In an era of rock star baseball executives, the value of smart, hands-off ownership is often lost in the shuffle. By now, we know that the Cubs can count themselves among the lucky ones, with the Ricketts family leading the way. In particular, Chairman Tom Ricketts has shown the intelligence of allowing his front office to take the ball and run with it, without getting overly involved.
Despite recognizing his own limitations and allowing the front office to run the show, Ricketts is still a knowledgeable and well informed individual. When he speaks, I tend to listen, and it turns out he did just that with 670 the Score on Monday afternoon…
- When asked about the actual capability to commit so much money to free agents this offseason, Ricketts cites the cost certainty of the younger players along with the expected increase in revenue down the line. With four starters (Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell) set to enter just their second year with the Cubs – not to mention Javier Baez – the team has a cushion of payroll flexibility now, which may not be as available down the line. That is, until, the expected revenue increases from more competitive teams, playoff appearances and, most notably, a lucrative TV deal start to pay off.
- More importantly, Ricketts reaffirms what we discussed in the intro. He – and the business side – is as open and transparent with the front office about the financial capabilities and limitations as possible. From there, he allows Epstein and Hoyer to decide what the best use of that money is. You can see, then, how trust between the two branches of the team is hugely important to building a winner. “Here’s your allowance, do with it what you can.”
- Ricketts is happy that players see the Cubs as a desirable destination, but he isn’t surprised by that development. Specifically, he references the increased quality of life – providing married players/guys with families with the ability to play more day games and live closer to the stadium – and the momentum this team has generated over the past season and a half as big hooks.
- …And it doesn’t hurt that Joe Maddon is the manager of a team that hasn’t won since 1908. The Cubs are a hot spot and Ricketts knows it.
- Pulling the curtain back a bit, Ricketts addressed how frequently he is in contact with Theo Epstein before, during or after any major transactions. For example, when they get close to any major move, he is on the phone with Epstein a lot; however, during the Winter Meetings, for one example, the front office is often working on six or seven things at once. Instead of intervening, Ricketts prefers to let them do their job uninterrupted. Given how infrequently those transactions actually get completed (and how fast paced they can be), he indicates that his opinions or intervention would be less than valuable.
- In years past, Ricketts has gone on the road to help sell free agents on coming to Chicago. This year, however, he hasn’t had to: “The story tells itself. The players are coming here to win with a team that is good and young, with a great manager on a real quest.”
- While he doesn’t deny that the fantastic 2015 season really puts the pedal to the metal, the Cubs are, without question, at a point of trying to win every single year. That said, he recognizes that there are multiple factors dictating the teams’ overall moves. For example, the existence of Jake Arrieta and the two years left on his contract.
- Take from that what you will, but my understanding is that the team looks to be competitive for years to come thanks to an exceptional, young core, but it’s likely that 2016 and 2017 can be especially important. Given the moves for Ben Zobrist and John Lackey – who, despite the elevated ages, look like good bets to produce over the next two seasons – that seems to square with what the front office believes, as well.
- Ricketts hasn’t had the official “sit-down” with Epstein, regarding a potential extension to his contract (which ends after the 2016); however, the two have had discussions, they are on the same page, and Ricketts believes it will be fine. So, basically, still no update, here.
- As for the continued renovation at Wrigley Field, Ricketts views the players’ clubhouse as the “biggest deliverable” for Opening Day. Fortunately, unlike other parts of the renovation, the clubhouse is an inside job that will not be affected by the weather. And even so, the weather this year has been far more cooperative than this time last year. So, for now, everything is on track to be ready on time, but Ricketts warns that there are still a couple more years of renovations to be done.
- As we suspected, Ricketts confirms that the front office comes into every offseason with multiple scenarios/plans. The moves they’ve made so far? (Lackey, Zobrist, Castro, Heyward) Ricketts suggests that was Plan A. Even still, I bet acquiring a sure-fire young starter was a big part of that. Maybe it’s still coming.
- Game 3 against the Mets was the roughest of the postseason, for Ricketts (for me it was the first inning of Game 4, but I’m sure he wasn’t happy then, either), but he’s using that and the general competitiveness of the NL Central as cause to improve. He’s aware that the team is still very young and the Cardinals and Pirates were very good. Resting on the laurels of 2015, he will not.
- Asked whether he has told the front office to pump the brakes a little, now that they’ve acquired some significant pieces, Ricketts responds with, “I don’t tell them to stop or go, but you know Theo, he never stops.” There’s so much in that short quote that I like. Ricketts goes on to explain that, although there are probably more moves to be made, he believes that Epstein and Hoyer already feel the team is prepared for the 2016 season, as constructed.
- The money quote (I mean that both ways) to end on: “I know the contract for Heyward was large, but I don’t know if it’s even about money, at this point. We just have to make sure we have the right guys and pieces in the right places so that everyone is healthy and ready to go next season.” Dude gets it.