Tom Ricketts Speaks: Large Budget, Past Signings Create Inflexibility, Russell, Sosa, More
Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts will not face the wrath and fury of Cubs Convention-goers on Saturday, as the Cubs owners will not host a panel for the first time in their ownership history, but he did speak in two radio interviews today, covering much of the same territory he would have on Saturday. (But, you know, it’s a little more fun when the questions come from Crazy Hat Lady or Prepared Statement Guy.)
You can listen to the full interviews below, but I want to make a few notes:
- Ricketts emphasized in both interviews that the Cubs have their largest baseball budget ever and will one again have a top 3-5 payroll in baseball. Notably, Ricketts indicated that they have reached a point where that should always be the case. Relative to the rest of the league, and to team history, I have no dispute here – the Cubs are spending more than they ever have, and they are spending at a level I think is appropriate compared to other teams. But there are other fair questions attached to that.
- Why no additional substantial commitments this offseason? Well, roster decisions are the province of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, but they understand – according to Ricketts – that large deals in the past will necessarily impact flexibility in the future. Dave Kaplan even asked whether the front office knew that by signing Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, and Brandon Morrow last year, that was going to limit what they could spend on a major free agent this offseason, and Ricketts said yes.
- Compare that with Theo Epstein’s comments on that specific question back in February of last year when the Cubs signed Yu Darvish. Here’s what Epstein said: “If you look at our needs, knock on wood if we can stay healthy and productive for the most part through our roster, everybody’s back and for the next few years. We shouldn’t have tremendous needs. But we have some work to do to make sure we’re in position to be able to pounce if a certain great fit or just the right special player happens to become available, or somebody wants to be in Chicago and something becomes too good to turn down, too impactful or too good to deal would mean too much to the team, we just have to work hard to get in position to do that. Rosters are flexible, payrolls are flexible. We would never put ourselves in a position to be completely inflexible going forward, but when you commit $126 million to someone, that does take away a little bit from future flexibility.”
- Maybe we didn’t focus enough on that last part at the time. There was never going to be a ton of flexibility this offseason, Ricketts indicated, and that was known to the front office. Even if there had been, Ricketts suggested the Cubs might not want to make a substantial addition anyway, because they like the guys they have.
- You can rule out Bryce Harper and Manny Machado if you hadn’t already. It was crystal clear from the interviews. Maybe you can keep the dream alive that a crazy salary-dump trade happens for the Cubs, and then Harper’s market crashes, or whatever, but there was no question about Ricketts’ perspective. It’s not happening.
- … and that’s such a disappointment. As we’ve discussed, guys like Harper simply do not regularly become available at age 26 in free agency every year or even every five years. Maybe adding him strains the budget this year in a significant way, but then upwards of $50 to $60 million is rolling off the books next year. If you don’t like the player at the ultimate price tag after a serious and vigorous pursuit, that’s one thing. But to have seemingly preemptively shut the door because the budget is full-up this year? One year? I don’t get it.
- That said, at least Ricketts did mention that there is still some money left for the Cubs to make additions from here. If someone starts telling you the Cubs *have* to dump Ben Zobrist’s contract just to sign a reliever, I am going to tell you not to buy that.
- The official explanation for no Ricketts Family panel at CubsCon, by the way: it was the lowest-rated panel in fan surveys, so they cut it. Even if that were an accurate reflection of the fans’ wishes, it still seems an appropriate panel to have. I liked it. (The fact that it was bright and early every Saturday after shenanigans on Friday night probably didn’t help the perception of how enjoyable or well-attended it was.)
- Nothing has changed on the Sammy Sosa front – Ricketts still wants to see some “honesty” from Sosa about his playing career before he can return into the fold. This time, though, at least Ricketts added an important bit of fairness, saying that we all owe players from the PED era a bit of understanding, given the reality of what was going on at the time.
- Here are Ricketts’ entire comment on Addison Russell from The Score interview:
“There’s no simple answer …. We have decided, after talking to a lot of experts, after talking to Addison multiple times, talking to the league, that we’d rather support him through the process than just cut him and let him go. That doesn’t mean it’s in conflict with support for victims of domestic violence. You have a decision to make as a club: What do you think is going to be best for the player and his family? In our case, after talking to many experts, after talking to Addison many times, we thought the better thing for the players, for the player’s family, was to see if we could help him get through this. I think that it’s not an easy decision and not a decision that anyone takes lightly. It’s something that every team has to decide for themselves, but I do give a lot of credit to Major League Baseball for having good protocols and policies on this. There was a process for him. He’s already begun doing some of the things that the league requests and he’s doing things beyond what the league requests. So we’ll see where it goes. I think he knows the gravity of the situation, I think he knows what he has to do. Let’s just hope that he follows through on the promises he made to himself and the promises he made to the team.”
- The interviews so you can take them in for yourself:
670 The Score: