.’” I still don’t think Barney is the long-term answer at second base on a team that has playoff aspirations, but damn if he isn’t a great guy. He can be the 25th man on my team any day.
- The Iowa Cubs released Thomas Diamond yesterday. After showing some very limited success with the Cubs last year, Diamond simply had nothing this year in AAA. Best of luck.