Goatriders of the Apocalypse

What they should be

Today's debate over the the possible value of pricey shortstop Michael Young when compared with inexpensive Ryan Theriot touches on a very interesting point.

Basically the argument can be summarized as this: while drastically more expensive, Michael Young would be a moderate upgrade over Ryan Theriot as he is a better offensive producer and defensive shortstop.  Additionally, the Cubs are one of the top money-making teams in baseball, and yet they fall toward the middle of the pack in terms of team payroll.  Therefore, since they are richer than Oprah, the Cubs should be able to throw piles of cash at players like Young and Peavy without it affecting their ability to upgrade later on.

We can debate the actual value of Young, but I think that the Steinbrennerian approach of Money Burn doesn't really work.  Very rarely does the team that spends money the most haphazardly actually win anything, and while I support upgrading at shortstop if at all possible, I'd rather see the Cubs hedge their bets and wait for a better player to be made available via either trade or free agency, especially since the Cubs already have what might be the best offense in the National League.  So, Theriot can stay.

But that's really not the point of this article anyway.  The point is this - the Chicago Cubs are one of the best franchises in all of baseball.  One of the very best.  The problem is that not many people realize it yet, and so our expectations remain moderate even as our hopes fly wild.

But here's the thing.  In terms of a national following, only the Yankees have as many fans.  In terms of money made, as Rob pointed out, the Cubs are one of the top draws in all of baseball.  In terms of legacy teams, there are only a handful of organizations that we should expect to be competitive every single year, and believe it or not the Cubs are one of them, too.  The others would be the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Giants, and maybe the Angels.  All these teams - including the Cubs - should win more than they lose, reach the playoffs more often than they don't, and avoid long streaks of 90-loss seasons.

The Cubs should be one of the best organizations in all of sports.  That they've gone for so long being meh-diocre, that they have crushed us with one crappy season after the next, that we've come to accept it should practically be a white collar crime.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise to us that the Cubs are a consistently competitive team.  It should never shock us that they sign the best free agent, or land an epic trade.  It shouldn't phase us when they overpay for a player who makes them minusculey better, so long as it actually does make them better.

The objective in baseball is to win.  The Cubs can afford to win at any cost.  Going out and acquiring a player like Michael Young isn't necessary, but trading for a player of his expense shouldn't surprise us at all.

After all, the Cubs aren't just rich.  They're beyond rich.  They have F*ck-You Money.  Let's not get our undies all bunched up in a wad just because they might - ::gasp!:: - spend too much money on a guy.  As long as jabrones like you and I will continue to buy our tickets, fill Wrigley Field to the brim, and walk around in incredibly expensive Cubs swag, then it's acceptable.

but, but, but

The Cubs don't have the kind of f you money the yankees or the met's have. and when we do, we overpay players like dempster, soriano, fukudome etc.

A lot of people are looking at the yankees right now and think that they are sure favorites to win the WS, atleast vegas and ESPN is. Their team is marginally better than last years team, and I don't even think they are the best team in their division... Just because a team spends a lot of money annually doesn't mean they will win, because more often than not, the funds are allocated poorly. For instance, if the cubs swapped theriot for young.

Michael Young is a better shortstop than Ryan Theriot, both defensively and offensively. However, he is not 15 million dollars better than he is. Even if Young is a full win better than Theriot, the money would be better allocated elsewhere where you could get a better return (in wins) with your money. But, in the wake of the team being sold, that extra money might not get spent for a while.

They don't? The Cubs may

They don't?

The Cubs may not have Yankee money, but nobody is demanding that they spend that kind of money on their team. However, the Cubs certainly make as much money as the Mets/Red Sox/etc. ... this team is loaded with cash.

Finally.

They don't. This is something that both you and Rob have missed and it's frankly shocking. "The Cubs are rich." Well, not really.

The Tribune Company has used the Cubs much in the same way private equity partnerships use portfolio firms. They own a portfolio of companies, all with their own P&L's that funnel to a singular entity, with limited partners as investors. Before Zell the Trib had public shareholders, with the ESOP it's now their employees.

When the Cubs are raking in cash, Comcast Sportsnet, the LA Times, the Trib, some magazine or a host of other holdings may be hemhorraging money (and has). The Cubs contribute to the parent's bottom line. What happens to most private equity firms is they gamble on companies they buy, and some of the profitable ones are mummefied, sucked to the marrow of cash to provide for better aggregate returns.

Watch and wait, the Trib's bankruptcy will bear out exactly how much the Cubs have in trust to spend going forward. When the kimono's been opened, it's likely that the new owners will be breaking close to even given salary, personnel, and operational outlays in the short term. Prudent spending of the buyer's own coffers, TV revenue, merchandise revenue, and the proceeds from actual games will offset salaries and Wrigley renovations. To quote Ghostbusters, "This magnificent feast represents the last of the petty cash."

How do the Yankees do it? Their portfolio is less diverse and, sadly, better constructed. Aside from the merchandise, they receive TONS of revenue from the Yes Network, a cash cow that doesn't spill into employee dividends, but stands at the ready to grab free agents. Huge difference from how the Trib operates.

The Cubs' situation is closer to the Packers...if the Packers also owned every crappy TV station, newspaper and gazette in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

No, we're aware that the

No, we're aware that the Cubs are part of an organization that loses money ... but that doesn't matter.

It's bad business to plan next year's expenses based on last year's profits. When a team like the Cubs outline their 2009 budget, they should be doing it against their projected 2009 returns and expenses.

One thing we discussed a few months back was that while the Cubs will sell out even in a Great Depression, they will sell less merch and other things, and while they will always, always make money, there may be a smaller profit in 2009.

All that said, based on the fact that the Cubs WILL be profitable in 2009 - and it's pretty easy to project HOW profitable if you have access to the specific numbers - it's not wrong at all to say that they should spend more money.

true and true

Both of you make good points, but one key thing to remember is that most sensible people are being very conservative given the current economic blues. I'm really starting to wonder if the Cubs need a new, wonderkid GM. Look at the Red Sox this offseason (and for the past few offseasons). They have been pretty conservative fiscally (Dice-K being a bit of an exception) while taking a few calculated risks. Many of those moves could have been made by the Cubs and could have helped the Cubs. Would you not want Smoltz or Penny for $5 mil? Why not offer Sheets an incentive-laden one year deal? Or Garland? The Cubs have enough talent and money to take on some risk. Hendry seems to get that as evidenced by the Bradley signing. It wouldn't hurt to see him do more along these lines. But I would stay away from Young.
And I suggest holding off on trades for the time being.

Chicago Tribune's Chicago's Best Blogs award