The Ricketts Family
This will be a disjointed post. It will encompass all sorts of issues facing the Cubs during this offseason, including personnel, role decisions, and contract decisions. Lets jump right in.
From a management perspective, the Cubs' house is in order very early in the offseason. The new Cubs manager is an Alpaca (he has alopecia). Jumbo Jimbo gets at least one more offseason to fix his own messes. The Ricketts family now has a year of ownership under its belt, and I do believe they have a vision that goes beyond the mens room piss-troughs. At the field level, the Cubs are a team in transition. All time great Cub Derrek Lee (yeah I said it) is gone, as is Terrible Ted Lilly. Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, and Carlos Silva are all in the last year's of their respective contracts. I don't expect any to return in 2012. The window to win with the old guard has slammed decidedly shut, which is why the first move the Cubs should make is....
SIGN STARLIN CASTRO TO A LONG TERM EXTENSION.
This should be a no brainer for Hendry, which is precisely why I doubt it'll get done. The Cubs should be beating down Castro's door with a long term extension that would eat up Starlin's arbitration eligible years, with club options that would keep him off of the free agent market.Starlin was promoted to the majors for good on May 7, 2010. Unless the new CBA does away with "Super Two" status, the 2012 season will be the last year that the Cubs will have Castro for the league minimum salary. The time to sign him to an extension is right now, when the Cubs can lock in substantial long term savings in exchange for security on the player's part. 6 years, $30M, with 2-3 club options at $10-$12M sounds about right for a player who has less than a full year of service time. This would guarantee the Cubs the right to Starlin's best years, and save them a ton of money that can be invested elsewhere. Once the club guarantees its future with its best player, it's time to look to 2011. The Cubs have an opening at 1B which they should fill by....
SIGNING CARLOS PENA TO A 1 YEAR CONTRACT.
The Cubs have nothing in the pipeline at 1B, so they'll be acquiring their starter through free agency or trade. I like Pena for a number of reasons.
1) Pena is likely to be underpaid next year no matter where he signs. Pena had a superficially ugly season, posting a .196 batting average which was anchored by a .222 BABIP. He also failed to hit 30 home runs for the first time since 2006, when he spent substantial time in the minor leagues. Pena has a career OBP of .351 and a career slugging % of .490. A Scott Boras client, Pena may accept a 1 year, incentive laden contract to allow him to rebuild his open market value for a larger payday in 2012. He could provide a handsome return on investment next season with a return to form.
2) Pena is an average 1B. He's no "Rodan", but he fields his position well. I see the acquisition of a decent 1B as an investment in the team's future. Starlin Castro is still learning his position, and he will continue to make mistakes as he grows at the major league level. If for no other reason than to protect the kid's psyche, it behooves the Cubs to acquire a 1B who will be able to corral some of his errant throws. Castro is the Cubs future, and the team should do everything in its power to help him develop.
3) For those of you who put stock in such matters (Rob), Pena has a reputation as a Jim Thome type clubhouse leader. He's both extremely well liked and vocal, and could join Ryan Dempster as the de facto clubhouse leaders.
4) Pena is left handed. The Cubs have lacked a left handed power threat for what seems like decades. Pena makes the offense far more dangerous against right handed pitchers, whom the Cubs continue to struggle against.
5) He's not Adam Dunn. No offense to the Big Donkey, but his signing would be a huge setback for the Cubs. Dunn is a better hitter than Pena, but they are remarkably similar players. Unlike Pena, Dunn is said to be asking for 4 years, at more than $10M per year. The Cubs are only now starting to dig out from their stable of long term, big money contracts to declining veterans. Dunn just turned 31, and his is the kind of body that frequently ages quickly. He's the type of player a team adds when it's one piece away, not 5 or 6 pieces away. This team is just not built to compete for a world championship in 2011, so signing a guy long term who's best days are likely behind him doesn't make much sense.
With Pena in the fold, the "Tyler Colvin to 1B" concept goes out the window. The Cubs still need to figure out exactly what they have with Colvin, which is why they should....
INSTALL TYLER COLVIN AS THE EVERYDAY RIGHT FIELDER.
Colvin might be the Cubs' long term left handed power threat. It will depend on his ability to learn the strike zone at the major league level. Tyler's rookie year was extremely impressive, but I'm still not convinced that he isn't the next Jeff Francoeur. Hopefully, the Cubs will have the patience to give Tyler 600 plate appearances in 2011. If he's really the player he appeared to be this past season, the Cubs will realize substantial savings in free agency that can be invested elsewhere. In a development/consolidation season, it's worth finding out exactly who Tyler Colvin is, and what his future is with the Chicago Cubs. Of course, the Cubs already have a left handed RF on the roster, who would stand to lose significant plate appearances to Colvin if he's no longer "the starter." Many fans are calling for the Cubs to trade Fukudome. Not I. The best way to utilize him is to....
ROTATE KOSUKE FUKUDOME THROUGH ALL 3 OF SPOTS AGAINST RH STARTING PITCHING.
Trading Fukudome is unlikely to net the Cubs anything of value. They'd need to swallow at least half of the $14.5M salary before they could move him at all, and they won't get much more than minor league roster filler in return. His is just a bad, bad contract. However, it's a sunk cost, and a bad contract does not equal a bad ballplayer. The Cubs should utilize Kosuke so as to realize the most return on their investment. Fukudome has a career wOBA of .351 against right handed pitching, which is 11% better than the average hitter. Both his career OBP and his career slugging are significantly higher against righties than against lefties. Considering the Cubs struggles against right handed pitchers, Fukudome SHOULD be playing against right handed starters.
Rotating Fukudome will help keep Soriano and Byrd fresh and healthy, will improve the OF defense on days that he is playing, and will ensure that he stays engaged during the season. On days he doesn't start, Fukudome is the first LH bat off of the bench. Kosuke should get 250-300 plate appearances, even though he isn't the "starter."
At this point, the Cubs would have 38 players on its 40 man roster. They'll need to make some changes to the 40 man roster during the offseason to make room for other additions, and protect their top prospects from the Rule 5 draft. Specifically, the Cubs MUST....
ADD CHRISTOPHER ARCHER, MARQUEZ SMITH AND BRANDON GUYER TO THE 40 MAN ROSTER.
All three of these players would be exposed to the other major league teams in this winter's Rule 5 draft if they are not added to the 40 man roster. Archer is the Cubs' top pitching prospect, and was the most 'projectable' player acquired by the Cubs in the Mark DeRosa trade. What he lacks in his ability to make the Trixies wet, he makes up for with a mid nineties fastball and a sharp, diving curveball. Last year, Archer pitched 142.1 innings split nearly evenly between High-A Daytona and AA Tennessee. He averaged a 3.16 FIP across those two levels with a K/9 rate of 9.45. He's got the chance to be great.
Marquez Smith is not likely to be great, but he might be the Cubs' next 3B. He's a little old for a prospect (26 in March), but he showed good patience and great power in AAA last season. At worst, he should serve as an Aramis Ramirez injury insurance policy, and an acceptable bridge to Josh Vitters. If he's a late bloomer, he could seize the starting job at 3B and hold it for years. It's worth finding, right?
Brandon Guyer is probably the Cubs' second best outfield prospect, after Brett Jackson. He's a speed guy who stole 30 bases in 33 attempts at AA Tennessee this past season. He plays all three outfield positions, although I can't find any data on his center field range. If he can play CF well, it certainly raises his value to the Cubs and other teams.
To make these additions, the Cubs are going to need to make some subtractions first. Koyie Hill and Micah Hoffpauir should both be DFA'd. If they clear waivers, keep them around, but they don't belong on the 40 man roster at this point. That leaves one roster spot available for the Cubs to make a selection in the Rule 5 draft, or for Hendry to give to the mediocre reliever he gives 3 years and $12M to.
You'll notice that my plan leaves no room for big changes on the pitching staff. This is intentional. The Cubs have more than enough quality arms to fill out their rotation and bullpen. The internal roles for a few of the Cubs pitchers are still undefined. Right now, the Cubs seem intent on using Andrew Cashner as a reliever. I hate this idea, and I believe the Cubs should....
GIVE THE #5 STARTER JOB TO ANDREW CASHNER.
Dempster and Los Dos Carloses are already penciled in for the first three rotation slots. Randy Wells probably gets the fourth spot based on incumbency, but I doubt he'll keep his position in the rotation all year. Based on last year's usage, the #5 starter gig probably goes to either Tom Gorzellany or Casey Coleman. GORZ did enough to earn the spot last season, and Coleman has an argument as well based on his late season audition.
The Cubs should disappoint them both, and give the job to Andrew Cashner. Cashner's physical skills are far better than either GORZ or Coleman. He's been a starter in the Cubs' system for a while now, and we know he can do it in the minors. It behooves the Cubs to give him the chance to be a starting pitcher in the majors. If his command and secondary pitches develop, he could be an Ace pitcher. That's worth gambling on in 2011.
Finally, there is the matter of the batting order. I'm a big Lou Piniella homer, but he lost some of my support this season by refusing to let the Cubs' best hitter bat in the middle of the order. The Cubs can improve their offensive output in 2011 by....
BATTING GEOVANY SOTO THIRD IN THE ORDER.
This is another one of those "should be no brainers" that will nevertheless not happen. Soto posted the highest wOBA of any Cubs hitter last year, and at 28 years old next season, is firmly in his prime. He is the Cubs best hitter, and he should be hitting third as a result.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER.
Follow my plan, and the Cubs look like this to start 2011:
Kosuke Fukudome: CF/LF
Starlin Castro: SS
Geovany Soto: C
Carlos Pena: 1B
Aramis Ramirez: 3B
Alfonso Soriano/Marlon Byrd: CF/LF
Tyler Colvin: RF
Blake Dewitt: 2B
Blake Dewitt: 2B
Starlin Castro: SS
Geovany Soto: C
Aramis Ramirez: 3B
Alfonso Soriano: LF
Carlos Pena: 1B
Marlon Byrd: CF
Tyler Colvin: RF
Esmailin Caridad/Jeff Samardzija
John Fucking Grabow
Whew. That got long. Thanks for sticking with me, if you made it this far.
I believe if the Cubs follow this plan, they will finish in fourth or fifth again next season, but they will make serious progress towards becoming an NL Central force, year in and year out. Way back at the top, I mentioned that I believed in the Ricketts, and that they do have a plan for this franchise. Tom has stated publicly that he wants to build the team through scouting and development, and I applaud him for that. I believe that this is the only way to ensure a competitive team, year in and year out. The Cubs should take their lumps in 2011, knowing that 2012 might be the start of something special.
For those of you who may have missed it, "Undercover Boss" is a show where the presumed "boss" of a company goes incognito and does menial jobs with menial schlubs in his own company, generally fails miserably, then cleans himself up and makes futile conciliatory gestures towards said schlubs, the end. Todd Ricketts was featured in this week's show.
The masses didn't really enjoy it very much. Andy very nicely summarizes for us here.
I choose to be encouraged, and here's why:
In all the other episodes, the "boss" is usually the boss due to his or her own merits. It is not necessary that the head of FedEx be able to wrap a package more quickly than his trained package wrappers, for example. He got to his lofty position because of his other abilities, that far outweigh the abilities of mere mortal men. The show, by and large, is nothing more than a feel-good device for the Tea Party set: a garbageman can handle a garbage can more effectively than the CEO of his company; thus, in some small, ultimately trivial way, Sam Schlub is better than G. Thurston Gotrocks.
Of course, in our specific case, the Ricketts children are nothing more than the lottery winners of the Lucky Sperm club. They did nothing to build the 900 million dollars American it took to buy the Cubs: that was thanks to their father, as well as the butt crazy dot.com economy which eventually crashed and left us where we are at today.
In fact, most of the angst Cub Fan Nation is feeling right now is because none of us really know what the Ricketts kids are truly capable of, outside of swilling Old Styles and picking up chicks in the bleachers. (Yep, that goes for all the kids).
So this particular episode of "UB" took on far more importance than the usual weekly doses of "Freaky Friday" schlock. I don't give a rip if a billionaire isn't a very good panhandler. But, hey, I DID want to see what one of the Ricketts kids is made of.
It wasn't real encouraging that Toddy didn't know how to operate a hose, or a hand truck. But I don't hold it against him that he wanted to spend as little time as possible in the Wrigley Field bathrooms. I usually dash in and out of there myself, holding my breath as long as possible. I don't always give the best high-fives, either, although I would know better than to try to give one to an authentic black guy. An enthusiastic nod and a loud "YEAH" always seems to work.
But what made me sit up in my chair and take notice was his hot-dog vending effort. After several hours sitting in his heated box, Todd (rightly) determined that the last four weiners were no longer fit for human consumption, so he dipped into his own pocket to "buy off" the Foul Four, and surreptiously dumped them in the trash.
Now, it may have had nothing to do with the condition of the dogs, he might have just been lazy, but hear me out:
Aren't the four lousy hot dogs an apt metaphor for the expiring utility of Fukudome, Zambrano and Soriano? Or how about the financials of Crane Kenney's and Jim Hendry's employment? Yes, $15MM+ is a ridiculous amount of money to waste on a player contract, but $4.50 is a ridiculous amount of money to waste on a skinny hot dog in a soggy bun. Might Todd be setting a precedent here, one where the Ricketts are encouraged to dip into their pockets, pay down the bills, and throw out some of their more useless employees? Put some new baseball people in charge; let another set of eyes look at the organization, and determine whether we should be buyers, sellers, or builders?
I think the Great Hot Dog Toss might be a small first step towards something much more substantial: namely; rather than sitting on their asses and waiting for the bad Hendry contracts to expire, maybe the kids are gonna go out a year or two sooner to try to win?
In the meantime, I'll just be sitting here, waiting for the economy to bounce back. Should be any day now.
The current state of the Cubs:
All you really need to know is that Aramis Ramirez is hitting mistakes again.
At the beginning of the year, he wasn't. He wasn't hitting anything. Neither was Derrek Lee. And outside of the couple of times our bullpen blew leads early in the season, and the other night with Marmol, this was pretty much the story of the year. Guys would get on base and Lee and Ramirez would strand them. Over and over again.
Now Ramirez has healed, and is hitting like he always has, and a few days after that, so has Lee and Soto. The word is that Lee is the clubhouse leader on the Cubs, and that is unfortunate because not only does he not have the personality to truly lead, he is also largely irrelevant offensively.
He has had two monster years with us, 2005 and 2009. The Cubs finished below .500 both years. Ramirez has had big years in 2004, 2007 and 2008, all winning years. As Ramirez goes, so does the Cubs offense. There is a greater statistical correlation as well as a practical correlation between what Ramirez contributes and what Lee contributes in terms of offense-to-wins. This is what makes teammates sit up and listen, and only if Aramis could back up his practical relevance with words.
But he chooses to defer, like he did after each of the playoff sweeps, and this is why I went bat feces when he did. Ramirez SHOULD lead the Chicago Cubs. When he hits, we win. As long as he keeps it up, we should have a winning second half, even though the decent starting pitching is beginning to falter.
Lou's retirement announcement, and why we are yawning
This was the biggest non-announcement ever. Of course Lou is retiring. Some say he retired 2 years ago. He did it so people will quit asking him. Some say he has earned the right to finish this year on his terms, and he will. I'm not one of them, but there is the sentimental side of me who will give the man his respect.
Besides, Crane Kenney and Jim Hendry aren't going anywhere, so even if they got to choose a new man this afternoon, he would be no better than the last two guys they hired.
There seems to be no accountability in this organization. Lou has the freedom to do one wild, crazy move after another, and when he is asked to explain himself, he either stutters and/or gets testy. Jim has developed a decent drafting mechanism, and he is the king of the desperation trade and the fire-sale steals, but he has never made a good value-for-value straight trade in his whole tenure. Not to mention, of course, his poor free-agent record, as well as his aversion to conflict, which has resulted in avoidance of arbitration - and overpaying players.
But, neither one of these guys can say they have done their job as badly as the Tribune holdover, Crane Kenney. What exactly DOES he do? How is the Triangle building doing? How about the Great Wrigley Field reclamation? What great marketing angles have we exploited lately? When can we expect to watch the Cubs Network? When Jim Hendry sucks, who calls him on it? And if Hendry were to get fired, who would pick the next guy?
A corporate lawyer with no baseball background?
I want a baseball man put in Kenney's place. Someone who can evaluate Hendry fairly, and determine if he is the man or not. A new manager needs to be found. Do we do the popular thing and stick Ryno in there? Is Joe Girardi the guy? How about Bob Brenly or Alan Trammel? I heard Joe Torre mentioned? Who do you choose? They all have their own qualities.
There needs to be a organizational direction, which is developed and regulated by the President (the Kenney position), communicated throughout the competitive organization by the GM, and implemented on the field by the manager. Depending on that direction, it could be Brenly, Torre, Ryno, Girardi, the frozen head of Ted Williams...but we need a direction first, and Kenney is not the guy to set it.
The President needs to see the middling-to-slightly above average health of the farm system, as well as the capabilities of what I am calling the Core of the 2011 Cubs, the guys who will definitely be here.
Soriano, Byrd, Marmol, Dempster, Soto, Ramirez, Castro. Everyone else, even Zambrano, I could see a scenario where they may not be here next year. These seven individuals will be, and the direction starts with what we are going to surround these seven guys with.
I don't know if Hendry is or isn't that guy. I'd really like a real baseball man to evaluate what he has done. I don't like his results, myself, but then again, he hasn't had much to work with from above. That's the biggest question going forward for us.
Dear Tom Ricketts,
You are a douche bag. Now, it isn’t personal. You may or may not be a guy I would like to share a beer. It isn’t what you have done. You have bought the Chicago Cubs. You ownership group controls a team I love dearly. It is what you haven’t done. That is winning a World Series for the long suffering fans of the North Side. Is it fair to demand a World Series trophy despite this is the first year of your ownership? In any other business such a turnaround would be considered absurd. Unfortunately, we are taking about a sports team. You will be a douche bag just like all of Chicago sports ownership save the Blackhawks franchise (Five years ago I would have laughed out loud after reading that statement) until you bring the trophy to Wrigleyville.
I realize you are a fan yourself having met your wife in the bleachers. However, as it stands many of us look at you like you are a hipster, someone who goes to Wrigley Field because it is the place to be. Let’s face it there are hundreds of thousands of fans who sit along the ivy strewn walls not knowing who the starting pitcher is or who is in the starting lineup. Unfortunately, as it stands I have to count you among those lost and delirious. There were a number of issues this offseason; a more knowledgeable owner could have stepped in asked for those to be handled. You didn’t. Instead you have taken up the task to beautify Wrigley Field. You have brought in a pseudo-vegan dietician for the players. You have imported freetrade wheat grass just in case the players who wanted colon cleansing enemas would be reassured that the purchase helped indigenous people of wherever. All of these things are fine and well, but how will it bring a winner to Chicago? That is why I think you are douche. It’s just part of the baggage of owning a team with long suffering fans. Maybe you will turn around the team. Maybe you will bring a championship to this city. Unfortunately, as it stands as an owner Rocky Wirtz has made you his bitch. Here is too hoping that you get things done and that fans don’t hope for your demise like they did for Dollar Bill Wirtz. Give them a title or they may just wish for that to happen.
One of our readers/commenters/writers/whatever responded to yesterday's visceral demand for immediate action by noting that at this point in the season, in the position we're in, nearly anything done by Cubs management would be construed as desperation.
He then continued that he would rather see us stay on course of the Ricketts five-year plan, which actually doesn't start until Lee's, Fukudome's, Lilly's, Dempster's, Silva's and Ramirez's contracts come off the books. That, my friends, is in 2012.
Which is two years from now using the new math.
He mentioned that this particular team is built for the now, and it is pretty much written in stone that the men who are here are the men that will be here until the end of next year. Which is absolutely true. I said that myself a few times this offseason, but please understand. I was doing it just to make myself feel better, because I saw other teams improving all around us, or at least trying to improve, and all we could do is stand around and tell one Milton Bradley story after another to each other, to justify s-canning our incoming 2009 Savior after one season.
Look, he is right on all counts. Nobody is trading anything of value right now, at least not explicitly. There are a few GMs that will deal anytime, anywhere, but it is still just entering Mid-May, and there are many teams that rightfully feel the whole 2010 season still lies before them.
It's just, that, we're not among them.
Bob Brenly said the other night that he thought the key to 2010 was for Soto and Soriano to bounce back to their 'old selves', and to his thinking, they have, and we're still losing. Well, Bobba-looie, not so fast. Soriano and Soto ARE doing better, but they have not returned to their 2008 form. Soto had more offensive impact in terms of power, as did Soriano. Their averages are up, and sure, I'd rather have this, now, than what both of them managed to pump out last year. But, except for a few days last week, neither one of them have truly carried us the way they did for stretches in 2008.
Marlon Byrd has been playing better than expected, but he was never expected to be a major impact guy. He's been as big an impact guy as any, but if I had to put a number on it, I'd say so far the 2010 Byrd is about 50% of the 2008 Ramirez, which is as I have said, not too bad.
Theriot and Fukudome have been getting on base. Once again, this is Fookie Time, we'll see if this carries on into June and beyond. Same with The Riot - he tends to lose steam as the season drags. Colvin is stuck in a bad place, Font has been Font, which is to say short and limited, and Nady, Baker, and Tracy are not very good.
All of which points to our so-called big men, the leaders and focal points of our lineup. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, of course. The scope of this article is not to determine what in the name of Christ is wrong with these two, but they are most of the reason why we are a losing ball club in 2010, and there has been absolutely NO indication at all that either one of them a) accept their responsiblities, b) plan to examine themselves, or c) are going to improve in any way shape or form in the near future.
I have my theory, you have yours, and yes, past performances do indicate that if they are bound to return to the norm, that means some good times ahead. Because, Lord, both of them are WAAAAY under their norms. But you know what? I see NOTHING that suggests a turnaround soon. Absolutely nothing but the backs of their bubble gum cards.
So, basically, we are playing .429 ball right now, and that is what I think we are going to do the rest of the year. And the next - maybe even worse.
Look, I have NO desire to spend this, my 46th summer of my life, and the 40th as a Cub fan, watching a .429 ball club. Or next summer. And that just bugs the hell out of me.
The Yahoo! roto writer termed the Zambrano move as "weapons-grade stupid" and then Yahoo! Big League Stew correctly surmised that whether Sweet Lou Piniella meant to open up the Second Seal or not, he has, and now we Cub fans will now know what kind of owners the Ricketts are.
But first, let's first give you all credit for some excellent discussion about this point. If taken strictly as a "most recent performance" move, if there were no names (or salaries) attached to the move, it was the best move to make. That is how I felt as I went to bed last night. This morning, though, I have further considered the Zambrano issue.
Let's not assume that Lou's motivation behind the move was to hang Jim Hendry's wire out to dry. It might have played a part, but Lou Piniella's issues are not the scope of this essay. It can be argued that this move is consistent with his frequently repeated mantra that the best nine players at any given time will play. But he has completely discounted two things.
The first is, of course, that Zambrano's history is far superior to either Silva the Hutt's or Gorzelanny's. If left alone, it would not be hard to imagine Zambrano having an ERA under 4 at the All-Star break. There is NO way, in fact I would bet 50 bucks that Gorzelanny's ERA will exceed 4 at the break. And while Silva looks good now, if this is all an elaborate con job he is currently pulling, it wouldn't be the first.
The second shouldn't be Piniella's problem, but unfortunately it is. These are not just lines in a stats book. These are walking, breathing Corporations that he manages every day. Sending Z to the pen may very well eff-up his arm, as it would for any starter you send there. Conditioning yourself to throw every fifth day, then being forced to throw maybe three days in a row can cause damage.
You are risking damaging a $72 million dollar investment when you send Z to the pen. You are risking damaging a $28 million dollar investment if you send Silva there. Much less than $72 milldo. As for Gorzellanny, you are risking a half a million. Might Z be a better reliever than Silva or Gorzo? Yeah, maybe. But Lou is playing with House money. Ricketts money.
Lou is telling his owners that he doesn't give a monkey's ass about the mega-investment that they, themselves, are forced to cover. I will risk flushing over 70 million of YOUR dollars to either a) send a psychological message to my team, b) cover up a gap that your crappy GM left in our roster, or c) remind you that I'm 67 years old, and I should be eating pudding with my grandkids on some pier in Clearwater.
All the Ricketts have done on record thus far is: raise ticket prices once again; make the players lounge somewhat less cramped than the last one was; try to install a gaudy sign in left field; install pricier concession stands; and fantasize about a triangular restaurant/museum/parking deck/hotel/day spa to be built on top of the carwash next to the park. We accused the Tribune of only being concerned about their precious profits - all we've heard about so far from the new owners is revenues, revenues, revenues!
What about your gatdam ballteam? Your manager is playing hide-and-seek with your $72 million dollar pitcher, and not a public word from any of you?
Tom Ricketts - you're the point guy, so quit high-fiving mopes and start making some honest-to-God baseball decisions.
New Cubs owner Tom Ricketts did an appearance on NPR on Saturday morning (here's the related article). This is great news for Cub fans who are hungry to learn about what his plans are, but it's terrible news for people who were hoping for an exciting interview. (NPR, I love ya, but you're a little too serious for my tastes.)
Ricketts apparently has his finger on the vein of Cub Fan Nation (I know, some of you hate that phrase but tough shit, I've been using it for six years) because a lot of what he said is stuff Championship Enthusiasts like me want to hear.
First, he's not 100% right by my take. I doubt any Cub fan will love everything he says. In terms of what he's doing that's wrong, he apparently has no intention of firing anybody in the front office. I get that he doesn't want to immediately shake everything up, but a team can't be run by the same General Manager for seven years now and not have at least one trip to the Series without there being somebody not doing his or her job. It'd just be nice to see at least one new decision maker swoop in and shake things up a bit.
But what's he doing that's right? First he sees Wrigley Field not as a shrine, but as a stadium. According to Ricketts: "First of all, we want this to be the best franchise in baseball, and
you can’t be a world-class franchise and have third-class facilities. . . . There is land that is just adjacent to the
stadium, along Clark Street, that the team owns and we intend to
develop that into a part of the stadium, that will give fans more
options on game day, but as importantly free up space inside of the
stadium to build in some of the clubhouse functionality that other
Apparently, this may cause ticket prices to rise. Ricketts says that fans "should keep in mind is that with family ownership now, we intend
to reinvest all the profits that we can get on the team and put that
back into preserving Wrigley Field and to putting a better team on the
field. So it's not like it's going away to some kind of corporation and
never will be seen again."
If any of this sounds familiar to you, it's because you've read it here before.
Way back in January, I wrote this:
Please do not feel beholden to the people who run the minor league
system. They have developed some pitchers, but the bottom line is that
if you fail to develop successful positional players, then you're
going to spend way more money buying what you need on the market.
Regarding Wrigley Field, I wrote:
Sometime in the near future you're going to have to renovate the
ballpark. Cub fans loathe this idea because it means a year or two in
US Cellular. I don't think that's a big deal, but I think it'd be
cooler if you could move into Soldier Field. Regardless, when the
ballpark gets rebuilt I can only ask that you expand the bleachers and
make the upper deck bigger and better. Also don't forget to improve
the home team's clubhouse ... and leave the visitor's clubhouse as a
hole. Every advantage, Mr. Ricketts. Any edge.
Oh, and I'm betting money that the Cubs win the World Series for the
first time while out of Wrigley. It'd be too funny for it to not
One other thing while I'm thinking about it - if you choose to
capitalize off the fame of the ballpark by selling naming rights you
will face staunch opposition from the vast majority of the fans. They
apparently don't realize that Wrigley Field was the first ballpark to be named after a brand.
Crazy talk, huh? I'm also certain that if I dug through the archives of GROTA, I'd find in various places the expressed opinion that the Cubs should jack up their ticket prices and charge whatever they damn well please, as long as they put the money back into the team.
Does this mean Ricketts has been reading GROTA? More importantly, does this make Tom Ricketts the right owner for the Cubs?
No to both. Time will tell on the lip service he's been paying. Don Baylor, Dusty Baker, Andy MacPhail, Milton Bradley, Todd Hundley, Ed Lynch, Larry Himes, they have all said the right thing at some point to get to where they got. But I feel optimistic about Tom Ricketts. I see good things in our future. And while I doubt that GROTA is a landing place for Mr. Ricketts on his daily web crawl, we were contacted by his publicity agency way back in January about the shape of things to come. But the important thing is not the shape, rather it's the reality. And the reality looks good.
While we should probably remain concerned about the fiscal abilities of a new owner that took nearly six months to scrape together the necessary cash to seal the deal, it remains freshing to finally have a face to associate with the ownership of the Cubs. Maybe Tom Ricketts will indeed be a super-fan bent on building a winning franchise, or perhaps he'll be an amateur meddler of the Pete Angelos mold and will run the team into the ground. Probably he will be somewhere in the middle -- a little heavy-handed on some things, but overall better than what we've had from the Tribune these last 28 years. Like a bunch of Cub fans, I previously wrote Ricketts a rather lengthy "open letter" loaded with this fan's perspective on the things the team needs. Rather than re-post it word for word, or write another one, I think I'll just highlight the two most important things. First -- I sincerely hope that Ricketts surrounds himself with extremely knowledgeable baseball people with a long track record of success. If blogging about the Cubs these last six years has taught me one thing, it's that in many ways the organization's stance on player development and playing strategy is antiquated. You would think that a team desperate to win for the first time in 102 years would try to be perhaps a little more innovative, but "hits not walks," "five-tool prospects," and a ton of other idiotic creeds have dominated the organization for far too long. Second -- If the Ricketts family does what they need to do regarding Wrigley Field, then we may have to tolerate a year or three of diminished expectations and lower payroll. I know, the vast majority of Cub fans out there are in love with Wrigley Field and would sooner set themselves on fire than see it changed, but the ballpark is old, it's unpleasant, and it's falling apart. One of the first things a new owner will need to consider is the renovation of the ballpark -- perhaps resulting in the complete tearing down of the upper deck -- and it might take one, or two, or even three years to do. In the meantime the Cubs may need to play their games at US Cellular, which nobody wants, or perhaps Soldier Field, which nobody but me has even suggested. Either way, get ready for a few years in the wilderness, because it's this or watch Wrigley disintegrate and eventually get condemned. Regardless, we'll get to find out in the near future what the Ricketts' plan is. Hopefully they'll be ambitious. I think we're all burned out on the status quo.
And I still am betting that when the temporary relocation occurs will be when the Cubs win a championship. It'd be just too fitting not to happen.
While we should probably remain concerned about the fiscal abilities of a new owner that took nearly six months to scrape together the necessary cash to seal the deal, it remains freshing to finally have a face to associate with the ownership of the Cubs. Maybe Tom Ricketts will indeed be a super-fan bent on building a winning franchise, or perhaps he'll be an amateur meddler of the Pete Angelos mold and will run the team into the ground. Probably he will be somewhere in the middle -- a little heavy-handed on some things, but overall better than what we've had from the Tribune these last 28 years.
Like a bunch of Cub fans, I previously wrote Ricketts a rather lengthy "open letter" loaded with this fan's perspective on the things the team needs. Rather than re-post it word for word, or write another one, I think I'll just highlight the two most important things.
First -- I sincerely hope that Ricketts surrounds himself with extremely knowledgeable baseball people with a long track record of success. If blogging about the Cubs these last six years has taught me one thing, it's that in many ways the organization's stance on player development and playing strategy is antiquated. You would think that a team desperate to win for the first time in 102 years would try to be perhaps a little more innovative, but "hits not walks," "five-tool prospects," and a ton of other idiotic creeds have dominated the organization for far too long.
Second -- If the Ricketts family does what they need to do regarding Wrigley Field, then we may have to tolerate a year or three of diminished expectations and lower payroll. I know, the vast majority of Cub fans out there are in love with Wrigley Field and would sooner set themselves on fire than see it changed, but the ballpark is old, it's unpleasant, and it's falling apart. One of the first things a new owner will need to consider is the renovation of the ballpark -- perhaps resulting in the complete tearing down of the upper deck -- and it might take one, or two, or even three years to do. In the meantime the Cubs may need to play their games at US Cellular, which nobody wants, or perhaps Soldier Field, which nobody but me has even suggested. Either way, get ready for a few years in the wilderness, because it's this or watch Wrigley disintegrate and eventually get condemned.
Regardless, we'll get to find out in the near future what the Ricketts' plan is. Hopefully they'll be ambitious. I think we're all burned out on the status quo.
Pending court and MLB ownership approval, the Chicago Cubs will soon belong to the Ricketts family, who spent 845 million for the privilege. It's been a long time in coming.
Back when the team's sale was first announced, many of us had hoped it would be a guy like Mark Cuban who would step up and buy the team. Cuban is the sort who would put product before profit, and while he probably wouldn't go into the red to win he would almost certainly spend more than most.
Still, Tom Ricketts is a Cubs fan. There's no doubt that he wants his new team to break the drought, although he's going to have a very, very long process ahead of him. In the next few years he's going to have to deal with some big, untradeable contracts, a crumbling ballpark, and a fanbase that continues to grow more alienated. Or he could just wait two years and sell the team again and probably make a cool 200 million dollar profit -- the downturned economy may have delayed the family's purchase of the team, but it also aided them in buying the Cubs at a relatively big discount.
Regardless of his plans, we're all still probably a little concerned about what Tom Ricketts will do next. It seems doubtful that a guy who was barely able to scrounge up the money to buy the team will be able to grow -- or even maintain -- the third largest team payroll in baseball.
Hopefully his next move will be to answer those issues, to calm us in the face of concerns, and his public silence should soon be broken.
The longest team sale of memory appears to be at an end. ESPN is reporting that Cubs.com is reporting that the Tribune is reporting that they have reached an agreement with the Ricketts Family.
Of course, it's still not over -- the MLB owners have to approve of the sale.
So here's the question -- do the Ricketts have any chance of not gaining the approval of MLB? If not, and if they have been given an inside iggy that things will go smoothly, is it possible for them to give Jim Hendry pre-emptive permission to grow the team's salary before the trade deadline?
It sounds like a lot of "ifs" to me, and history has taught me that the answer will likely be "no." Besides, we cannot quickly forget that the feet-dragging of this sale occurred primarily because Tom Ricketts had trouble ponying up the cash to finalize the near-$900 million dollar deal.
As a long-time Cubs fan, I can't help but wonder what happens next. It's like going to prom with a blind date. Will she turn out to be a foreign-exchange student studying to be a model back in Mother Russia? Or will she be revealed to be your best friend's thugly cousin who once started linebacker for the high school football team?
I'd like to think that Tom Ricketts is a baseball genius who will surround himself with verified, certified baseball men who aren't afraid to try new things and will not flinch at hitting the eject button on long-term Cub strategies that obviously do not work. I'd like to believe that Mr. Ricketts will not only not cut salary on the team but will in fact open his checkbook up even more to help ensure that the Cubs can field a competitive ballclub now and forever.
I'd like to think all that. I can't help but be skeptical, though.
I have often said that in baseball there are a handful of teams that are always competitive. The Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, Cardinals, and Giants have immense fan bases, large budgets, and smart people running their organizations. They don't always make the playoffs, but they are expected to -- and if they fail then their fans are bitterly disappointed. The Cubs belong in that category based on fan base alone.
Maybe the Ricketts will build on that fan base and the Cubs will finally ascend into the ranks of Regular Winners. We can't assume Tom Ricketts will buy the Cubs a World Championship, but we should expect -- nay, demand -- that he puts them in a good position every single year. And the best way for him to do that is clean house, hire the right guys, and give them the budget to do their hard work.
Will he? Can he? I'm almost too nervous to find out.