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wallet cashAlthough you can always leave yourself open to being pleasantly surprised, I’d like to encourage you to adjust to the financial reality of the Chicago Cubs’ situation right now: payroll will continue to be relatively low for the near-term future.

We’ve discussed it at length over the past seven months or so, and I think most attentive Cubs fans have understood this to be true for a while now. Going back to February, team owner and chairman Tom Ricketts explained that the $135 to $145 million payrolls of the late Tribune era were “unsustainable,” suggesting that the Cubs are affording what they can right now (which, at the time, looked like a payroll in the $95 to $110 million range). From there, a great deal of ink was spilled on the subject of Cubs finances, and whether the Ricketts Family was living up to its pledge to put every dollar that comes in the door right back into the organization.

By the end of April, we had a pretty good sense of what was what: every dollar of revenue the Cubs generate (revenue that is falling along with attendance) is going back into the organization after taxes and ownership’s debt service payments. With revenues on the way down, however, and debt service payments added to the picture (not to mention a stadium renovation to pay for), payroll was bound to decline, even if baseball operations was using every dollar allocated to their department.* The big payroll dollars weren’t going to come, it seemed, until after the Wrigley Field renovation was well underway and a new TV deal had been negotiated (hopefully the portion that expires after 2014, not just the portion that expires after 2019).

*In many instances, wisely: don’t forget that baseball operations has overspent on the last two drafts, hugely overspent in the international free agent market this year, expanded the salaried staff in the front office dramatically, acquired advanced data systems, upgraded minor league facilities, and helped build a state-of-the-art facility in the Dominican Republic.

Though we shouldn’t have needed any further confirmation that payroll could be relatively lean for a little while, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein offered it in an interview on The Score this weekend. The entire interview is worth a listen – it ranges in topics from specific players, to overall progress, to minor league developments, etc. – but the comments I’d like to highlight are as follows:

We are clearly taking the long view here. It is the right thing to do. Some of it is out of necessity, frankly, because we simply don’t have the payroll flexibility that we would need for a quicker talent infusion given some of the limitations and timing of our business plan and the realities of a lot of circumstances surrounding the ball club right now. We need to take the long view. It is not easy. I do enjoy the scouting. I enjoy the draft. I enjoy the player development part of it. I enjoy the young players, I believe in young players. But in an ideal world we would be doing both. We would be infusing a lot more, sort of ready talent in this situation, to speed up the clock a little bit with Major League players. We don’t have that luxury right now.

From there, Epstein goes on to note that, although the plan is to spend more money in free agency in the coming years, that is dependent on the renovation and TV deal(s) coming through as revenue-drivers.

I’ll grant a moment for you to put your hands in your pockets and kick some rocks.

Epstein saying that the baseball operations team does not have the money available to help speed along the rebuild at the big league level is the real bummer. The mere fact of saying it implies that there are or have been big league moves out there that he believes would align with The Plan, but that they cannot make or have not made because of a lack of money. The ability for this front office to sign anyone they believe is worth signing is probably not there right now. That stings.

That said – hands out of pockets, feet at attention – I’m not going to become too despondent for a handful of reasons.

First, given the money coming off of the Cubs’ books in the last year or two, a $100 million payroll isn’t going to cripple the front office. A quick and dirty review of the Cubs’ payroll obligations for 2014 – including generous arbitration raise estimates, and completely ignoring the $13.65 million the Cubs saved this year in trades – puts the organization somewhere in the $62 to $65 million range. Even if payroll is cut further to $90 million, that’s still $25 million to work with in improving the 2014 big league roster.

Second, even in the face of falling payroll and budgetary restrictions, it’s not like the Cubs weren’t able to go out and spend last year. Edwin Jackson was actually one of the bigger free agent signings of the Winter. The Cubs also committed more than $20 million to Scott Feldman, Scott Baker, and Kyuji Fujikawa. The Cubs signed Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo to extensions. These are guaranteed dollar commitments that could have waited if the only motivation at play was saving money in the short-term. This is all to say: there is money available to be spent. It isn’t Yankee or Dodger money – hell, it probably isn’t even Oriole or Giant money right now – but contracts can be signed.

Third, the 2014 free agent class is extremely weak, and likely wasn’t the way for the Cubs to improve their near-term roster anyway. You don’t just start spending like crazy because you want to bring payroll back up. You spend when it makes sense to spend, regardless of where payroll stands. This offseason, other than a player or two (Choo? Tanaka?), I’m not sure I see where it makes sense to spend big bucks.

Fourth, I really can see the synergy of the business and baseball plans that Epstein describes. Even if I’d prefer that the Cubs were competitive sooner rather than later – I have written about a terrible team every single day for almost five seasons now – I’ve always been on board with the rebuild. I can see the fruits of that effort down the road, and I can see when it’s going to make sense to spend big. It doesn’t look like 2014 is going to be that year (a season in which I’ve always said I hope to see a team that looks like a .500-ish team on paper going into the season), but we could see some real traction by 2015 from the farm system. That doesn’t just mean players breaking through in the bigs, but it also means trading duplicative pieces for Major League players. And, going into 2015, the Cubs will have secured a new TV deal for the portion of games currently airing at a bargain rate on WGN, and the renovation will have (hopefully!) reached the point where a couple large, revenue-generating signs will be going up in the outfield.

From there, a window opens where revenue begins to increase alongside a more competitive team. That, in turn, drives more attendance, and more revenue. That, in turn, drives more payroll flexibility … just at the time when it becomes the most important, on the opening of a long-term competitive window.

None of this is to say it is time to check out until 2015. Because I remain optimistic that the front office, with the resources afforded them, can put together a .500-ish team on paper going in 2014 (it’s easy to forget how close this year’s team was to being a .500-ish team in the first half, given the underlying metrics), you never know what could happen in the next 8 to 12 months. Maybe Starlin Castro turns it around at the same time Anthony Rizzo really breaks out. Maybe the one or two offseason additions are huge boons to the team. Maybe Jeff Samardzija fulfills the promise of ace-dom, and the rest of the rotation pitches as well as it has, generally, this year. Maybe Javier Baez really is ready by midseason. Maybe Kris Bryant is, too. The ability of the Cubs to spend big money in 2014 on payroll is not going to be the primary deciding factor in that team’s competitiveness.

If the Cubs sit out the spending this Winter, I’m probably not going to be too upset, given the reality of the financial situation, the reality of a weak free agent class, and the reality of various timelines.

Instead, I will continue to follow the renovation and TV deal story lines with as much vigor as ever. Because, even as I say that the ability of the Cubs to spend big money in 2014 on payroll is not going to be the primary deciding factor in that team’s competitiveness, I do recognize that, long-term, teams that can spend money tend to make the playoffs more consistently than teams that cannot.

  • Rich

    Great article Brett..
    any predictions on what a WGN deal could be ?
    or anything about a Cubs only network? Probably not with WGN and CSN ..

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Best bet is we’ll see a five-year deal with WGN (at an increased rate), assuming WGN still wants their Cubs games, so that both sets of games come up for bidding to the open market at the same time (CSN portion is up after 2019). At that point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Cubs network, if the cable game hasn’t changed dramatically by then (which it could). It’s also possible that a big shift comes sooner than that, depending on how motivated CSN and the Cubs are to get something done in those five years.

  • Ricardo Gerlein

    I don’t see any improvement. Again second worst team in the NL. Castro and Rizzo are not winners. Wait for Bryant, Amora, Baez, Soler, because the actual major league players are not worth watching.

    • Rich

      I am not worried about Castro..I truly believe that if the Cubs were winning, that he would play better. It has to be hard to get up and be focused on a bad team.
      I think he will have a great season next year…He has proven he can hit and is certainly not old.

      Rizzo does bother me…his contract now is a head scratcher..I am more worried about his .230 average..and K’s…

      • On The Farm

        I wouldn’t worry about his batting average, because he still getting on base (walking 10%+), and when he is getting hits they are going for extra bases. If there was something to worry about Rizzo it would be how much he struggles against LHP. However, from last year to this year Rizzo increased his OBP against LHP so if he continues that trend, He should be a top 10 1B, working his way to #5.

        • bbmoney

          No, no, no. Don’t argue statistics. Hard data and facts are irrelevant. Ricardo clearly stated that they aren’t winners. They don’t have the scrap quotient needed to be a part of a winning team.

          Case closed.

      • Noah

        Rizzo strikes out in 18.6% of his plate appearances, which is essentially league average, while maintaining an 11.4% walk rate, which is well above average. His Ks are not an issue.

        Most of Rizzo’s issues have been BABIP related. His BABIP this year is .255, last year it was .310. If you want to point to anything, his fly ball rate has increased significantly, which explains some of the BABIP drop. He may be trying to get more balls in the air to get more balls out of the park, which might be a worthwhile strategy over the next few years. Or it may just be random variation.

        • ETS

          Yeah, Rizzo’s ISO #’s are more reassuring than Castro’s. I think both will be fine.

          • willis

            Imagine if they do improve. This team wasn’t playing that poorly this year with Castro being awful and Rizzo having some issues and growing pains. These two improving even a little bit help this team grow a ton.

            It’s tough to hear about the payroll issues, but we’ve known this for awhile. The cash just isn’t there like it used to be right now. Hopefully that gets ironed out sooner than later.

            This team needs a couple of savy moves in the offseason and they can still be ok next season. There needs to be much improvement and I think Theo and Co are smart enough to realize this. But the bullpen will be better, the rotation needs one more piece to stay a solid rotation, Castro and Rizzo will be better, and soon enough the first wave of talent (Baez, Bryant and perhaps Alcantara) will be ready to step up.

            • Noah

              I honestly think the Cubs have enough in the rotation to be solid. Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, Arrieta, Rusin, Grimm, Hendricks. They lack the top of the rotation you’d like, but have enough depth to think they won’t be out of a lot of games. But yeah, I think they’ll add at least one Feldman/Maholm type, if not go big to try to get a David Price.

              And I actually think Alcantara will see the majors before Baez and Bryant. I just think they’ll be less concerned with service time issues with Alcantara.

            • On The Farm

              Rizzo is performing around league average in some important categories. If he and Castro can rebound the infield could be very solid. Valbuena ranks second among 3B (with 300 PAs) in BB%, right around average in WAR (1.7), and is a touch below in most other stats. Having a top 10 1B, a All-star caliber SS, and an average 3B/2B would be a huge improvement there. If Baez is up by May, I really think that infield (throw in Wellington too) will be able to get us to .500. The only question is what will the OF look like, what SP will we acquire, and what the bullpen does.

              That sounds like a lot, but some of the arms could come from the rotation to shore up the bullpen (Rusin and Villaneuva) and some from the minors (Cabrera?). The OF will still have Lake and Shierholtz (both have been pretty good this season). Its not a playoff team, but it will win games which is what the Cubs really need to start doing to build toward a competitive 2015.

            • ETS

              Imagine this year’s team if castro and rizzo performed as expected and we didn’t start the year off so terribly.

              It’s not unrealistic to think we have (at least) a .500 team on paper going into next year. Also, while Epstein keeps saying that the money isn’t there, they at least have the money to make a sizable offer to Sanchez and a pretty good offer to Jackson.

              • Spencer

                Maybe the Cubs had to settle for Jackson instead of Sanchez because the Cubs are broke.

                • ETS

                  Maybe or maybe they didn’t think Sanchez was worth more than whatever they offered him.

                  • Spencer

                    That is a possibility as well.

                • hansman1982

                  Apparently someone has forgotten how the Sanchez deal worked itself out.

                  • MichiganGoat

                    someone has been drinking the Red Kool-aid…. hmmmmm?

                • MichiganGoat

                  You know this isn’t true Spenc, Sanchez played the Cubs to get the Tigers to overspend on him. The Cubs had a good offer on the table but weren’t going to get into a bidding war for a player that obviously only wanted to play for the Tigers.
                  They had the money ready to sign him lost and then signed EJax instead and if I’m remembering correctly the buzz was that the Cubs were ready to sign both Sanchez and EJax.

              • willis

                That’s kind of what I was trying to say…this team put itself in position to win far more games than it has. Especially the first couple of months. And that’s with those two being “meh” and at times down right crappy. They will be better come next season, and that alone gives this team a huge boost.

                • When the Music’s Over

                  There is no guarantee the Cubs will be any better next year. There are so many variables that could spin either way. Assuming bounce back years for Castro, Rizzo and Shark, and perhaps positive impact from a few prospects will make up for the loss of the positive production output of Garza, Soriano, DeJesus, Feldman, as well as perhaps regression by other members of the team, is pretty dangerous.

                  With most of the impact minor league talent hopefully ready to make a real impact in 2015, if the Cubs go through yet another similar off-season bargain bin binge and mid-season purge, there’s a good chance 2014 is pretty similar to 2012 and 2013.

                  Because of this, I feel I must again take a pretty guarded approach to the 2014 season.

                  • http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/653cc0c5f0eded621ab13b4f631de7da.png Cizzle

                    The biggest improvement for 2014 will be the bullpen.

                • TWC

                  Did you just say “wait ’til next year”, willis?!

                  (Although I completely agree with you.)

                  • willis

                    I’m just saying there are some things to look forward to, and that I hope there are continued next right steps taken by the FO to make this team better as next season approaches. There are things to to hang your hope hat on, as long as the expectations are tempered some. And I think that is the key, with all we know now, vs. what we knew a few years ago, all of us have to look for improvements but hold back a little on expectations, and that’s what I’m trying to do. There are some head scratching negative things, but also many positives to try and focus on.

                    • TWC

                      I’m with you on all of that.

                      But in the end, it’s just a game. And we’re not even playing!

                    • miggy80

                      ^^Nailed it^^

          • Noah

            I think the Cubs have given up on “selectively aggressive” being a part of Castro’s game. There are some players that just can’t do it, and can only be successful being recklessly aggressive. It limits Castro’s ceiling, but he’s better being a 2 WAR floor/4 WAR ceiling guy in any given year than a -2 WAR floor/6 WAR ceiling guy.

  • Robert

    Reminds of the people that buy a big house but don’t have the money to furnish it.

  • TPS

    Why not sell Wrigley naming rights? There’s 20 mil a year that doesn’t require any spending or neighborhood approval. Why isn’t anyone asking about the naming rights?

    • Jeff

      Why not sell the Cubs if you don’t have the financial resources to turn the club into an Elite team.
      If this keeps up, in 10 years we will be talking about how the Tribune company was such an awesome ownership group compared to these bums!

    • Pat

      There are only 4 deals that are anywhere close to 20 mil a year, and three of those are in New York (Mets @ 21 mil, Nets @ 20, and NY Giants and Dallas Cowboys @ 19). From there there are 2 more over ten (Atlanta Hawks and Houston Texans @ 12 each).

      • Cubbie Blues

        Don’t forget about the United Center at $1.8M and U.S. Cellular at $3.4M.

  • TigerCub

    This sucks. I’m confused. Chicago is not a mid-major city. Were the prior owners losing money hand over fist? I doubt it. I think the Ricketts are running the team for their investment return first (which is their right) and for competitiveness second. Seems that being competitive would increase revenues as fast as anything else they are doing. I’ve been on the season ticket wait list for about 10 years and always knew I’d buy tickets as soon as the opportunity opened up, but now I just don’t know.

    • Noah

      The prior owners only increased payroll because they knew they weren’t going to have to actually pay those players. They were increasing payroll because they knew a larger budget also meant a larger sale price for the ball club. Also, the Tribune didn’t have debt payments to incur, and weren’t planning on spending half a billion dollars of the company’s money to renovate the stadium and surrounding area.

    • Brains

      Those poor billionaire owners just can’t afford to invest a couple years upfront to see the team win and develop at the same time.

      Good article overall, though, with a strong grasp of the situation. But let’s be real here. The team stinks, Theo has done a good job with the minors but his hands are tied to bring in in game chanters. We’re just plain going to be Seattle (high possible payroll, high losses) for the next 10 years, long after Theo takes a job in a greener pasture. Think he wants to take the reputational fall for an organization that cares more about the owners than the players? He’s already thinking about his next career move.

  • Rich

    let’s just hope it is one more season of trades and pick ups and minor signings..

  • tbone

    So “There’s always next year” has turned into “There’s always a few years from now.” Great.

  • Spencer

    We’ll just keep kicking the whole “Cubs being competitive thing” down the road to the next year, and then the next year, and then the next year. Makes sense to me.

    How are the Cubs so strapped for cash? I guess they should be getting competitive balance draft picks like other small market teams. Maybe they should’ve fundraised at Social Media night. Maybe they should raise ticket prices, because who doesn’t love paying 35-50 bucks to watch the 4th worst team in baseball year after year.

    “2014 free agent class is extremely weak, and likely wasn’t the way for the Cubs to improve their near-term roster anyway.”
    What was the argument with trading/extending Garza last year before he got hurt? “It’s always nice to have the option,” right? But it becomes pretty convenient to say that since the 2014 free agent class is weak that it’s no biggie that the Cubs can’t spend money on it anyway.

    Sometimes it’s not necessary to put a silver lining on everything. Sometimes things just suck.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I wouldn’t expect this kind of lack of appreciation for nuance from a future lawyer. I know that writing on the Internet is always black and white, but the world is gray, gray, gray.

      I think I did a very fair job of deconstructing – in 1500 words – why spend/don’t spend isn’t really the dichotomy on the table right now. I wasn’t looking for silver linings. I was examining how I actually feel. And, surprise, it wasn’t black or white, either.

  • When the Music’s Over

    Queue the arguments……

    Joking aside, I can’t get overly excited about the Cubs increasing/maintaining spending in certain budget areas (draft, int’l free agents, other stuff Brett mentioned, etc) and making some reasonable signings/extensions (Jackson, Castro, Rizzo, other guys Brett mentioned, etc) while severely dropping the overall spend on the MLB payroll. Most of the positives of that last sentence are for the most part expected par for the course moves that most every team should make.

    The reality is the Cubs are a crippled beast. Still dangerous, absolutely. Still able to win a world series, sure.

    In the best position to win the world series, not even close. That’s where people, such as myself take issue. Why? Likely because fans have so far been asked to foot the bill, both financially and emotionally (frustration) by ownership. Ticket prices up, check. Multiple (and still counting) years of relative competitive futility, check. Miscalculation in the realities of the business world, check.

    In the end, the Cubs ownership appears to have made some miscalculations in how this process was going to play out. Sure it can rely on the convenient need to rebuild the right way (which I agree needed to happen) as the smokescreen for the financial miscalculations, however, that play, which by and large relied heavily on Cubs fans deep loyalty, has a finite shelf life. In other words, if for whatever reason, the Cubs still aren’t competitive in 2015/2016, yet are still running with a $90M payroll in spite of a top 5 most expensive ticket, I’m going to guess the overall attitude will have taken on a severely more cynical vibe.

    • Spencer

      Maybe Brett could have a guest poster give his loyal readers the counter argument to this development about the team. You know, one that isn’t necessarily sugar coated with rainbows and unicorns.

      • TWC

        Why on earth would he do that? Seems like most of the commenters here are already waist-deep in cynicism.

      • bbmoney

        You and I must have read different articles.

      • Patrick W.

        Yeah Brett, you’re opening to the conclusion of this piece is just over the top rainbows and unicorns!

        “If the Cubs sit out the spending this Winter, I’m probably not going to be too upset..”

        I mean, come on man. That kind of effusive joy reeks of being in the pocket of Big Blue.

    • Northside Neuman

      Following the 2010 season, ticket prices on average at Wrigley Field have decreased each year.

      http://espn.go.com/blog/chicago/cubs/post/_/id/13959/new-ticket-prices-reflect-cubs-struggles

  • Wick

    I truly am fully in favor of the rebuild and have been since day one. I can remember modeling some points learned in high school and college business classes after the Cubs. My thinking was we were constantly putting a band aid on a wound that needed serious work. Props to Epstein and the Ricketts for sticking it out and reassuring the fans that better days are coming. My one dilemma is this..

    If we’re gonna rebuild.. Then lets REALLY rebuild. Quit trotting the piss poor Barney out there everyday. Bring up Baez. Bring up some other younger kids and give them a crack at some big league action and situations. It was a much-needed shot in the arm when Lake came up and I think Baez, Alcantara, and some of the other younger guys could do the same. If they aren’t gonna spend money on names to get (or keep) people in the seats, at least use what we got and get people excited about our younger guys. I know, personally, I will not pay good money for a ticket to watch Barney’s worthless bat hit in a Cubs lineup.

    • mjhurdle

      i get what you are saying, and i would love to have something like a Baez promotion to get excited about, but part of a rebuild is patience with prospects.

      If the Front Office brings up players that they do not think are ready simply to satisfy anxious fans, then they aren’t concerning themselves with the rebuild (future) as much as they are with their jobs and angry fans (present).

    • On The Farm

      “I can remember modeling some points learned in high school and college business classes after the Cubs…Bring up Baez. Bring up some other younger kids and give them a crack at some big league action and situations”

      You must have also learned that you don’t pump a bunch of money into a loser when it is trending down in business class then. If the Cubs call up Baez (or Alcantara) it starts their arbitration clock and has the option of losing a year of control. By starting either in September or April next year we sacrifice and entire season for what? One month in a season we might finish in the bottom 3? One month of April in another season where things don’t look terribly optimistic. If the Chicago Cubs are no longer going to boast $100M + payrolls that extra year of control for Baez is huge. I am just trying to say that part of the rebuild is not calling up the young players purely for fan interest. There are cost and other considerations to consider as well (defense or in Alcantra’s case this is the most ABs he has ever had in a season so he may be ready for a break).

  • Edwin

    Maybe Theo could organize a bake sale or something. Or start sending players door to door to sell gourmet popcorn and pizza.

  • Cubbie Blues

    There will also be another $5-8M from the international FA because we won’t be able to sign anyone for a big price tag.

    • Spencer

      What do you mean?

      • MichiganGoat

        because we blew the budget and are forced to only sign players for 250K or below we will have that extra cap space to either trade or move into the MLB budget.

        • Spencer

          I still don’t understand the original comment. What 5-8M?

          • MichiganGoat

            If the Cubs still had the ability to use all their IFA Slot money it would be like 5-8M and therefore since they can’t one could argue that there is an additonal 5-8M for them to use on the MLB Payroll since if they could they would have used all their slot money but now they can trade it away and use the savings on the MLB roster vs. using it on IFA signings.

            Spenc- are you okay you are acting very off today, you know this its been covered in ultra-mega-mode since we started blowing the IFA budget.

            • northsiders6

              I am probably wrong, but I thought any money from the IFA pool that is not spent on IFA’s or traded was lost.

      • HCS

        Repercussions from the IFA spending binge this year. I believe they will be limited to max signings of $250.000 per player. Having a large pool of tradable money there could be a boon if there is a market for it.

        • Spencer

          Oh. 5-8M in tradeable pool money. I gotcha.

          • Cubbie Blues

            It’s not only money/players they get back from trading the pool money. They are also not going to be spending as much since they can’t get the top guys.

            Put it another way, Since they went over the limit this year, the money that would have gone to sign the players they won’t be getting should go over to other areas in the budget.

  • Andrew

    If the Cubs miss this year’s window of opportunity for the Wrigley renovation, would their agreement with the city allow them to put up temporary outfield signage next season? Yeah, it would look terrible, but I would be OK with a single season of ugly signs if it generates cash to use in the 2013 and 2014 offseason. It seems preferable to waiting yet another year to see any revenue whatsoever from signage/ads.

  • Senor Cub

    There will be at least 4 teams with lower payrolls than the Cubs who will be in the playoffs this year. Spending more on payroll obviously does not guarantee better success ( NYY, Philly, Angels, SanFran). A payroll in the 100-110M should be sufficient to put a great product on the field specially once the minors start feeding MLB ready talent on a yearly basis.

  • When the Music’s Over

    Also, I’d find it entertaining to see how other major market MLB franchise’s fans would deal with this rebuild, under the same exact circumstances, as amicably and in stride as Cubs fans have on a collective basis.

    • CubFan Paul

      The honeymoon will be over next year no matter what the “spin” is from Theo&Co./Ricketts. Hence, the .500ish talk (that makes sense).

  • baseballet

    Ricketts, a billionaire, won’t fund the payrolls Theo wants, but he will tart up Wrigley with 50,000 square feet of new advertising. Fantastic! Tacky is the new tasteful!
    And the tarnished silver lining is that they might increase payrolls to a major market level at some point in the future, maybe 2015 after the first part of the TV deal expires, or maybe 2020 after the second part of the TV deal.
    Brett should rerun the post about that wonderful new DR baseball facility! Brand new urinals, no troughs or anything.

  • Cubbie Blues

    That “tarting up” is going to bring in needed revenue.

  • MichiganGoat

    This is going to get really ugly tonight: the cynisism, bile, hate, cries for the good ole Tribune/Hendry days, SIGN ALL THE PLAYERS, Fat Cat Daddy Ricky Getting Richyer, I’m not looking forword the the studpidity. And of course anyone of us that use a calm rational mind will be called heretics and witches for believing in reality.

    • Alex F.

      Does your last sentence refer to the people slightly annoyed that their favorite team has become a rich family’s piggy bank? Or, in a moment of rare self-awareness, does it just refer to the unstoppable loutishness of the goatman?

    • Kyle

      As long as “calm, rational mind” doesn’t turn into outright apologism, I’m cool.

      This sucks and it’s not only the Tribune’s fault. Some good things are happening too.

  • hansman1982

    “The ability for this front office to sign anyone they believe is worth signing is probably not there right now. That stings.”

    Ehh, I think the FO has the ability to sign anyone they believe fits the bill. A 31-year old Cano isn’t that.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I don’t get that from Theo’s comments. He implied that there are big league moves they would make if they had the money.

      Cano? No. More money for Sanchez? More money for Darvish? Maybe.

      • MightyBear

        Ellsbury

      • When the Music’s Over

        Yes, I got the sense it was more about being handcuffed in general in terms of constructing the roster they way the front office would see fit, rather than in terms of signing one specific player.

      • hansman1982

        Would they be more willing to go crazybuckets, sure. But a non-crazybuckets contract on a guy they want, I think the money is there (and was there this year).

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          I used to be as confident as you on that. I’d still *bet* you’re right, but, after a year’s worth of this financial stuff, I’m no longer as certain as I was.

          In a couple years? Sure. Right now? I really don’t know.

          • hansman1982

            As you said before, there is still an incredible amount of grey-ness, even with my thinking.

            They were heavy on Sanchez, heavy on Darvish, active in last year’s FA period, I’m not too worried.

            • Rebuilding

              It seems that last season they had about $15m per year to spend on a #2-3 SP. Given that we reportedly offered Sanchez 5/75 and gave Jackson 4/56. But I really wish people would stop saying we were in hard on Darvish or Cespedes – there is absolutely no proof that is true other than rumor. The Darvish bids were sealed so I wouldn’t believe what anyone says about what they or anyone else bid except for Texas. As far as Cespedes goes – the conventional wisdom that he only wanted 3 years even though we were supposedly offering more money reeks of CYA revisionism to me. What player has ever asked for fewer guaranteed years if the money was more? All I know is we didnt get either and no one really knows how hard we tried

    • Kyle

      I don’t know how many more times Epstein has to clearly state that he doesn’t have as much money as he wants before you accept that he is being limited by payroll considerations and can’t have whoever he wants.

  • Aisle 19

    Tanking two seasons has caused a big decline in attendance, roughly by 500,000 fans since
    2011. Ticket sales, concessions, plus the number of no-shows is increasing. No beer sold to people not in the park.
    This has a lot to do with less money. They are making far less.
    Unless they do something to excite fans, ticket sales will drop again. Season ticket holders
    will again question the wisdom of spending big money to see a bad team. My seats cost roughly $8000 a piece and I have 4. To me, it is no longer worth the money and I know a lot of others feel the same way.

    • http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/653cc0c5f0eded621ab13b4f631de7da.png Cizzle

      If you don’t renew, someone else will. The waiting line for them is out the door still. All the other band-wagoners will come back and the team will be in a financial boon in a year and a half. Just remember, you pay to watch baseball not run the team.
      To me, it looks like Thed are re-building the team in the image of the Cardinals ($100M payroll and top farm system) and I have no qualms with that.

      • Pat

        Is it really out the door still? I know they sold a lower number of total season tickets this year (which can bee seen from the minimum paid attendance numbers). I know a lot of people still haven’t had their number called yet, but a huge percentage of those can’t financially swing it anyway. Lots of people went on that list thinking they wouldn’t get called for twenty years, and thinking by that time they’d be in a financial position to afford them.

        • Cubbie Blues

          I am still number 79,268.

          • Pat

            Where were you before last offseason?

            • Cubbie Blues

              I’m really not sure. I don’t think I was all that far off from that number. Maybe around 95,000. I could probably go back and look at the message board and find out, but it would take way too much time.

              • Cubbie Blues

                Never mind, it wasn’t that hard. I was at 110,768. So, it was more of a drop than I thought.

        • jaslhill

          I jumped from 48k in line to about 16k this year. Hoping I don’t get a call this offseason, because I would have to drop. I will probably be able to afford them in another year. But, you are correct … I expected to wait at least another 5 years. Surprised by the falloff.

          • terencemann

            I’m pretty sure fans will come back when the team starts winning, too. The Cubs were 10th in attendance in 2001. That was 3 seasons after their last playoff team. They rocketed up to the top 6 range during the last decade. They are 11th now. The fans will come back.

            I think part of the problem is that people look at the Cubs’ 140+ salary in the years the team was being sold as a sustainable payroll but the Cubs went to the playoffs twice in the 2000′s without spending over 100. $140 is the high water mark, not the average.

            Even under the Tribune ownership, the Cubs were usually a middle of the pack spender but kicked in extra money when it looked like it was going to put them over the top. It wasn’t until the Tribune company knew it was going to sell the team that they took a scorched earth policy toward the team’s investments.

            • Kyle

              Sports revenue is increasing quite rapidly. For a well-run franchise, the high-water mark should constantly be being reached. The average should be irrelevant.

        • http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/653cc0c5f0eded621ab13b4f631de7da.png Cizzle

          I signed up today and am #89,261. Yes, I’d say it’s still “out the door”.

          • Pat

            Sure, if you include people who can’t actually afford the tickets. There were several reports last year of people passing on tickets but allowed to stay toward the front of the line (instead of going to the end of the list). Remember, they will do anything they can to make the list appear as long as possible. You want to keep the threat that giving them up means you’ll never get another chance at them.

      • Brains

        I have no problem with this kind of sentiment, as long as it doesn’t degrade into “well we shouldn’t sign any good players anyway because in 6 years they might not be as good anymore”. A good team can be built for 100m, I mean look at Tampa, who are way below that. But let’s be honest that the team is underpaying by at least 50m, NOT to improve the team, but to extend profits for 3 or 4 people who did nothing to build this franchise.

        • Cubbie Blues

          “But let’s be honest that the team is underpaying by at least 50m”
          Where is the evidence to this? Don’t use the Forbes bogus numbers either, those have already become highly questionable across the board.

          • Brains

            Here come the indigent fantasy baseball basement dwellers who deny journalism, and even quotes from ownership themselves, as an argument.

            “Don’t get too close to my fantasy.” – Ween

            • Brains

              *indignant…not indigent, though an interesting change by autocorrect

              • TWC

                Yeah, speaking of being indignant…

            • Cubbie Blues

              That wasn’t evidence.

            • DarthHater

              Here come more brilliant observations about “basement dwellers” from Mr. Brains.

          • hansman1982

            Hell, even if you take Forbes numbers as gospel, there isn’t room for another $50M in payroll.

        • jaslhill

          This is exactly how I feel about Choo, and I think it’s pretty reasonable way to think. I assume he is going to want 4-5 years at, oh, say $12-15 mil per year. He’s 31, so I would think he would be worth it for the first 2-3 years, with a steady drop off after that. Obviously, these are all assumptions on my part. I just think I would be against it because the team would probably have to overpay for those last two years, which is when I would they would not want an albatross on the books. At that point, hopefully they are adding to what is already a really good team. No reason to take away payroll flexibility in those years.

          That being said, if they did sign him I would be excited to watch him play in the short-term. How it could hurt them in the future would worry me, though.

          • Cubbie Blues

            I would think they would jump at Choo for $12M/4 years. His value isn’t based off of speed so he shouldn’t lose as much there as someone like Elsbury and even if it were 5 years he could be a platoon player the last year. The problem then lies with the fact that several other teams would also love him at $12M per.

            • terencemann

              There should be a pretty good market for Choo. There are a lot of teams looking for a good outfield bat right now.

            • jaslhill

              Yeah, that’s part of it. If it’s 4/48, I don’t have as much of a problem. I think other teams are going to jack that up and am expecting more on the high end of 5/75, which puts them in dangerous territory, in my opinion. Might be eating the last $30 mil of that for a sub-par player.

              Of course, you are right about the speed issue. By the way, I really hope I’m wrong. If they get him on what I deem an overpay and he ends up earning every cent, I would have no problem with it.

              • Kyle

                Why is it generally considered scary to risk $30m in dead money, but acceptable to not spend $30m at all? Isn’t that the same thing from a competitiveness standpoint?

                • jj

                  Because of the opportunity cost which arises in future years. (Though, I note caution re perfect being enemy of the good.)

              • jaslhill

                I don’t think so. Not if that $30 mil can be spent more wisely. If this is going to be a really good team infused with young talent in 3 years (and I’m hoping it is), I would think they could get more value of that $30 by adding a player that will contribute more than a 34 year-old OF’er on the decline (IF he is in a decline, at that point …).

                Now, that’s not to say the rest of that $40-50 mil should not be spent this offseason if the right opportunity presents itself. I just don’t see that opportunity out there other than Choo, who, as I said, I believe will be over-priced by the time he signs.

                • Kyle

                  Or that $30m could help you win more games right away, reversing the lowering attendance and helping your TV rights be worth $100m more when it’s time to sign them.

                  • jaslhill

                    Sure, I see what you are saying. Invest a little more now, hopefully cover the investment and then some. I think that makes sense except that I don’t think 1 guy is going to do that for you. The problem is that $30 mil is overpaying, in my opinion. If Choo could be had for something more reasonable it would make more sense. As I said before, I think 4/48 would be more along the lines of getting actual value out of him, but the market will jack it up.

                    I think if you want to use that extra $30 mil to make the team better and get a better return, you are better off spreading it around than giving it to one guy unless he is the final piece that you believe will take you to the promised land. As much as I like Choo (and I like him a lot), he is not that guy for this team.

                    • Kyle

                      In this case, with this exact roster, I don’t think you are better off spreading it around. We have a *ton* of guys who are right on the edge between valuable and not, and they need playing time.

                    • jaslhill

                      I’m not totally sure about that. So, you’d go all in on Choo? What about Cano?

                    • Kyle

                      No opinion just yet on those specific players.

                      There’s just not much point in spreading the money around. If you do that, you are going to start shoving out guys like Lake, Olt, Rusin, Grimm, Valbuena, etc., who are too young to rot in AAA and too valuable to shove out for some 1/$7m guy.

    • Jason

      My sons business used to be a good reason to keep our season tickets–we would go frequently but comping our customers was special. No longer–Jay said this summer when he made offers people would just smile–not every time-but frequently. During that first 6 weeks when the weather was so cold the seats were empty–we need some player special enough to make the drive. That player I truly believe is Baez–a player to build a team around–even if you see a loss–you still got to see Baez. Hop a plane or bus or suv and come see him play in our Arizona Fall Ball League. He is our very own Johnny Manziel–exciting and sometimes controversial. But worth the ticket price.

  • EQ76

    I don’t buy for one minute that all the money is being eaten up by the draft and international FA signings, etc. The Cubs spent just over 11 million on the draft this year, That’s the salary of Matt Garza and Valbuena combined. The Cubs can afford a much better payroll than where they are right now. I’m not saying go spend recklessly, but they are not strapped for cash.

    It’s about shopping smart. If there’s a player that fits the mold of everything they want and it doesn’t take a wild, overpaid contract to get them, then they’ll be able to get them. Maybe a trade could work out. We have a good farm system and a big time log jam at some positions (like 3B).

    This FO knows that it needs to get a competitive team in Chicago fairly soon.. another 2-3 years of this and many fans will start turning on them.

    Having said that, I do believe this team will be competing by 2015. If not, it could get ugly with the fan base.

  • Coldneck

    I’m begin to grow weary of the blanket statement that all the money brought into the team is spent line of thinking. This line of thinking is based on Rickett’s 2 year old comments and is backed up by nothing. In fact, Epstein has plainly said multiple times that money is not available. I realize the team is investing significant amounts of money in the drafts and international scouting facilities (and perhaps Wrigley Field), but Epstein tempering fans enthusiasm for 2014 is a big farking red flag, IMHO. If the horizon for competitiveness is 2015, than it is imperative to start adding talent in 2014 so that the team has the necessary pieces to compliment its homegrown talent when it arrives. It is unreasonable to think that those pieces can be added in one offseason.

    • Coldneck

      Furthermore, I’m beginning to give credence to the reports that the team is mired in debt and that this debt may prevent the Cubs from competing in the FA market for several years ahead. Regardless of the reason the debt exists, it’s evident that the “baseball department” is being adversely effected by it.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      “This line of thinking is based on Rickett’s 2 year old comments and is backed up by nothing.”

      I can’t speak to whether it’s backed up by anything, but Ricketts said it again in February.

    • Brains

      YES, this is exactly right. At some point someone with common sense, who has worked somewhere in which results are important, usually shows up to this discussion.

      • Brains

        “If the horizon for competitiveness is 2015, than it is imperative to start adding talent in 2014 so that the team has the necessary pieces to compliment its homegrown talent when it arrives. It is unreasonable to think that those pieces can be added in one offseason.”

        Someone copy, paste, and mail this to the Cubs’ front office. Assuming that they’re not being disingenuous that they actually care to compete within the next 3 years.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        I’m not sure you can find anyone – anywhere – who says results don’t matter and aren’t part of the process of evaluating success or failure.

        It’s just that some of us think baseball rebuilds are evaluated over longer periods of time than two or three years. You can spend as much money as you want and you still won’t magically turn that 18-year-old into a 25-year-old in anything under seven years …

        • Brains

          True of course. But the seeds should already be there for success on the major league level if the Cubs intend on winning even by year 5 of Theo. Rizzo and Castro are good places to start, but so.much.more is needed for the rhetoric to correlate to reality. This looks more like “maybe we’ll start trying by year 5″. Poor Theo.

          • mjhurdle

            “This looks more like ‘maybe we’ll start trying by year 5′″

            Well, i guess it would look this way if you assumed that the only way to “try” was by handing out 100+ million dollar contracts.
            Other people look at things like a vastly improved minor league depth, extensions to players that may not be superstars but should be key players, improving the coaching and facilities of both the minor and major league system as them ‘starting to try’.
            I guess it just depends on how you look at it.

            • Brains

              Well it’s at least 1/3 of the puzzle to succeed, yes! That gives us, on the generous side, a 67% effort ratio, which is a failing grade.

              • TWC

                Oh, bullshit. “[A] failing grade”. Whatever.

                A guy gets on base two out of every three times and you’ll consider him a failure? Sure.

                It’s make-believe-metrics land in the BN comments today.

        • Coldneck

          Brett, truthfully I’m surprised that Theo’s comments about not having financial resources don’t irk you more than most. I think the the part of the plan that includes building from within has been a huge success. But the Chicago Cubs should not have an $80M payroll. If 2015 is the time frame in which the farmland begins to blossom, than I feel strongly that the Cubs should be looking to improve this offseason, especially starting pitching.

    • Jarder

      Take a look through here and see if there is any talent worth adding for the future. This is a really poor free agent class. Is it really worth spending premium dollars to acquire mediocre or aging talent? This will be another off season of finding flippable assets.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/free-agent-leaderboards/

      • Brains

        This is a point I accept, you don’t throw your money away. But let’s make a coherent distinction here between bad contracts and this “no contract is a good contract if it means the team doesn’t resemble a small-market club” logic. It’s like Cubs fans turned on their own chances for success this year.

        • Cubbie Blues

          Strawman argument, nobody has said that.

  • http://Permalink papad1945

    Let’s get healthy pitchers and not over spend on someone like Jackson. That was Dumb A_ _ move by the Cubs. I believe we can field a better team next year almost from within.
    We need to find a spot for Lake and settle on a centerfielder. You can use Barney as trade bait, even though I like him. I get everyone mad now, get rid of castro. Bring it on.

  • Bacboris

    Brett, you had me until: “probably isn’t even Oriole or Giant money right now”. Its truly difficult for me to believe that the Tribune’s payroll was unsustainable (even if recklessly spent). Of course the cubs aren’t some unlimited pot of gold… but its pretty damn close. No playoff wins in a decade, constantly under-performing “stars”, etc. and still the fan base is demonstrating that the revenue stream exists.

    I have no intention of being a negative nancy here. I have loved what theo/hoyer have done and am impressed with the strategic moves of the front officer. HOWEVER, nothing from Ricketts plan inspires faith in me. Debt servicing and the leveraged buy-out have been talked to death with reasonable displeasure at MLB for allowing the fans to get stuck with the bill.

    Wrigley renovations? If we were talking about new player facilities, more night games/REAL parking, and forcing wrigleyville into the cubs way of thinking, well… that would be one thing. But we’re not. A jumbo-tron, signage, and more shopping will bring in a few dollars sure. Unfortunately, that’s all low hanging fruit and surely not the riches that Crane Kenney apologists elucidated.

    So all we’re left with is: a new tv deal. Fine, if thats really the linchpin, lets see it after the 2014 season. However, I dont think that will be the case and no amount of: “acquired advanced data systems [i.e new computer systems], upgraded minor league facilities [Still nothing impressive], and helped build a state-of-the-art facility in the Dominican Republic [Money/ground laid under the old regime]” will justify treating the Cubs like a mid-market team.

    • TWC

      “If we were talking about new player facilities, more night games…”

      Um, we are. Are you not familiar with the entirety of the plans?

    • JB88

      Having been to both Camden Yards and AT&T Park, I can tell you that there is a monumental difference between the facilities at each and what is available at Wrigley. And, as a byproduct of those differences, each of the Orioles’ and Giants’ are capable of generating huge amounts of extra revenue that Wrigley and the Cubs aren’t able to generate.

  • SenorGato

    Can I just fast forward to 2020 when the Cubs are done crying poor and probably have one of the three or four highest payrolls in the sport?

    That team will have Japanese sensation Shintaro Fujinami leading the rotation, according to my science.

  • SenorGato

    Also I believe Epstein has also said recently that a good team on the field would help revenues. Another smart offseason and 3/4s of the IF bouncing back from down years could go a long way there.

  • Corey

    Some of you people should throw away all your cubs related merchandise and never visit this site again. Theo’s had exactly one season to fix the cub’s problems and he’s started to. Look how good the farm system is now, IN ONE SEASON!! Who cares if there isn’t a 130-140 million payroll with the new owners. You know for a fact Theo isn’t like that and wouldn’t just try and buy a world series. He’s doing it the right way. Let the yankees and dodgers do it that way, because they can. Getting a good farm system is much better for the future than paying 140 million for a 29 year old infielder turned outfielder who has already had his career year.

    You guys are horrible fans.

    • brickhouse

      Theo is a big spender based on his Boston days. He was just like the Yankees and Dodgers and was evil empire part II

  • terencemann

    This isn’t a black and white situation. If anybody wants to spend less time watching baseball this summer and next summer and save some energy and money to devote to the team when they’re more competitive, I won’t blame them.

    My faith in this system is strongly rooted in the belief that Tom Ricketts is a Cubs fan as much as an investor and he wants the Cubs to be as good as we do. I happen to agree with his plan of but will definitely be upset if he attempts to subvert this plan before it takes root or decides the Cubs don’t need to invest more money on the MLB payroll (like the Royals owners, for example) when the time comes.

    But if other people want to do other things in the mean time, it doesn’t bother me and it shouldn’t bother you. If it makes tickets cheaper for me in the mean time, I’m totally ok with that. I can almost guarantee you that, as closely as I follow the Cubs now, I will follow them much more closely in a couple years and so will people who are losing interest right now. It’s all relative…

  • Jim

    I was watching the Dan Patrick Show yesterday and they were talking about the Albert Pujols contract and how bad that is going to turn out to be. Then he talked about how teams need to spend in scouting, developing, and building up their systems because the age of 10 year FA contracts is over. I kept expecting him to use the Cubs as an example of how it needs to be done, but he didn’t. I think the Cubs have gotten a head start on many teams and what they are doing will be paying off soon.

  • Aaron

    The Cubs’ current owners doesn’t have the financial means to deliver a better product on the field WHILE spending monies on the international signings, building of new spring training stadium in Arizona and a new complex in the Dominican Republic, etc. This includes the Wrigley Field renovations and commercial development with the new hotel. According to Theo, the team cannot due both at the same time, which is something many fans were concerned of when learning more about the new owners. Bottom line, the Cubs could be a .500 or below for the next 2+ years. Thanks Ricketts family. As attendance goes down, along with revenues from those tickets and concessions, how is that business model looking about now?

    • terencemann

      Did you even read Brett’s article?

    • cms0101

      Free agency spending significantly dwarfs international and draft spending. In fact, just this season, they spent well more in free agency than in either of the amateur routes. If you look at Jackson, Baker, Feldman, and Schierholtz, I would guess that those contracts alone were more than what was given to the entire draft class and international free agents. Just on the fact that we signed 3 potential starting pitchers in one offseason should tell you all you need to know. This team isn’t that good, and there aren’t significant difference makers in free agency in most seasons any longer. There were in on Anibal Sanchez, but he wanted to go to a playoff contender. Thank god they didn’t kick the tires on B.J. Upton. Considering money spent, Jackson’s bad early season performance, and Baker’s wasted signing, they still did VERY well in free agency in 2013. Most years, additions like they made this season would take a middling team and move it into playoff contention. This team wasn’t middling going into the offseason. They’ve made significant progress despite the so called “money troubles”. The core of the team will be in place when they can spend gobs of money. Until then, I’m grateful they’re able to sign below-the-radar guys like Schierholtz, Navarro, etc.

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