The Chicago Cubs’ first offseason of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer era fully kicked off today with the signing of outfielder David DeJesus – an eminently Epstein/Hoyer-ish signing – and it’s important to remember at moments like this: this whole ball got rolling thanks to the Ricketts Family, and specifically, Tom Ricketts. Not to be a drama llama, but I think we’re in for a Winter whose excitement matches the three weeks of Theo-mania. And it started with Tom.
Speaking of the big boss, Tom Ricketts addressed the media yesterday on a wide range of topics, in addition to his previously-reported comments on Epstein’s ability to sign big-time free agents like Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, if he feels that’s what’s best for the team. Among his comments:
- Ricketts said the baseball budget for 2012 would be on part with the baseball budget from 2011 (which was estimated in the $180 to $200 million range for all baseball expenses). Front office expenses (i.e., salary for the expanded/improved front office) will be dramatically higher in 2012, but amateur spending will be lower (due to the CBA). A super rough guess, then, has the big league payroll staying in the same $130 to $140 million range.
- Speaking of which, Ricketts addressed his take on the dramatic changes to the way teams approach the draft under the new CBA: “People knew this was an issue that would be discussed in the new CBA. I was personally surprised how far it went. I thought there would be some changes [to the draft] but it’s a big shift, a bigger shift than expected. So we knew it was a possibility this would come in but it’s Theo and [general manager] Jed’s [Hoyer] decision how to allocate the money. But it will have an effect because they will only have a certain amount of dollars to allocate for the draft.”
- Ricketts noted, in a separate interview with Dave Kaplan, that he remains thoroughly pleased with President of Business Operations Crane Kenney, and is even planning on trying to work out a contract extension with Kenney.
- Ricketts also reiterated in that interview that Epstein and Hoyer have the authority to “eat” troublesome contracts if they believe it’s necessary. The rub is, no one knows whether “eating” means the Cubs can replace the departed salaries – in other words, if the Cubs release Soriano, does the 2012 budget increase by the amount of money owed to Soriano for 2012? I kind of doubt Ricketts was going quite that far.
- Relatedly, Ricketts said Carlos Zambrano could theoretically be back in 2012. “I think what Theo said publicly is he’s willing to give Carlos a chance to earn his way back on the team. It’s his decision, and I support it 100 percent.’’
- After deciding to part with Jim Hendry, Ricketts spoke with as many as 20 great baseball minds about how to proceed, and, when he asked who would be the “dream scenario” leader in the front office, the response kept coming back: Theo Epstein. It’s funny, if he’d asked the fans, we probably would have said the same thing.
- On the renovation plans for Wrigley Field: “It’s really incumbent upon us to come up with a plan that’s a real win-win, that allows us to get the dollars into the park in a way that’s meaningful and preserve it for the long term. But there’s nothing concrete, no pun intended.” There won’t be any dramatic structural changes in 2012. On the public money part of renovations: “There is nothing really too dramatic to report. We are still talking to all the elected officials that might have a role in helping us to really get a real renovation done. It’s incumbent on everybody, and it’s a real win-win in that it allows us to get the dollars in the pot to really renovate it. That’s really meaningful for the long term …. Every level of government is behind the eight ball so you have to be sensitive to the issues they’ve got on their own budgets and balance sheets.”
- Ricketts is not a fan of the “knock it all down but the marquee and the scoreboard” plan, for what it’s worth. It sounds like he’s envisioning a true renovation, a la Fenway Park.
- On new manager Dale Sveum: “I was very impressed. When you talk baseball with him he has a real deep understanding and looks at things very thoughtfully. I think this will be a great fit for us.”
- Ricketts also spoke about Ryne Sandberg and Ron Santo. On Sandberg: “Ryne will always be a Cub. He will always be welcome to all of our events. He will always be a part of the Cub family. I don’t think anything that’s happening right now will change that.” And on Santo: “Ron belongs in the Hall of Fame. We will do everything we can to get the message out to the people who make the decision. We are hopeful that they will see it that way this weekend.”