After repeatedly defending team ownership and management on the significantly reduced payroll, I (like many of you, I suspect) was pretty disheartened to hear Theo confirm last week that this year's $107 million on-the-field payroll was maxed out (source). Making matters worse - this payroll puts us 3rd in the division while every other team in the division is small-market enough to receive "competitive balance" draft picks. This doesn't bode well for being competitive in the future unless things change.
I think my biggest problem with this is how many times we've heard Theo or Tom Ricketts say that if they wanted to go after a free agent that the money would be made available to do so. Also, I have a hard time seeing Theo signing on 2 years ago if he knew he was going to be this constrained financially, so part of me wonders how much truth there is to what Theo said about payroll being maxed out. Was he just saying this to provide a greater motivation to let the Wrigley renovation plans go through (largely) unscathed?
Yesterday, during the reveal of the new renovation drawings, Tom Ricketts said that "we anticipate increasing spending on the baseball side as soon as we know what we can do with this plan." (according to this tweet from Dave Kaplan). While this is somewhat heartening, the million dollar question is "How much?"
A big part of the renovation plan is bringing in increased advertising dollars through things like the proposed jumbotron. Even if every increased dollar of ad revenue from the renovation went to the on-field payroll (unlikely since the $500 million project needs to be paid off somehow) would that increase payroll enough to put us comfortably atop the NL Central? Would there be enough of a difference between the Cubs' payroll and those of the rest of the division to make up for the fact that we're the one team that doesn't get included in the competitive balance lottery?
The one thing that makes seasons like last year's tolerable is the belief that it's a temporary measure in order to build the foundation for a strong team going forward. It's not fun to watch your team get pounded by the likes of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I'm still hopeful that "the plan" will yield a young, talented team that can compete for the division, league and world series titles, but with a max payroll of $107 million, that feels a lot more like wishful thinking than it did a couple weeks ago.
Is there something I'm not seeing or considering? Does this cloud have a silver lining?