Have you ever wondered why a bear would put up with a couple of dozen bee stings in the face just to get some honey? Honey is sweet and all, but is it worth the effort when there are plenty of sweet berries and what not available to your average bear? Turns out (and maybe you already know this) bears don’t eat honey because they love honey. Bears like eating bees. Specifically they like baby bees, which are found in honeycombs. So a bear will swipe their giant paws into a bee nest, pull out the honeycomb and remove all the protein rich baby bees with their jaws and then take off, shaking their head to get rid of the pissed off adult bees like they would to get rid of water on their face.
What does this have to do with the Cubs? Well, Cubs are baby bears, obviously. More importantly, I think there is a lesson to be learned by us Cubs fans on the value of putting up with a little short term pain for the long term nourishment of our fandom. Granted, our faces are starting look pretty gross what with all the redness and bumps and stingers sticking out, but we need to put up with this stuff so we can shake it all off and grow up big and strong.
This is a tough time to be a Cubs fan, and I think the majority of that centers around the fact that these are tough times to be running the Cubs.
Available payroll had gone down. Everything we’ve heard to date suggests to me that Theo Epstein (and his organization) just does not have the financial resources to run the Cubs the way he would like to right now. He’s made it clear that he doesn’t have the money to expand the payroll the way he might want to. He’s made it clear that the major league team isn’t as good as it could be, which by extension means it could be better, if he had the money. That stings.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement has changed. Specifically, the way free agency and compensation for signing free agents has changed the way the entire league values players’ contracts. If you’re the Cubs (or any MLB team) you are no longer competing for the right to pay some guy an insane amount of honey, you’re also going to get stung in the form of a loss of one of your top two draft picks (depending on where you draft) on the very best free agents who were good enough to receive a qualifying offer from their former team and decline that offer.
You’re a major market team competing with other major market teams with a television contract that pays you like a small market team. The Cubs are so tied to their television contracts that it will likely be five years before they can fully shake free of the well below current market value payments. That’s a lot of uncertainty in the face of large television deals that will be half a decade old by the time you get to negotiate something new. What if those competing teams’ contracts start to look really bad to the broadcasters involved and that turns television rights into a bear market?
Wrigley Field is not a cash-cow. To be sure the allure of Wrigley is at least partially responsible for the Cubs averaging 28,000 or so a game vs. 21,000 their record might bear. But it takes a couple of million dollars every year just to pass the fire code. Currently there is such limited space for advertising they sell the right to put your sticker on the cup holders. Go to any Cubs game and get up and head to the concourse in the fourth inning, I guarantee you’ll be able to walk freely and get a beer or a Dunkin Donuts coffee in about 45 seconds. Nobody likes to leave their seats at Wrigley because the rest of the place is a dump.
The question for you, Cubs fan, is this: do you think the Cubs are doing the best they can considering the circumstances?
With less available payroll for the major league club, the organization has made calculated bets with smaller money. They invested heavily in the international market, signing some of the best available players and spending so much money that every dollar over their spending pool they guaranteed to an international free agent they also guaranteed to Major League Baseball and they are now limited to signing guys for $250K or less next year. They made deals with clubs to reduce their obligations for 2014 major league payroll and net some serviceable possibilities for the future.
The Cubs moved to lock up players they believe to be valuable pieces of the future, avoiding some free agency years and cutting down on the possibility of losing arbitration cases or having to make qualifying offers to players that they wanted to keep but didn’t want to overpay. They signed players who were available that did cost them draft pick compensation and were either possible trade candidates or long term additions to the hive.
The Cubs advanced a plan to enhance future revenue streams by making targeted investments in their stadium and out. They were willing to take on the city, and one powerful alderman just for the right to spend their own money on their own building. Their design will both improve the customer experience inside Wrigley Field and increase the revenues available to them through advertising. They were bold enough to walk into the hornet’s nest of adding a JumboTron™ to a venerated relic of the past.
For me, I am comfortable with where the Cubs are going. Sure, I’d like there to be some quick path to the World Series. I’d love it if I felt like 2014 is the year. I just don’t think either of those is possible. But I’m okay with it. I have a season ticket; I’m invested in this team. I’ll trust this organization to build a long term winner. Until I don’t. I’m not sure how long I’m willing to give that trust, but for now I’m just happy to be part of the colony.