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Tom Ricketts Speaks: Keeping Core Together, Luxury Tax as Salary Cap, Theo, Marquee, Spending, More

Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs Chairman and Owner Tom Ricketts held a press conference today in Mesa, Arizona, as he does annually at the open of Spring Training.

Having been around the block on this front now for more than a decade, Ricketts knows how to handle these pressers without giving up too much in the way of eyebrow-raising info, so you pretty much have to read between the lines if you’re going to take much of anything at all away.

I logged and paraphrased notable bits from Ricketts throughout the press conference, which you can also catch in full in the Periscope replay at the end of this post …

  • Ricketts came to the press conference straight from a big team meeting that he called “inspiring.” He sees a fresh start this year, even though it’s largely the same people. The players are so talented and impressive. The energy and passion of the leadership, including David Ross, is great. He’s the right guy for us. Throw in the best front office in baseball, and everyone should feel strongly that we have the right pieces in place to get back to the top.
  • When it comes to comments about keeping the core in tact together on long-term extensions – the question was in reference to Kris Bryant suggesting that the Cubs have plenty of money and could do it if they wanted to – Ricketts falls back on saying resource allocation is a front office decision. “Just because you spend a lot of money doesn’t mean you’re going to win …. It’s not really about how much you spend, it’s about where you spend it.” Ricketts adds that there are “sanctions and punishments” from the league for going over the luxury tax, and although those aren’t “defining” aspects on what the front office chooses to do, they are a consideration. The goal is to put a team on the field that can compete for a division every year. So you put your resources to work through those filters.
  • Ricketts: We love Kris Bryant as a player, a great teammate, and a great part of the team. Most of what’s out there about KB is just rumors or noise or flat out untrue. Anything happening would be a front office decision, but we love KB and hope he stays healthy and has a great year.
  • When pressed about whether the Cubs could sign both Kris Bryant and Javy Báez to long-term deals, Ricketts again deferred to baseball ops as having to make that decision.
  • When asked about the luxury tax as a de facto salary cap, Ricketts concedes that every large market front office has to incorporate it as part of the calculus, particularly as you’re over it multiple years in a row. “It’s a factor. I don’t think it’s a defining factor, but every large market team has to deal with it.” (Note, as we’ve discussed, the CBA’s luxury tax construction was clearly designed to prevent large-market teams from going way over the tax three or more years in a row. That’s not me apologizing for the Cubs – or every other organization in baseball during this CBA – it’s just what I was able to discern from reading the dang thing, and then had later confirmed by Theo Epstein.)
  • Ricketts wouldn’t bite when asked a couple times about whether the Cubs will avoid being over the luxury tax so they can always reset within a three-year window (i.e., do whatever it takes not to go over three years in a row). He would only say that, yes, it’s a significant cost to the team.
  • This was, to me, a very interesting comment:

  • In other words, the Cubs suggest they had the most total baseball ops spending either in all of baseball last year (or the National League, depending on your preferred use of “in the league”) – of which player payroll is one component. Resources, Ricketts said, are not infinite, but if it’s true that the Cubs have the top TOTAL baseball budget in all of baseball, it’s all the more difficult to shred them for “not spending.” Even if it is just in the NL (though we already knew the Cubs had the top NL payroll last year), I guess it’s still worth a reminder note. On the outside, however, there will always be budget components that we simply don’t have any visibility to.
  • (Fair to note, by the way, that Ricketts MAY have been speaking only about payroll in the National League (something we already know), and the exact quote was just one of those live misspeaks.)
  • As for not making big moves the last two offseasons, Ricketts pointed to using up some of this offseason’s flexibility on the Craig Kimbrel addition (though … if you’d signed him last offseason when he was a free agent, that wouldn’t really mean anything for the current offseason … ).
  • No conversations have been had with Theo Epstein about what happens when his contract ends in two years.
  • Ricketts says he’s willing to do the family panel at the Convention next year if people want it. But he also said the same things about it not being informative, getting low ratings, etc.
  • Ricketts says Marquee will have a much broader reach than the old system, but when it comes to concerns about Comcast, he feels like this is pretty typical for these kinds of negotiations. “I think in the end, everyone will do what’s right for the actual customers. And that’s where I’m confident that we’ll get all this behind us by Opening Day, or pretty soon anyway.”
  • No, spending on Wrigley Field and surrounding development did not come out of team expenses. It was financed in a variety of ways, including selling small pieces of the team.
  • Ricketts reiterated the family’s long-held public stance that all revenue that comes in, after expenses, goes into baseball operations, and he expects that to continue to be the case.
  • The Periscope replay by way of NBC Sports Chicago:



Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.